These days, shore excursions seem to involve more screaming than they used to. Now I'm no girly girl, but on some recent cruises, my lungs got a good workout. I screamed as I sped down a zip line in Ketchikan, high up in the trees with my feet dangling helplessly in midair. I shrieked as I jumped into a frigid pool in a Mexican cave, hoping I would neither develop hypothermia nor spear myself with a stalactite. I hollered with joy as my 4X4 jeep careened wildly, splashing mud and water everywhere, and I probably let out a tiny squeak of fear as a not-so-big propeller plane took to the air, bringing me and a select group of tourists from Punta Arenas to Chile's Torres del Paine National Park.
Certainly there are still plenty of shore excursions that don't raise your heart rate to quite those levels. After all, relaxation is as much a part of cruising as excitement is. But today's cruise line executives are increasingly doing away with staples like standard bus tours and booze cruises and replacing them with innovative and unique excursion opportunities -- guaranteed to stimulate your body and mind, show you destinations in a new light and provide the maximum amount of fun.
Some of these innovations have grown, along with new developments in itineraries and onboard programming. The growing popularity of longer cruises to exotic locations -- like Asia, Australia & New Zealand, South America and even Europe's Baltic Sea -- allow shore-tour planners to consider overnight tours and adventures, such as visits to penguin rookeries in Patagonia and river boat rides across the Arctic Circle. These types of offerings are unique to very foreign destinations. And as passengers respond enthusiastically to new onboard programs focused on health, cooking and education, a natural next step is to take this programming ashore with local cooking classes or expert-led tours of historic sites.
Cruising demographics also have had a hand in dictating the shore excursion evolution. As the cliched, overfed and nearly dead cruisers of the past are being replaced by multigenerational families, young couples and active seniors, cruise lines are searching for excursions that will appeal to an array of tastes, activity and travel experience levels, and ages. The rise in adventure tours -- featuring 4x4's, zip lines, jet boats and more -- is one direct result of cruise passengers' getting younger and older travelers becoming more active.
As ships grow larger and more people cruise, some travelers are looking for any vacation component they can tag as exclusive, unique and separate from the traveling hoards. Holland America has responded to this demand by creating new categories of shore tours: Signature Collection for independent touring in private vehicles and Medallion Collection for elite small-group activities. Luxury lines like Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea will even create customized, private tours for guests wishing for a truly unique experience.
The best of yesteryear's shore tours are certainly here to stay: beach breaks, snorkel trips and city highlights tours will always be popular. But, if you're looking for something unique or exclusive, active or educational, you can now find pretty much any trip you can dream up in your cruise lines' shore tour brochure. Interested? Here are the hottest trends in shore excursions from mainstream, premium and luxury lines.
Truly cutting-edge:Royal Caribbean has paired active excursions with spa treatments as part of its Vitality at Sea program. When you book your tour, you'll get a coupon for a discounted spa treatment so you can relax in style after a hard day of play ashore.
Where you'll find them:Europe is a great destination, but you may also find in-depth tours in exotic places like South America and Asia.
Truly cutting-edge: Any tour involving a plane in addition to a tour bus. Crystal and Silversea offer a one-day visit to Torres del Paine National Park from Punta Arenas, Chile (including a 40-minute flight to Puerto Natales). Seabourn features an all-day tour of Moscow, which involves a one-hour plane ride each way to and from St. Petersburg, where your ship is docked.