If you're looking for something beyond the typical sightseeing tour, Ventures by Seabourn fits the bill with a unique combination of water-based excursions and enrichment programming.
What It Is
Seabourn's new tour program, Ventures by Seabourn, launched in Northern Europe before rolling out to additional destinations, including Antarctica, Alaska, the Amazon and Australia/New Zealand. The program mixes touring with enrichment by bringing aboard a team of naturalists, scientists and historians. The team leads kayak and Zodiac tours, educating participants about the places they visit while they take in the sights from the water. Onboard, they give lectures on the flora, fauna, culture and history of the cruise region.
We tried two Ventures tours on a Seabourn Quest cruise to the Norwegian Fjords. In this part of the world, nearly every port had at least one, if not two Ventures excursion options, with multiple departures to accommodate passenger interest. Tours are generally limited to about 12 people per kayak tour or Zodiac boat.
Our first excursion was a kayak tour in Alesund. We reported to The Club at the appropriate hour, to find the lounge turned into a staging area for the Ventures team. Because the weather -- and the water -- was not overly warm, we all had to wear footed dry suits with rubberized cuffs to keep any water out, as well as special waterproof booties and life jackets on top. The suits come in limited sizes, meaning I had to don a gigantic one to accommodate my height. Attractive you will not be, but the photo opps are killer.
Seabourn takes safety very seriously on the Ventures tours. Before setting out, we all got briefed on how to safely board a Zodiac and what to do if we fell in the water. A support team of several guides in kayaks would escort us, and a Zodiac would follow along, in case anyone needed to abandon paddling and hitch a ride.
Because Seabourn always thinks of everything, the Ventures team had set up the kayaks on a nearby island -- both to allow us to skip the long paddle from the ship and so we could more easily board our kayaks on the beach. For about an hour, we paddled around the fjord's little islands, looking for birds and enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery. The group, which ranged from teenagers to retirees, all managed to keep together -- and the kayak guides would make the rounds, giving pointers and checking to make sure everyone was doing fine.
Just when we felt we could use a break, our guides led us to a small island where we could dock our kayaks. There, waiting for us, was one of the Ventures team members -- offering us Champagne in glass flutes. (That's the Seabourn way!) She'd also brought a picnic of sandwiches, cookies, fruit, soda and bottled water. We enjoyed our snack while goats brought to graze on the island came by to make friends and try and steal our food.
On the way back, we kayaked back across the fjord and followed a narrow canal into the city of Alesund to admire the Art Deco houses before we paddled back to the ship.
Our second tour, in Geiranger, was a Zodiac tour -- a shorter and easier endeavor than the kayaking. The suiting up was also easier; we wore our own shoes and could choose to wear our own jackets or opt for a wind-protective suit that was not quite the beast that the dry suit was.
Our guide, Luki, drove the Zodiac back down the Geirangerfjord, taking us so close to the famous waterfalls we could feel the spray on our faces. He pointed out goats grazing on the steep cliffsides, steep hiking tracks up to hilltop farms and an old-style pulley system for bringing heavy loads by basket up the hill. He described how the glaciers had carved the fjords in the last Ice Age, and told us about a gigantic rock that, when it fell from the cliffside, would cause a tsunami that would destroy the town of Geiranger. He even found the best scenic spots for photos and took pictures of all the couples.
Worth A Try?
Yes. Kayak tours are great for active travelers, looking to get some exercise and see the cruise port area from a different vantage point. The Zodiac tours are accessible to more passengers -- all you need to be able to do is climb in and out of the Zodiac, with assistance, and sit without back support. The Ventures guides are top-notch, and can really enhance your experience of the destination with their knowledge of history, geology, flora and fauna.
Things to Note
Ventures tours are not cheap, but for all the support and commentary you get, they are a good value. On our Norway cruise, kayak tours were generally $159 for two-hour kayaks with extended trips, like our paddle and picnic, costing more. Zodiac tours ranged from $169 to $199 for one-plus hour tours. Tours that combine a Zodiac trip with a second activity (like a hike or ride up a cable car) will have higher prices.