Updated October 10, 2019
One of the hottest trends in travel is destination immersion. Forget merely checking off lists of marquee attractions and eating at chain restaurants; cruisers want to learn about their vacation destinations and get a taste of the local culture. Luxury cruise lines are especially good at this, leveraging their small ship sizes and port-intensive itineraries to find ways to immerse their passengers in the attractions, cuisine, history, culture and local life of the ports they visit.
While all the luxury lines specialize in unique ports and offer interesting shore tours, these four luxury cruise lines are going above and beyond with destination immersion.
The first thing Azamara wants potential cruisers to know is that it's all about destination immersion -- and that's not just marketing lingo. The line is dedicated to finding creative ways to let its passengers experience the ports its two ships visit.
To start, every sailing features an AzAmazing Evening, a free shoreside experience open to all passengers that highlights the region's culture. Think a private acrobatic show by Les Farfadais at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, or a Maori cultural performance at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in New Zealand. For-fee excursions also focus on giving passengers a local perspective; for, example, Meet Local tours bring you to homes, farms or even small local businesses to interact with the owners and learn about their daily life, while Nights Local tours let you experience the nightlife or after-hours scene during a late-night stay. Other tours might be themed around food, outdoor adventures and biking.
Azamara is also going immersive on a higher level with its itineraries. Instead of only doing overview-style sailings, where you're in a different country every day, Azamara now offers country-intensive voyages, which focus on exploring one country in depth in order to really get to know it. Options include one-country cruises to Costa Rica, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Cuba, Spain, Norway, Italy, Japan, Croatia, Greece and France. The line also makes a point to align its ships' schedules with major events, such as Venice's Redentore Festival, the Monaco Grand Prix and the British Open, so passengers can experience famous festivals and sporting competitions.
2. Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking Ocean Cruises is a cruise line built around a focus on destination immersion. From its beginnings in 2015, the cruise line offered destination-heavy itineraries with an emphasis on longer days in ports and even overnights. Its Kitchen Table alternative dining-meet-shore tour option takes passengers on a tour of a local market with the ship's chef, who purchases ingredients to turn into a special dinner that evening.
New programs allow Viking passengers to embrace their destinations even more. Working World tours take passengers behind the scenes at iconic local businesses, such as tours of the BMW and VW factories in Germany; a visit to the Dale of Norway factory to discover how the country's famous sweaters are made; or a trip to an artisan bakery in Portugal. Local Life excursions create opportunities for passengers to interact with locals and get a glimpse into their daily lives, such as playing friendly games, such as jeu-de-boules in France, with residents and visiting homes in destinations as varied as St. Petersburg, Russia, and Santorini, Greece. Privileged Access tours are exclusive experiences or behind-the-scenes or private tours, such as a tour of the secret passageways of the Doge's Palace in Venice, afternoon tea at The Ritz Hotel in London with a former butler of the Prince of Wales, or a fishing trip with a local chef in Eidfjord, Norway.
Finally, all Viking Ocean cruises feature onboard performances by local singers, dancers or actors, and Resident Historians who offer high-level lectures on the history and culture of the cruise region, as well as host small-group roundtable and dinner-table discussions and take individual questions.
3. Oceania Cruises
Oceania Cruises caters to travelers who want to explore their personal passions in the context of the cruise destinations. The line does this by offering food- and wellness-themed tours that give passengers a deeper understanding of one focused aspect of the culture they're visiting. Culinary Discovery Tours offer a combination of local market tours, cooking classes, lunches or tastings of regional food and wine and even the occasional farm tour. Wellness tours focus on healthy living and activities in a way that brings travelers in touch with the local scene. Oceania's wellness tours take passengers to a hammam in Granada, Spain, built on the ruins of a medieval bath; to practice tai chi in a palace's gardens in Marseille; and to discover the healing effects of aloe vera in the Canary Islands.
4. Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Oceania's sister cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises takes a similar approach to destination immersion with its wellness and food-oriented tours. Wellness shore excursions, in connection with the line's Canyon Ranch spa, might offer a swim in a mineral lake combined with a hilltop yoga class in Greece, or an exploration of how fragrance can alter emotion followed by a perfume-blending class in Venice. Gourmet Explorer Tours are similar to Oceania's Culinary Discovery Tours but a bit more upscale. Examples could be a Provencal cooking demonstration at the home of Michelin-starred Master Chef Rene Berard, a three-course lunch at Ireland's Ballymaloe (an estate that houses a luxury inn and renowned cooking school) or a market tour of Barcelona followed by lunch at 2-star Michelin restaurant ABaC. In addition, Regent Seven Seas Cruises includes a large selection of shore excursions in every port in its cruise fares, so passengers have an easy way to get out and see the varied ports.