(11:07 a.m. EST) -- As part of Holland America's ongoing shore excursion rebranding effort, known as EXC tours for "Explorations Central," the line will add Zodiac inflatable boats, new tours and onboard enrichment, like guest lecturers, to its cruise ship Maasdam this September.
The new tour offerings, available on cruises from 12 to 34 days, will be called EXC In-Depth Voyages, and provide cruisers with the opportunity to gain a closer view of nature or a more immersive experience in the destination.
The 154 ports on EXC In-Depth itineraries span 36 countries across 12 individual cruises with the opportunity to explore far-flung locales like Pitcairn Island, Java, the Maldives and the Marquesas. Due to Maasdam's smaller size (1,258 passengers), the ship is able to maneuver in to slightly more off-the-beaten path places including 28 ports that are maiden calls or have not been visited by a Holland America ships in years.
Passengers opting for an In-Depth Voyage can choose from areas of interest such as photography, science and nature, arts and culture, food and drink, history or active exploration. Much like an expedition cruise, these tours might employ local scholars, celebrated experts and the use of the customized Zodiacs.
Shoreside activities touching upon these areas of interest might include photographing the colors of a Tahitian market, taking a guided walking tour of Komodo National Park in search of the Komodo dragon, touring the Nukubalavu Village and seeing the Fijian kava welcoming ceremony, visiting famous ruins in Thailand or watching platypus play in billabongs in Australia.
Dr. Peter Carey, Holland America Line's director of explorations, is currently scouting locations and refining plans for this new series of voyages and Zodiac excursions, according to a news release. "A zoologist who has traveled extensively throughout and researched the region, Carey will draw on his journeys and vast research into sea mammal behavior and seabird ecology to craft experiences that open up even wilder places for guests to enjoy and remember as the ultimate field trip."
Carey is director of the Sub-Antarctic Foundation for Ecosystems Research, a contributing lecturer at the University of Canterbury and an affiliate professor with the Geography Program at the University of Alaska.
The focus on enrichment provided by the EXC In-Depth program will not only extend to port, but also include programming onboard, from a new lecture series to interactive activities. From September 2018 through April 2019, EXC In-Depth Voyages will introduce a resident team of experts on various subject matters such as bird life, cultural anthropology or history. Other EXC programming will focus on providing destination insight or bringing together passengers with similar interests. At night, mainstage production shows will be replaced by entertainment reflecting the local culture, and America's Test Kitchen will be taken over by local chefs using locally sourced ingredients.
"We created EXC In-Depth Voyages to further enhance our guests immersion experience in a more personalized way in the exotic destinations featured on this series of specially designed itineraries," said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line, in a news release. "The addition of Zodiac tours will allow guests to be modern-day explorers, and Maasdam will visit many ports that we have never been to or haven't visited in years; EXC In-Depth Voyages are truly unique."
The line notes that while kids are welcome onboard these sailings, activities in Club HAL, the onboard kids' club, will not be offered.
The first EXC In-Depth Voyage on Maasdam departs from Fort Lauderdale on September 10 and sets sail for Papeete, Tahiti via the Panama Canal on a 34-night cruise also visiting the west coast of South America, Easter Island and several South Pacific islands. The ship will then spend October and part of November in the South Pacific before heading to New Zealand; sail the southern coast of Australia in December before heading northwest to Singapore in January 2019; embark on an Indian Ocean voyage to Southeast Asia ending in February; cruise to the Spice Islands and northeastern coast of Australia before heading back toward the South Pacific. The final EXC In-Depth cruise is a 24-night Polynesian crossing ending in San Francisco on May 7, 2019.
Overnight calls on these sailings include Callao (Lima), Easter Island, Papeete, Tauranga and Waitangi, Adelaide, Singapore, Laem Chabang (Bangkok), Sihanoukville, Halong Bay and Hong Kong.
Cruisers can combine sailings to form a 239-night itinerary of a lifetime.
Fares for EXC In-Depth Voyages start at $1,599 per person, double occupancy, for a 12-night sailing. (Taxes, fees and port expenses are additional.)
Earlier this week, Holland America Line announced a new series of culinary-themed shore tours in partnership with Food & Wine as part of its Explorations Central offerings across the fleet.
--By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor