Try horse riding in the Caribbean, visit a volcano in Iceland or race through river rapids in Canada- cruise excursions are reinventing themselves in a big way.
Cruising offers the perfect opportunity to try adventurous new pursuits. In Alaska, you can go zip-wiring, ride a seaplane or land by helicopter on a glacier for a two-hour trek. In Jamaica, there’s river rafting, bob sleigh rides and horse riding in the sea. In St John, Canada, there are speedboat rides through rapids that guarantee a thrilling (and very wet) experience. Norwegian Cruise Line offers horse riding over the lava fields of Iceland on its voyages to the Arctic Circle (from £89 per person), while new for 2012, Hurtigruten has sea kayaking along the coast of Norway from Tromso for £129 per person.
Princess Cruises’ passengers visiting Cozumel in Mexico can sign up to race a multi-million-dollar America’s Cup yacht. The three-hour excursion costs from £65 per person. Cruise with Holland America Line to Naples in Italy and you can climb to the upper crater of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted and destroyed Pompeii in 79AD, for £78 per person.
For something a little more familiar, put on your walking boots for a three-hour hike in the Flam Valley in Norway on an eight-night cruise of the Norwegian Fjords on MSC Cruises’ Opera in May and June 2012 from £65 per person (£46 for children).
If you want to expand your knowledge, Swan Hellenic and Voyages to Antiquity have free excursions to classical sites in Sicily, Italy and Greece. On Crystal Cruises’ new 8.5-hour tour in Iceland, you will learn about the volcano that disrupted hundreds of thousands of travellers when it erupted in 2010.
‘From the Ashes: Life in the company of a volcano’ is available on Crystal Serenity’s transatlantic crossing in May 2012, priced at £112 per person for groups and £1,102 for a private tour.
If you’ve been to St Petersburg you’ll know all about the opulent palaces and churches you can visit; maybe you’ll also have taken a canal cruise. But how about seeing it from underground? Princess Cruises has a tour of the metro, built deep under the city from 1940 to 1955, and modelled on the style of the Paris Belle Epoque metro stations, that also includes a walking tour of key sights close to the Hermitage from £39 per person.
The most unusual tour has to be Crystal Cruises astronaut-for-a-day trip to the Cosmonaut Training Centre in Moscow. Dare to do this and you’ll experience G-Force during a simulated take off and landing, and weightlessness in a reduced gravity aircraft.
It’s an amazing trip, but with an equally amazing price of between £2,856 and £21,622 per person. That is clearly going to be out of most people’s budget, but the cost of ships’ excursions is often one of the biggest complaints among cruisers. You can save money by going ashore alone or pre-arranging excursions with local companies before you leave home.
New company Cruising Excursions (cruisingexcursions.com) has a huge selection of tours, with more being added all the time, from popular ports around the world, from Athens in Greece to Ålesund in Norway, and Sydney in Australia, to Scarborough in Tobago.
Some are city tours much like those offered by cruise lines, while others are a bit quirky – the Roman catacombs or river tubing in Jamaica anyone? – but most are considerably cheaper. A full-day tour of Rome visiting the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Coliseum and Vatican, for instance, costs from £44 per person – quite a saving on Norwegian’s £78.
Noble Caledonia is renowned for offering exciting and original shore excursions. A stand-out one for this year is a trip in early summer on board the 100-passenger Volga Dream from Moscow to St Petersburg, which includes a backstage visit to the Bolshoi Theatre, special entrances to the Hermitage and State Armory, and an out-of-hours visit to the Kremlin, Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace.
There are a huge range of shore excursions to appeal to lovers of food and wine.
Carnival Cruise Lines has a four-hour Wines of Tuscany tour from Livorno in Italy for those cruising on Carnival Breeze next summer, as well as a handson cooking class where you don’t just learn how prepare focaccia bread, pasta and a dessert, but get to eat it for lunch as well. Royal Caribbean International has wine tasting from Civitavecchia.
Oenophiles will love Celebrity Cruises’ new no-fly wine-themed cruises from Southampton in 2012, timed to coincide with the European grape harvest, with tours and tastings at wineries in France, Spain and Portugal.
The most indulgent is perhaps Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ inspired idea for chocoholics – a mouthwatering 4.5-hour “bean-to-bar” tour of a cocoa estate from Castries in St Lucia. You taste the beans, see how they are made into chocolate bars and then get to savour the final product at the end. It costs £120 per person.
Oceania Cruises’ new ship Riviera will feature a Bon Appétit Culinary Centre, which offers hands-on cooking classes with a changing curriculum. In select ports guests can accompany the chef to shore-side markets to purchase fresh, local ingredients, which they can later learn how to prepare in the on-board culinary centre.
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