Cruise port excursions have come a long way since the olden days of basic motor coach tours to local sites. Today, they're exciting and adventurous, and designed to immerse cruise guests into local culture.
The newest excursions focus on “wow factor,” and are aimed at luring first-time cruisers while also holding the interest of repeat travelers who've done it all. Moreover, all cruise lines are now courting younger travelers who seek more dynamic vacations than their parents and grandparents did. Also, the demand for cultural experiences has increased, and cruise lines are obliging.
In Yangon, Myanmar, for example, Crystal Cruises arranges for its guests to witness a "novitiation" ceremony, where 1,000 male novices become full-fledged Buddhist monks at Kalaywa Monastery. And in Lombok, Bali’s less-touristed sister island, Crystal guests can visit a traditional Sasak village and meet the local people, including the men who still sleep outside their thatched houses to protect their daughters from being kidnapped into marriage.
Cruise lines are highlighting cuisine, wine, and history, too: upmarket Azamara Club Cruises has created a slew of "AzAmazing Evenings," which are custom designed for destination immersion. “It could be a big fat Greek wedding celebration in Chania, Greece, or you could be an exclusive guest of Francis Ford Coppola at his state-of-the-art winery in Napa Valley,” says the line. In Azamara's event called "Medieval Malta: A Knight on the Town," guests visit Valletta, Malta (pictured), and attend a medieval celebration with torch bearers, flame throwers, jugglers, strolling musicians, and dancers.
It's not just luxury cruises that are expanding their offerings. In the past 10 years, ziplining became one of the top cruise excursions on more mass-market ships. It's still offered by most lines, but the newest trend is an all-terrain vehicle tour through a variety of locales in both the Caribbean and Alaska. The bumpy, invigorating ride usually involves a one- or two-person ATV, along with, of course, an experienced guide to accompany the group. Royal Caribbean International, for example, has designed an ATV tour in Icy Strait Point, Alaska, where guests are transported to the wild landscape of Chichagof Island, in Tongass National Forest.
There are more sedate activities, too, that have become popular in recent years. Carnival Cruise Lines offers the Bacab Eco Park Horseback Safari when its ships drop anchor in Belize. Guests are brought to the eco park and matched with a horse. Then, the group embarks on its journey to explore the Belizean tropical forest, where black howler monkeys, iguanas, and parrots can be seen in the trees overhead. The excitement of seeing wildlife up close is paired with the relaxation of a well-organized itinerary. After the ride, it's back to the park for a swim or a nap in a hammock.