Adventure Meets Cruise Ship On Extreme Shore Excursions

adventureIt’s not often that we write about adventure travel and cruises in the same story. It’s more like kayaking and Costa Rica, or cruises and buffets. But some extreme shore excursion offerings by a few cruise lines have raised the bar so high, others may not catch up for a good long while.

Forget the stuffy tour bus and all the challenges of moving 50 or 60 people at a time around an iconic destination; that’s not what these are. We’re talking combat aerobatics, Korean monks and the Holy Grail.

Crystal Cruises
has what they call “experiential cruising” that features far-flung, destination-inspired adventures that are not the fare of a normal shore excursion menu and include hiking, trekking, hot-air ballooning, dog sledding and mountain climbing.

G-Force 4 Combat Aerobatics invites guests to take adrenaline-filled flight in a fighter trainer jet to experience G-Force 4 thrills as an expert pilot teaches combat aerobatics, including a wing over, loop, barrel roll, stall turn and flyby over the ship.

Crew on America’s Cup Winning Yacht- Auckland is home to Team New Zealand, the famed sailing team that won two consecutive America’s Cup challenges. Become a member of the crew for the day, sailing aboard Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup yacht.

Spend the Day as a Korean Monk has guests experiencing a day in the life of a Korean Monk discovering the ancient culture still alive in the country’s many temples. After a tour of a temple’s architecture and history, learn a Korean-style meditation or partake in the tradition of wish writing, all ending with a traditional tea ceremony.

Rescue Endangered Marine Animals in Barcelona
As part of Crystal’s “You Care, We Care” complimentary voluntourism program, visit the Barcelona Rehabilitation Center to participate in a dolphin rescue drill and learn how to manage the floating stretcher, handle the animals and introduce them to the support swimming pool.

Sail an Underground River with Millions of Glow Worms
The Waitomo Caves’ soaring ceilings and low passages have created breathtaking formations and, when one looks up, millions of luminous, blue-green worms decorate the ceiling. Guests float in pitch darkness and absolute silence (so as to not disturb the worms) along an underground river to observe.

VIP at the Monaco Grand Prix- Car lovers experience the fast cars and glamorous events of the Monaco Grand Prix. They can watch the world’s most prestigious automobile race from either the driver/team-prep paddock area, a residence above the famous Casino, or the best seats in the grandstands near the start/finish line.

Rub 100 Buddha Bellies has guests traveling much farther into Asia than the Bangkok port-of-call, including a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, home to the famed Pak ou Caves. One hundred steps above, voyagers will find hundreds of Buddhas – all illuminated by candles. They say rubbing one Buddha Belly brings good luck, wealth and prosperity. One hundred Buddha’s? All the better.

These over-the-top experiences and other offerings by Crystal Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Disney Cruise Line are typical of what is happening right now in cruise vacations. Cruise lines are taking advantage of their mobile nature and addressing a traveler-charged desire to see more than the standard tours at destinations around the world.

Disney Cruise Line, masters in storytelling already, take that same ability to craft off-the-ship experiences that travelers are not apt to forget anytime soon. How about taking your children to a puppet show? … at the Villa Borghese in Rome. In Venice, visit textile and marble workshops where artisans create items for the Vatican and Dolce & Gabbana.

“On shore, we just take our storytelling skills and work with the locals to help tell our guests why we are bringing them to Venice or Croatia or Turkey,” Arnaldo Zanonato, Disney’s shore excursions manager said in a great, in-depth Travel Weekly report. “And when it’s appropriate we try to make it more fun, make it hands-on for the kids, make it a learning experience for everybody.”

At the ruins of St. John’s Basilica, the Apostle John is said to be entombed. Exclusive to Disney guests, an “archaeologist” leads them in a competition to find scattered pieces of a sacred symbol.

Travelers who have been to Rome before want something different and more experiential. Disney delivers with a San Clemente Basilica trip where guests can descend to the bottom of the three-tiered complex, which dates back to the first century.

No discussion about extreme shore excursions would be complete without mentioning Azamara Club Cruises, the tiny two-ship boutique cruise line that specializes in destination immersion like no other.

On board Azamara ships – just the right size to be comfortable ocean-going vessels but small enough to get to places big ships can’t touch – its all about the destinations. Rarely repeating itineraries, Azamara offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience the world in an up close and personal way that no stock tour bus can deliver.

Example: A 14-night sailing in April 2013 titled The Spice Route Voyage features three overnights in port and six days at sea allowing passengers to see how various cultures and customs merged along trade routes. The experience is entirely customizable too.

If exploring Singapore’s cuisine and shops is not enough, join a night safari at the zoo. Take a rickshaw ride through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown or in Sri Lanka, explore Buddhist monasteries, cave temples, rainforest preserves and elephant sanctuaries. In India, check the Kerala backwaters near Kochi, the beaches, colonial architecture and spice plantations of Goa, and the boundless energy of Mumbai. This one even has an optional overland tour to Taj Mahal.

Look for other cruise lines to pay more attention to the quality and depth of their off-the-ship options too … but a wing over, loop, barrel roll, stall turn and flyby over the cruise ship? That’s going to be hard to top.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Defence Images]

America’s Cup to put clean-air program on hold

America's CupBy 2014, cruise ships stopping in San Francisco will be required to plug in to cleaner shore-side power rather than running their diesel-burning/polluting engines. Several cruise lines have been preparing for the new requirement and are already up and running. But the $5 million clean-air program along the San Francisco waterfront will be temporarily halted to accommodate the prestigious America’s Cup regatta, prompting criticism from environmental advocates.

“With just one stroke of a pen, it’s gone,” said Teri Shore, program director at the Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) reports the San Francisco Bay Guardian. While the shore-side power hookup is disabled, “The ships will be coming in and parking, and running their diesel engines” at other waterfront piers.

Smaller ships used in the regatta and operation of the regatta itself does not allow for use of plug-in technology, a sore spot with environmentalists. Fearing the impact of America’s Cup crowds and construction, several environmental organizations and a neighborhood group have joined together with a unified message.
“This is a real unusual team effort,”Deb Self, executive director of San Francisco Baykeeper, a pollution watchdog told the San Francisco Business Times “At this point it’s kind of all hands on deck.”

Their concerns include the coordination and capacity of public transportation, keeping the bay free of pollutants when visiting boaters descend on the region, minimizing the effects of dredging on bay wildlife and protecting fragile habitats that line the waterfront.

The Port had already anticipated temporarily halting the shore-side power for a year during construction of a Pier 27 cruise terminal, Brad Benson of the Port of San Francisco told the Guardian. “Assuming there were no America’s Cup, it would already not be in operation … for approximately one year,” he explained. After a year of construction that will mark the first phase of the cruise terminal project, the 34th annual America’s Cup will move onto the site, he said. “As a result of the America’s Cup, shore-side power is not going to be available for one year.”

Benson said the port is starting to look at how it could offset the impacts, looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions that might make up for no shore-side power “I can’t tell you whether we could achieve the same level of emissions reductions that shore-side power would provide,” he said. “It’s very effective.”

It looks like this will be an issue to watch right along with the America’s Cup who this week announced Team Korea as a new entry to this prestigious event, with a press briefing at the spectacular Seoul Marina on the Han River in Seoul.

Only fifteen nations have ever entered the America’s Cup contest in its history, and Team Korea is the only new entry of the nine teams and eight countries involved this time. The 34th annual event brings the competition for the oldest trophy in international sport back to the United States for the first time in 18 years.

Flickr photo by Port of San Diego

America’s Cup Sailing: the top attraction in Los Cabos, Mexico

Commands like “forward grind” and “backward grind” are guaranteed to elicit a chuckle, but when you’re deep in the throes of a sailing race, the laughter is pushed to the back of your mind. At the Cabo Adventures America’s Cup Sailing experience, recreation is seasoned with competition. Head out onto the water in Los Cabos, Mexico, and test your mettle against other visitors to Baja California Sur. Don’t worry, experts will be on board to help you along. And, yes, they keep score against each other, so the fix is never in.

Cabo Adventures is among the most interesting attractions in Los Cabos, and the America’s Cup excursion is at the top of the list. Skip the party scene for a little bit to do something for your body. The entire staff consists of experienced race crews who are more than happy to orient you to the tasks of sailing and winning out on the windy seas.

Those interested in watching the hard work can certainly find ways to abstain from the manual labor of cutting across the water, but the real fun is in grabbing a handle and putting your back into the quest for victory.

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As you push back from the slip, the first part of the voyage consists of a safety briefing and a general familiarization of what you can expect. In addition to showing you where ropes connect and explaining what your roles will be, the staff picks up a board and diagrams the basic racing tactics you’ll execute when the games begin. A bit of tradition is thrown into the mix, as well, from the countdown to start to the encouragement of trash-talking (all in good fun, of course).

And then, the race begins.

As part of your Cabo Adventures experience, you’ll race twice. The notion that each boat will claim victory once is wishful thinking for some, as the crews do keep score. If one of the men aboard your boat has suffered a recent losing streak, expect him to pull out all the stops to bring that disappointment to a close. Adding a bit of contention, one craft is named for Australia and the other for New Zealand. Old rivalries are perpetuated off the Cabo shore.

Throughout the competition, the staff is pleasant, helpful and understanding. You won’t be pushed; whips are not extracted from below deck to motivate you. The purpose, above all else, is to have a good time, and the team will help guide you through the challenges that await. It’s not easy, but you’ll be able to swap out with other guests during each race.

Once the second race has come to a conclusion, you’ll head back to the marina. Enjoy a cup of bear, stretch your shoulders and listen to the accented memories of the Australian, Kiwi and Mexican crew members. To call them experts is an understatement. Feel free to ask them about their own histories. They’ll talk willingly, but you won’t find boasting in these sea stories – just the untainted facts of professionals recounting the joyful pains of pursuing glory.

Oh, if you want a turn at the steering wheel, just ask.

From start to finish, the America’s Cup Sailing team was nothing short of a pleasure to be around. They are able to deliver a high-touch, insightful experience without even approaching obsessive or overbearing. The point of the excursion is to experience something you wouldn’t back home. They grasp this and make it a reality. Without a doubt, it has the potential to be the highlight of your Los Cabos vacation.

Back on land, check out a few of the other attractions that Cabo Adventures offers. A glass dolphin tank sits right in the lobby, and there are opportunities to swim with them, too. Special programs exist for kids, and there’s a “Dolphin Trainer for a Day” package that allows you to get your hands dirty wet with the staff.

If you’re headed to Los Cabos, this is the first attraction you should add to your itinerary.

Disclosure: The Los Cabos Tourism Board picked up the tab for this trip. But, if you know me, you know I don’t do anyone favors. The opinions are definitely my own.

In the Corner of the World – With the wind in your sails


Over the next few weeks here at Gadling, we’ll be bringing you updates from our recent travels across New Zealand – in the process, we hope to offer a range of perspectives about what visiting this truly unique and fascinating country is all about. You can read previous entries HERE.

It’s no secret that New Zealand breeds some of the best sailors on the planet. With serious players in every large regatta including America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, one begins to think that Kiwis have seawater in their blood.

It may be true. As an island nation deep in the South Pacific, water is always nearby the average citizen. Auckland, the largest city in this corner of the world is surrounded by water, with personal, commercial and ferry ships strewn across the Waitemata Harbor like marbles on rolling sand.

It should thus follow that no trip to New Zealand is complete without some time spent on the water, whether this is swimming with dolphins, floating through glow worm caves, whitewater rafting or sailing through the pacific, and Waitemata harbor is no exception, hosting a broad range of nautical excursions for the seafaring visitor.

Should you fancy your own sailing experience when you’re in Auckland, there are several companies that offer charters from the downtown pier. SailNZ, the owners of two former America’s Cup racing yachts hosts a variety of tours in the Auckland Harbor, from a simple, pleasant day cruise to a hands-on navigation experience to a full bore, competitive race. You can check out their highly recommended tours at SailNZ.co.nz.

If you’re curious how sailing an America’s Cup Yacht feels, check out the video after the jump.

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