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]

Crystal Cruises Hobbit Experience Brings New Adventure To Sea

crystal cruises hobbit experience

Crystal Cruises are always looking for unique experiences to stand out from the crowd and an upcoming New Zealand sailing is no exception. Bringing adventure from the big screen to cruise passengers, Crystal Cruises has a new dinner experience this December, on the “Hobbiton” set used for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and new prequel film.

Just days after “The Hobbit

opens worldwide, Crystal Symphony calls in Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region of the North Island of New Zealand, home of the “Hobbiton” set used for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and new prequel film. On the December 20 sailing, Crystal Symphony guests can have a private, guided tour from Frodo and Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit holes to the Brandywine Bridge, featuring local wine and beer and a traditional Kiwi barbeque served by wait staff in Lord of the Rings costume.

“We are always looking for unique, boutique ways for our guests to immerse themselves in a world different from their own,” said Crystal’s Vice-President, Land & Port Operations, John Stoll in a Popular Cruising report.A second “Lord of the Rings“-themed adventure is also offered on both cruises, visiting Edoras’ home, Mt. Potts Station and Lodge, and New Zealand’s Southern Alps from Christchurch.

The 16-day Christmas/New Year’s sailing voyage overnights in Auckland before sailing through Tauranga, Napier, Christchurch, Dunedin, Sydney (double overnight), Melbourne (overnight), and Dusky, Doubtful, and Milford Sounds.

“With ‘The Hobbit’ opening mid-December, this is an extraordinarily timely opportunity for Crystal guests to be transported to a place that many fantasy-fiction genre fans, movie buffs, as well as wine and foodies, and off-the-beaten-path travelers, from around the globe can only dream of visiting,” said Stoll. The Hobbiton dinner and village exploration fee is $265 per person.

Hobbits Take Flight in Air New Zealand's New Safety Video


[Photo credit: Crystal Cruises]

Cruise Line Destination Focus Brings Off-Ship Adventures

Cruise Line

Cruise lines continue to bust into new territory, shaking off their booze cruise, buffet bonanza reputation with a keen focus on the destinations they visit. Off the ship, cruise travelers want more than a packaged shore excursion. They want more time in port with active experiences rather than passive viewing. Cruise lines are beginning to deliver too. Spending some of the clout they earn by bringing millions in tourism revenue to ports around the world, cruise lines are tapping local sources and setting up unique off-ship adventures.

Crystal Cruises has Overland Adventures that take Crystal guests to unique, immersive events ashore. Typical of the intensity level of their Overland Adventures is a three-night Laos Overland Discovery during a March 7, 2013, Southeast Asia cruise, offering an intimate look into the rich history, culture and scenery of the former French colony and UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang, considered the best-preserved city in Southeast Asia.cruise lineThose participating will get off their cruise ship, Crystal Symphony, in the port of Laem Chabang, Thailand where they will spend the first night. From there, they fly to Laos for two nights, to see a Laotian Buddhist alms-giving ceremony, visit sacred temples and other attractions then sail across the Mekong River to the Buddha-filled Pak Ou Caves. Travelers then rejoin Crystal Symphony in Ho Chi Minh City.

While in the area, Crystal offers other off-ship adventures with titles like “The Wonders of Angkor Wat,” “Phong Nha Caves & Vietnam Heritage” and “A Portrait of Vietnam: Hue, Hoi An & Hanoi.”

The whole destination immersion focus has become so popular that Azamara Club Cruises is adding a complimentary immersive destination event ashore featured on every voyage.

Azamara guests sailing a Baltic cruise voyage, for example, might enjoy a private ballet performance in St. Petersburg, Russia, while walking the red carpet and sipping champagne. Travelers on a Mediterranean cruise may find themselves sampling Jerez, Spain’s famous sherry wine at Gonzalez Byass and later enjoying a private equestrian ballet at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.

These are not your typical cruise line “load everybody up in a tour bus and drive around” excursions.

Mainstream cruise lines, still mostly limited to day trips, are testing the waters for immersive off-ship adventures. In Alaska, Princess Cruises continues to explore the land of the midnight sun with experiences like a Back Country Zodiac Expedition, a Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour or a Heli-Hike & Rail Adventure.

For now, we’re finding these experiential off-ship adventures on high-end luxury lines. But look for mainstream cruise lines to offer intense lifetime event experiences in the near future.


Top Adventure Travel Destinations

[Flickr photos by *christopher*]

Cruise Line Adds Focus On Learning And Self-Discovery

cruise linesCommon thoughts about a standard cruise line experience include bellying up to the buffet, ’70s Vegas-like entertainment and non-stop bingo with a few thousand strangers sailing through the Caribbean.

That experience can still be found, but these days, cruise lines are focusing on engaging passengers in a variety of new ways. From a focus on destination immersion to revamped onboard programming, today’s cruise experience can be a voyage of learning and self-discovery.

Luxury line Crystal Cruises has a 74-day world cruise coming up this winter. Like other lines offering world cruises, Crystal allows travelers to sign up for what they call “segments” of the world cruise, shorter journeys in specific areas of the world.

The February 2, 24-day segment from Lima to Buenos Aires is one of those experiences where passengers can choose from dozens of classes, hands-on lessons and interactive workshops in everything from golf to global affairs, Pilates to painting and memoir writing to magic.Via Crystal’s Creative Learning Institute curriculum, guests can learn how to make a movie of the Chilean fjords with an iPad through USC’s School of Cinematic Arts’ Digital Filmmaking classes. They can learn how to cook a traditional Peruvian meal at a Lima culinary school or learn to tread lightly in Antarctica, with a choice of two excursions to the remote continent.

This kind of cruise vacation does have its price though. All-inclusive fares for the 24-day segment start at $12,760 per person.

Overview of Buenos Aires



[Flickr photo by d[-_-]b Jonathan d[-_-]b]

Adios Mexico, Hello Pacific Northwest, Crystal Cruises adds two new itineraries

Crystal Cruises has added two Pacific Coast itineraries to its 2011 calendar. The new cruises replace two Mexican Riviera itineraries. Cruises along the west coast of Mexico have been soft for the last couple years, with several cruise ships that were to be based there heading to Europe and other far-flung parts of the world.

Departing April 10 and 17, the Crystal Symphony will sail between Los Angeles and Vancouver, visiting Santa Barbara and San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Astoria, Oregon; and Victoria, British Columbia.

“The West Coast and Northwest itineraries add dimension and scope to the worldwide destinations we’re offering in 2011,” says Bill Smith, Crystal’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Very few cruises visit the ports of the U.S. West Coast, unless they are repositioning to or from Alaska. Smith says that the itineraries will appeal not only to international guests, but also to North American travelers looking for value, convenient ports of departure and sailing a region not often sailed.