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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All ashore who's going ashore: shore excursions set cruises apart

    Out to Sea column
   Holland America Line offers one-day shore excursions to Mexico's remote Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) by the Chihuahua Pacifico Railway. (Jim Fox photo)
    (c) By Jim and Barb Fox

   Shore excursions -- or how cruisers spend their days in port -- are what set many cruises apart.
   Cruising isn't just about sailing and the sea air but also about unpacking just once and travelling with your floating hotel/resort to numerous exotic ports of call waiting to be explored.
   "Around the world, cruisers are pursuing favourite activities, enriching mind and spirit and living out ultimate fantasies while on a cruise," said Lanie Fagan of Cruise Lines International Association.
   Cruise lines are always looking to provide new experiences for the large number of cruisers who keep coming back for more and to capture the attention of those who have never cruised before.
   It used to be a typical shore excursion was a half-day city tour that was just enough to whet the appetite for more.
   While an excellent way to get a feel for the city or destination, today's most enticing excursions involve creative and unusual land programs.

   Fore and living the ultimate fantasy
   Golfing at some of the most famous clubs in the world is par for the course on many cruises while on some itineraries travellers can live out their ultimate fantasy.
  This might be driving Maseratis, Lamborghinis or Ferraris on the French Riviera, high-speed ocean yacht racing, or a 4x4 mountain outing at the Rally Club of Barga near Florence.
   Other extreme options include Scuba diving in Turkey, mountain biking in the Canary Islands, snorkelling in Alaska, hot-air ballooning in Stockholm or Paris and snowmobiling and dog sledding under the Northern Lights.
   Or, how about biking on top of the ancient walls of Lucca in Tuscany, one of Europe's best preserved cities, or walking across the rooftops of Stockholm?
   In Mexico, Holland America Line offers one-day trips to the isolated and rugged
Copper Canyon by train.
  Mexico's remote Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre). (Jim Fox photo)
   In South America, there are canopy rides across Chile's Osorno volcano while Cozumel, Mexico can be seen by Scoot Coupe, a miniature, three-wheeled convertible.
   Other cruises take guests to the greatest sporting events including the British Open golf tournament, Wimbledon tennis and the Monaco Grand Prix.

   Culinary delights
   While dining is a highlight of any cruise, shore excursions provide an opportunity to explore local cuisines and culinary traditions.
   Off the coast of Africa, sample traditional grilled octopus in the Seychelles islands or enjoy caviar and learn how it's produced in Spain.
   In Italy, a traditional farmhouse is the setting for dining and wine tasting with the Tuscan Cooking School.
   Cooking classes with an Italian countess in Venice or a typical Ligurian seafood lunch on a small boat in the Italian Riviera are other options.
   The wines of the Danube's Wachau Valley in Austria are including with dinner on a river cruise while visitors to the Adriatic sample traditional cooking during a home-hosted lunch in Croatia.
   For a change of pace, high tea is served at the luxurious Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai.
   Closer to home, there are Alaskan seafood feasts, lobster dinners in Halifax and Bar Harbor, Maine, and king crab safaris in Alaska's Barents Sea.

   Silversea Cruises offers numerous exotic shore excursions on its ships including the Silver Cloud shown in Portofino, Italy.
   Personalized culture and World Heritage Sites
   Cruisers can take private tours that offer a personal perspective on some of the world's great cultural landmarks.
   There are visits to such iconic places as the Doge's Palace in Venice and a backstage tour at the Monte Carlo Ballet.
   The Edinburgh military tattoo is featured on UK itineraries and there's a chance to explore the tunnels of the DMZ dividing North and South Korea or a formal tea ceremony in the garden of Korea's sixth century Hwaeomsa Temple.
   The world's largest collection of Viking rune stones and Norway's Stone Age settlements are on Scandinavian itineraries along with numerous World Heritage Sites.
   In Asia, there's an overland journey from Vietnam to Cambodia to visit the legendary Angkor Wat temples.
   View the elusive orangutans of Borneo, elephants, rhinos and buffalos of South Africa's Kapama Private Game Reserve, whales, bears, sea eagles and glaciers of Alaska, the landscapes of Antarctica and the Chilean fjords.

   Fun for all ages
   Younger daredevils can bobsled in the Jamaican rainforest, ride the Magical Flying Beach Chair in Roatan to Mahogany Beach or body board on the flow rider in Grand Turk.
   There's "In the Steps of the Beatles Tour" in Liverpool, England, treasure hunting in Tunis, lobstering and fishing in Maine and the Akvariet Aquarium in Norway.
   There's also an opportunity to attend a gala ball at the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, complete with Disney princesses.


   If you cruise:
   To learn more about ships, cruising and shore excursions: www.cruising.org
   (First published as a newspaper/web feature in January 2011)


Jim and Barb Fox can be reached at outtosea50@hotmail.com

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