Interacting with friendly dolphins; private islands and more. // © 2013 Royal Caribbean International
Vacationing during a cruise is always easy onboard. Family members can indulge their individual tastes, playing basketball or reading in a hammock, but when it’s time to go ashore, the types of choices available can make or break a vacation. It isn’t just about individual families’ selections; the overall structure of the cruise makes a big difference. It’s important to plan port-intensive exploration mixed with more relaxing days, and having a variety of excursions available is key.
Among the excursions that receive the most enthusiastic family reviews are those that involve animals.
In Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Disney Cruise Line’s Dolphin Trainer Program is just a five-minute walk from the pier at the Cabo Dolphins Center. Participants prepare food for the dolphins and have 30 minutes to interact with them. The 3½-hour trip includes lunch and costs $175 for ages 10 up and $155 for ages 5-10.
In Juneau, Alaska, Princess Cruises offers Dog Sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier, featuring a helicopter flight to the dog sled camp before riding out on a sledding adventure. At the end of the trip, kids will be delighted to play with the puppies before heading back via helicopter. Prices begin at $569.
In Bali, Celebrity Cruises has an elephant experience at the Elephant Safari Park. First, elephants display their intelligence with a series of tricks. Then guests have a chance to ride on one of the gentle giants before watching them bathe in the park’s lakes. The cost is $169 for adults and $129 for kids.
A trip to the Saxman Native Village near Ketchikan, Alaska, is offered by many cruise lines, including Holland America Line, Princess, Royal Caribbean International (RCI), Celebrity, Disney and Norwegian Cruise Line. It’s a short bus ride to a working totem-carving center and the Beaver Clan House, where Tlingit dancers perform on stage. This is often combined with a lumberjack show or regional tour, so pricing varies from around $50 to more than $100.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, RCI has a Paint Your Own Matryoshka Doll and Russian Tea Party excursion, where guests can use traditional paints and patterns to decorate the popular nesting dolls. The tour lasts about four hours, and the cost is $65.
All of the cruise lines calling in Copenhagen have packages that include Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, featuring gorgeous flowers, restaurants, concert halls and cafes. Celebrity has an independent Tivoli Gardens and Theme Park transfer, priced at $28 for adults and $17 for kids.
Unusual forms of transportation can be an attraction in themselves, as in Carnival Cruise Lines’ Magical Flying Beach Chair in Roatan, Honduras. It provides a bird’s-eye view of the 825-foot white sand Mahogany Beach as it glides out from the cruise center. A $12 ticket ($7 for kids) is good for unlimited rides all day, so you can go back to the ship and return later if you wish.
Watersports are popular among families, and Norwegian’s Captain Zodiac Raft, Snorkel & Dolphin Adventure in Kona, Hawaii, is an award-winning option. The tour lasts about five hours and costs $69 for adults and $39 for kids ages four and up. It includes snorkeling in protected waters, a Zodiac raft ride to Kealakekua Bay and chances to see spinner dolphins, pilot whales, sea turtles, manta rays and humpback whales in season.
Snorkeling, scuba, snuba, waterbikes and kayaks are also available on the cruise lines’ private islands, which consistently receive high guest ratings. Among them are Norwegian’s Great Stirrup Cay, Disney’s Castaway Cay, Princess’ Princess Cays, Holland America Line’s Half Moon Cay (where Carnival ships also call), RCI and Celebrity’s CocoCay and Labadee. The islands also feature barbecues, live music, waterparks, hiking and more.
Whatever families choose — a formal excursion, a day at a local beach or a private car tour — a shared experience in a different culture is an opportunity for family bonding that is hard to surpass.