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Part of cruising’s appeal has always been that travelers can get to so many locations without dealing with the logistics. Options for destination discovery used to be limited, and cruisers were fine with that. But, as we discovered during Travel Weekly’s annual CruiseWorld 2016, shore excursions are becoming more authentic and experience-immersive to fit an expanding base of increasingly adventurous passengers.
“It’s no longer enough for cruise companies to offer a scenic bus ride in each port,” said John Delaney, president of Windstar Cruises. “More than ever, people really want to get their feet wet. They want to jump off a zodiac onto a Costa Rican beach.”
Even in ever-so-civilized ports around Western Europe, cruisers respond to an opportunity to get local. In fact, longtime European river cruise specialist Avalon Waterways recently launched a new product specifically to offer customers the local-immersive experiences afforded to European vacationers.
“An important aspect of choosing a river cruise is to explore and immerse yourself into a region’s culture and history while spending time with locals,” said Patrick Clark, managing director for Avalon. “We’re offering the sights, cities and quaint villages. We’re adding some off-the-beaten path, eclectic ports — and active options that help travelers stay active and healthy on vacation.”
During the conference, cruise executives outlined five areas where authentic shore experiences have seen a significant increase in demand:
Avalon’s Active Discovery programs really exemplify the blend of cultural immersion and physical activity that Europeans have appreciated for years and cruise lines are using to expand to more youthful clientele. Cruisers can explore an ice cave, take an archery lesson, descend into an underground salt mine or ascend a mountain during a guided climb. It’s a far cry from the standard center-city walking tours, though those are always offered too, of course.
Windstar’s “Shop with the Chef” program launched in local markets because guests were requesting it.
“You’ll see some intrepid folks happily reaching into bins of octopus to find the freshest one in Greece,” Delaney said.
This is becoming the norm with other cruise lines as well: Panelist Barry Karp, co-owner of ShoreTrips, notes the company is currently offering foodie experiences such as a historic Key West conch and Key lime pie walking tour in Florida, crabbing in Alaska and wine-tasting trips to Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia.
Fathom as a cruise offering is being discontinued this spring, but parent company Carnival Corporation & Plc will keep offering its first-to-market social-impact shore excursions via several other Carnival Corp. lines, including Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises. Clients can spend an afternoon volunteering at a woman’s co-op, browsing a crafts center or participating in other local ventures that provide a soul-stimulating counterpoint to days of cocktail-soaked indulgence.
A Historical Lens
While only a handful of small-ship cruise companies such as Blount Small Ship Adventures and American Queen Steamboat Company currently offer port activities with an American-pride focus, increasing consumer interest may soon lead other lines to follow suit.
Wilderness and Adventure
Karp has seen a dramatic spike in Alaska bookings that correspond with growing consumer interest in extreme adventures. And while some activities, such as dogsledding, can accommodate people of limited mobility, others require participants to be in excellent physical condition. Helicopter-accessible ice climbing and Denali whitewater rafting are two offerings that ShoreTrips fully books months in advance. Karp says many people are booking pre- or post-cruise extensions specifically to do some of the most remote excursions.