Cruise Lifestyle

Can mandatory organized shore excursions still be fun post-COVID?

With organized shore excursions becoming the norm in many ports around the world, will the inability to explore independently take the fun out of port calls?

A Dubai desert safari is one of the key attractions in an Arabian Gulf cruise

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We go on cruises for many reasons. Some just want to sit by a pool with a book and watch the world go by, others want to race go-karts, ride roller coasters or go sky-diving, or they want to do all that and party into the early hours of the morning.

The beauty of a cruise holiday is that you can do all of these things without even leaving the ship, but for most of us, visiting diverse and exotic ports of call all over the world is also a powerful draw.

We want to journey to a white sand beach to relax, explore the history of a region, delve into local culture or admire the scenery and wildlife. Or you may want to take the opportunity to try something completely new for a thrill of a lifetime.

Adventure shore excursions organised by cruise lines at ports around the world provide these experiences, even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with organised shore excursions mandatory at many cruise destinations.

St. Maarten’s Flying Dutchman, the world’s steepest zipline. (Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)

In Ocho Rios, Jamaica, guests on Carnival Cruise Line ships might ride the Mystic Mountain Sky Explorer chairlift up 700 feet through the forest and then feel the adrenaline rush as they race 3,280 feet on a bobsled ride inspired by the famous Jamaican Olympic team. Continue the adventure flying through a tree canopy on a zipline.

For aerial fun at Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Honduras, hop on the Magical Flying Beach Chair that takes guests to the beach via a six-minute ride across nearly 1,200 feet of suspended cables.

If that seems too tame, take a leap of faith on the more extreme zipline and beach adventure, traveling up to 70 feet above lush jungle, ravines and water. Or head off on an adventure park excursion that combines a 12-line zipline, eight suspension bridges and two superman ziplines – where you are attached in the middle of your back, spread your arms, and “fly.”

At the Rainforest Adventures St. Maarten – Rockland Estate, an eco-park attraction, get a rush on the Flying Dutchman, the world’s steepest zipline, reaching speeds of up to 56 miles per hour as you drop 1,050 feet in elevation.

The St. Maarten adventure experience begins with a ride on the Soualida Sky Explorer chairlift that gets you up Sentry Hill. For added exhilaration, slide down the mountain on an inner tube, twisting and turning on a specially designed track.

Cozumel is the most visited cruise destination in the Caribbean, and from the Puerta Maya pier, cruise passengers might book an excursion to snorkel with 30-foot-long whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. Or boast about your experience as you helmet dive to the world’s first underwater oxygen bar, the Clear Lounge Cozumel.

Sun-seekers on Mexican Riviera itineraries may want to consider Puerto Vallarta, where you can ride a new rollercoaster zipline that combines the free-flying sensation of a zip line with the twists and turns of a roller-coaster.

That’s not all. You can also ride an inflatable speedboat, head off-road in a 4×4 and climb aboard a mule, then switch to additional ziplines and rappelling into natural pools.

In Cabo San Lucas, adventure types will want to experience off-road driving in Baja, taking the wheel of a UTV to tear it up on canyon terrain that includes rocks, hills and a brook, plus drive across what’s billed as the longest suspension bridge in the world, a 1,082.67-foot expanse, 162 feet above the ground at its lowest point.

Or travel into the heart of Boca de la Sierra, one of UNESCO´s protected biosphere reserves, to traverse seven breathtaking ziplines, the highest of which (at 4,000 feet) is Mexico’s fastest and longest superman zipline.

UTV adventure in Cabo San Lucas

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Europe has its own share of adventure tour experiences. From Vigo, Spain, guests on the ships of British line P&O Cruises might choose to experience the thrill of white-water rafting on the rapids of the Mino River, traveling with experienced guides on inflatable rafts.

In western Norway, adventures include taking the scenic Flåm railway into the mountains with a stop at the roaringly impressive Kjosfossen waterfall, then riding the longest zipline in Scandinavia, zooming down some 4,500 feet.

Or you can jump off a cliff into the sea, with German line AIDA Cruises, which takes passengers to the spectacular “Baía d’Abra” on the Portuguese island of Madeira for a walk and climb over impressive rocks with opportunity for intrepid travelers to cliff jump (there’s also the option of dipping in the Atlantic without the jumping part).

On Baltic sailings that visit Stockholm, an option for guests of lines including Italy-based Costa Cruises is a fun tour that explores the city via its rooftops.

You wear a safety harness and helmet and hook on to steel cables to walk on rooftops some 108 feet above the ground for views. From Akureyri in northern Iceland, you might put on a helmet and carry a flashlight to explore the underground ice caves of Lofthellir, with their breathtaking natural ice sculptures.

Guests on cruises visiting Bahrain on Dubai cruises in the Arabian Gulf can explore the world of Formula 1 racing and off-road action, visiting the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC). The tour of the track includes a chance to drive a 4×4 car on an adventure course, with different obstacles along the way.

White-water rafting on the rapids of the Mino River in Portugal

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P&O Cruises Australia appeals to adventurous types with a wealth of experiences taking in the natural surroundings.

From Cairns, experience “Rooster Tail,” “Cheese Churn” and “Hells Gate” on the Barron River in Queensland on a wild rapids ride. It’s an adrenaline rush as you swoosh through gorges and past stunning waterfalls and lush rainforest.

Guests enjoying a P&O Cruises Australia vacation to the South Pacific island of Vanuatu can test their adventurous streak on a zipline suspended in the treetops at Summit Hill, with the valley floor some 262 feet below.

In Alaska, an adventure experience is a must-do, with a myriad of options such as flightseeing, mountain biking, kayaking, ATV riding, ziplining and fishing tours to catch salmon or halibut. You can put on a dry suit or wetsuit and snorkel in Alaska to see multicolored sea urchins, sea cucumbers and other fascinating sea life.

You could also take a deluxe tour that involves helicoptering to the top of a glacier for a dogsled ride with a professional musher. In addition to the thrill of being on a sled and seeing amazing scenery you’ll learn about the care the huskies receive.

Seabourn, with its Ventures by Seabourn program, adds opportunity to get close to nature on exciting private zodiac, hiking and kayaking tours led by the line’s experienced expeditions team.

Seabourn offers kayaking tours led by the line’s experienced expeditions team in Alaska

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You might follow a pod of whales, while admiring eagles overhead. In addition to Alaska, the Ventures program is available in such places as Antarctica, Norway and the Amazon.

Princess Cruises, with its partnership with Discovery™ and Animal Planet, has adventures such as whale watching or visiting a dog sled camp, with special activities that would appeal to kids ages 3 to 12.

For grownups and kids age 12 and up, a once-in-a-lifetime Discovery-recommended Helicopter Glacier Trek has you landing on a glacier in the Juneau Icefield and putting on crampons to go trekking on the blue ice.

Holland America Line has such extraordinary shore experiences as hele-hiking, rock climbing and riding on the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad for a snowshoe adventure in the snowy upper reaches of the Tormented Valley in northern British Columbia.

These are the sorts of opportunities that make shore excursions fun, even if they are mandatory and social distanced.

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