As cruisers become more sophisticated, they also look for more unusual things to do while off the ship – a way to really experience the cultures, surroundings and people. This is where cruise lines have stepped up to the plate once again. Yes, there are traditional tours, but today cruise companies offer a growing number of unique options.

Fitness embraces nature

Rainforest Yoga

Rainforest Yoga

Fitness classes abound onboard, but MSC Cruises takes this to a new level with holistic twist in “Yoga in the Rainforest.” Available when the MSC Poesia is in Roseau, Dominica, this shore excursion takes guests to Papillote Wilderness Retreat, a tranquil oasis at an elevation of 1,000 feet. It’s at the head of the Roseau Valley, with famous Trafalgar Falls nearby. Guests can literally connect with nature in this yoga class. It’s a true eco-wellness experience on all levels.

More than just a cooking demonstration

Regina Charboneau

Regina Charboneau

American Queen Steamboat Company’s April launch of the American Queen created a new focus on cuisine in the hiring of Chef Regina Charboneau, a celebrated American chef and native of Natchez, Miss. When developing ideas for tours, the company came up with one that included Twin Oaks Plantation, the Natchez home of Chef Regina and her husband. Chef Regina came up with an extension of the original idea and explains, “What we’ve created is an experience where guests not only take a personal tour of my home, but enjoy champagne cocktails as well as a buffet of seasonal sweet and savory treats. I also share secrets about some of my favorite seasonal foods as well as tips for entertaining.” The tour is limited to about 28 guests.

Holland America Line’s “Private Cooking School at Villa Ida Sorrento” is a shore tour that allows guests to learn Southern Italian cooking techniques. After guests are transferred to Sorrento and Villa Ida, their lesson takes place in the kitchen of a private garden villa owned by a native Sorrentine family. The three-hour class is broken up with a visit to the wine cellar and tasting of homemade wine. Guests then have a chance to relax by the pool or in the garden and enjoy the meal they’ve created.

Voluntourism and ways to give back

Crystal Cruises has led the way when it comes to voluntourism, best described as volunteering combined with touring. Launched in 2011, the “You Care, We Care” voluntourism program includes complimentary voluntouring shore excursions on each sailing.

St. John's Hawksnest

Hawksnest, St. John, VI

Other cruise lines also provide voluntourism shore excursions. Royal Caribbean International and sister company Celebrity Cruises have a voluntourism excursion that involves the St. John Virgin Islands National Park and Community Foundation. Tasks on the island of St. John have included trail upkeep. Lunch is included. All proceeds of the sale of the tour are donated directly to this organization.

Another way to give back to the environment is Royal Caribbean International’s “Whales & Glaciers Science Adventure” in Juneau, Alaska. Limited to 20 guests, this hands-on, science-based excursion includes a tour to Alaska’s renowned Stephens Passage and Mendenhall Glacier. And if whales are not observed or sighted on the trip? A $100 cash refund is provided for each guest.

Holland America Line has a “Cruise with Purpose” tour in Alaska. The “Citizen Science Adventure” to Stephens Passage and Mendenhall Glacier involves tracking and recording behaviors pertaining to a variety of marine mammals, including humpback whales. Another part takes place onboard a custom-built safari vessel, perfect for wildlife observations. It’s a way to be a “scientist for a day” and support research programs where data is gathered and then used by scientists to study effects of climate changes, water quality, etc.

Unique Water Experiences

Have you ever dreamed of being a dolphin trainer? One of Norwegian Cruise Line’s shore excursions lets you do just that. The “Dolphin Trainer Program” in Cozumel, Mexico goes beyond the “swimming with the dolphins” experience. Guests arrive at Dolphinaris, where they’re provided with a locker, towel and snorkel equipment along with their very own dolphin trainer T-shirt. The excursion begins with learning about basic husbandry and training techniques. An anatomy lesson on dolphins is followed by a behind-the-scenes tour that includes a session on preparing the dolphin’s diet for a day. In a session with a trainer, guests can apply everything they’ve learned. From there the dolphin swim and ride program allows guests to experience the true magic of the dolphins – first from a waist-deep platform and then floating out into the deeper ocean water to swim with the dolphins. After a kiss, hug and friendly fin shake, guests receive a dolphin ride around the cove. The experience ends with a guided snorkeling experience and lunch.

Holland America’s “Dry Suit Snorkel” in Alaska allows guests to learn about the biology of the ocean floor in Sitka Sound. Guests wear their own street clothes under the “dry suit,” which provides warmth, buoyancy, safety and comfort. After being picked up from the dock, they are taken to a changing area and then head to Magic Island in Halibut Point Recreation State Park for snorkeling with a certified dive master.

Cindy Bertram has 15+ years of cruise expertise in sales, marketing and training, with an MBA from Loyola University Chicago. She can be reached at cindy@ptmgroups.com

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