Wackiest Cruise Shore Excursions
Ketchikan, AK, is a quiet town full of fishermen, forested hills, and the occasional totem pole, but on some afternoons, leather-clad gangs roar through town on their Harleys.
Havoc-wreaking Easy Riders? Not exactly. They’re Holland America cruise ship passengers on a group shore excursion, one of the increasing number of unique, adventurous—outrageous, even—options that cruise lines are offering to their customers.
“The lines have been ramping up ships with amenities like rock climbing walls and ziplines to draw a younger, more active crowd,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruisecritic.com. “It makes sense that they’re doing the same for shore excursions.”
Furthermore, while a traditional cruiser may be content with motor coach tours, onboard casinos, and multiple trips to the buffet, this new generation of thrill seekers wants “more to ‘do, rather than view,’” says Lee Lennon, Yachts of Seabourn’s director of Destination Services. “And they want to go back and make their friends say, ‘Wow!’”
Some of these wow factors involve vehicles—fast ones that spin, swoop, skid, or screech. For instance, go sailing with Crystal Cruises from St. Petersburg, Russia, on its summertime Baltic cruises, and you could end up flying a Soviet MiG. At the Sormovo Air Base, on the outskirts of the historic Nizhny Novgorod, participants undergo a physical exam and flight instruction before strapping on a helmet for a dizzying journey up over the Russian countryside at speeds of up to 1,536 mph—that’s twice the speed of sound. The cost for this two-day extension: a whopping $46,000.
Less pricey—but just as adrenaline-fueled—is a cage dive off the coast of South Africa, into waters infested with great white sharks. While not known to be man-eaters (though their reputation says otherwise), the torpedo-shaped creatures—which can grow up to 20 feet in length—swim up menacingly close to the five-man steel cage, close enough for glimpses of their razor-sharp teeth. Crystal Cruises also offers this outing, on its 19-day cruise from Mumbai to Cape Town, for under $500.
Cruise lines’ growing list of extreme shore excursions is so wide-ranging that you’re guaranteed to find something that floats your boat.
Ride a Harley: Caribbean and Alaska
Cruisers who want to take sightseeing in the fast lane can speed around in Harleys in Ketchikan, AK, and in the Caribbean, a literal hog heaven when ships dock in town. You’ll need a valid motorcycle permit (or you can hitch a ride with a licensed rider) before roaring into Cozumel sunsets or Ketchikan’s pristine Tongass forest under the direction of a gang leader (well, a local guide).
Snorkel with Sea Dragons: Australia
One of the most unusual creatures of the sea is found only off the coasts of southern Australia. Not quite a sea horse and not quite a fish, the mysterious sea dragon—which can grow up to 18 inches long—was named for its resemblance to the mythical creature and often escapes perception by the human eye. Squint hard—they’re often mistaken for seaweed swaying in the undertow, thanks to their leafy camouflage.
Go Truffle Hunting: Croatia
The elusive white truffle—aptly dubbed “culinary gold”—is one of the world’s most highly prized foods, fetching upward of $6,000 per pound. This romp in the oak forests near Livade village in northwestern Croatia provides a rare glimpse into the tightly guarded tricks of the truffle-hunting trade, led by a real-life forager and specially trained dogs.
Take a Helicopter Tour: Hong Kong and Dubai
The scene has become an action movie cliché: a deafening chopper drops down from the heights of a soaring skyscraper, narrowly dodging enemy fire. And just when you think you’re in the clear…Boom! Crash landing! Okay, cruise lines won’t let you re-create the scene frame by frame, but you can still get in on the action. In Hong Kong, a twin-engined copter takes off from the rooftop helipad of the Peninsula Hotel for a dramatic swoop over the Kowloon skyline and Victoria Harbour, while a “flightseeing” tour of Dubai surveys the desert coast before touching down at the suspended helipad at the iconic Burj Al Arab.
Where to Book: Yachts of Seabourn offers the excursion year-round in Hong Kong on its East Asian itineraries ($399) and in Dubai on its spring and fall Middle East voyages ($699).
Swim with Sharks: South Africa
Thanks to Jaws, the great white shark has earned a reputation as one of the ocean’s most vicious predators. This journey starts off innocently enough, with a tranquil 20-minute sail from Kleinbaai harbor, southeast of Cape Town, but takes a menacing turn near Dyer “shark alley” Island. Dive-cage operators will lower you into the waters in a five-man steel cage, throwing out ground sardines to lure the beasts, who may swim up close enough for views of their razor-sharp teeth.
Sail a Traditional Ship: Turkey
Originally built for fishermen and sponge divers, the gulet—a traditional two-masted wooden sailboat—is now used for picturesque sailings, especially off the Bodrum peninsula in southwestern Turkey. Views of hilltop windmills, sandy beaches, and citrus orchards on the Aegean’s tiny islands are best experienced en couple to the clink of champagne flutes.
Where to Book: Windstar Mediterranean cruises in the summer and fall; $649.
Build a Lamborghini: Venice
A private tour of the museum at the Lamborghini factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese, in central Italy, takes you through 47 years of company history and a display of vintage and prototype models of one of the world’s snazziest sports cars. The visit gets more hands-on at the manufacturing plant, where you can assemble the components of an actual vehicle.
Brave the Elements with Penguins: Antarctica
An extreme landscape of frigid cold and biting winds, the White Continent is home to only the hardiest of survivors. Among them: adélie, chinstrap, and gentoo penguins. The daylong trek to the remote King George Island is an adventure in itself: a seven-seater plane traverses the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego Island, and the jagged Darwin Mountains, before shooting south another 620 miles to Frei Base, a scientific research station on the penguins’ island of residence.
Watch the Monaco Grand Prix: Monaco
The Grand Prix’s harrowing 2.075-mile circuit through the narrow streets of Monaco has been a favorite for the jet-setting glitterati since 1929. Prime seating is guaranteed, so you’ll watch racers negotiate tight corners, hairpin turns, and slippery passes right up to the finish line.
Fly a Soviet MiG: Russia
What better way to channel your inner James Bond than an exhilarating whirl in a Soviet jet fighter? The adventure takes off at the Sormovo Air Base, on the outskirts of the historic Nizhny Novgorod; after a physical exam and flight instruction, you’ll strap on a helmet for a skyward journey up to the dizzying speed of 1,536 mph (or twice the speed of sound). The rewards of your mission, if you choose to accept it: a flight certificate and breathtaking—but blurry—views of the Russian countryside.
Where to Book: Crystal Cruises operates MiG tours from St. Petersburg on summertime Baltic cruises. The two-day package costs $45,999, including round-trip transportation to Moscow, overnight hotel accommodations, and a full-day sightseeing tour.