In Jamaica, Carnival Cruise Lines offers passengers a bobsled ride through a tropical forest. In Stockholm, Sweden, Norwegian Cruise Line guests can take a rooftop tour of the city. In Key West, those sailing on Royal Caribbean ships can take a walking tour with a handheld GPS that not only supplies directions but also provides facts, myths and legends.
These are some of the smart new kinds of shore excursions offered by mainstream cruise lines as they widen their appeal to a more active, tuned-in audience.
For some years, cruise lines have been adding excursions that appeal to younger passengers, such as zip-line adventures, lessons in regional cuisine and ecological tours. But now they're upping the ante with even more "extreme'' excursions and tours that lean on modern technology.
Some may be expensive, and many limit the number of participants. But all provide a less common perspective to their visit ashore. Norwegian Cruise Line, for one, has just launched a new series of shore excursions called Ultimate Touring that is available to groups of two to 18 persons.
Besides that rooftop walk in Stockholm, its tours include such unusual experiences as a speedboat exploration of the Helsinki, Finland, archipelago and sharing cuisine secrets with an Alaskan chef in Ketchikan.
In June, Holland America announced the addition of nearly 500 specially selected excursions in several categories. Among them are first-class tours to events and sights not readily available, such as becoming a dolphin trainer for a day in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and tours that explore beyond the standard attractions, such as visiting important sites in the life of Eva Peron in Buenos Aires.
Of special interest to "been-there-done-that'' travelers is Holland America's Signature Collection, which allows guests to customize their excursions and reserve private transportation.
Norwegian offers exclusive four- and nine-hour tours in a private vehicle for passengers who want to explore any NCL port of call on their own, and Princess and Royal Caribbean offer iPod-guided walking tours.
Both those lines let passengers choose whether they want to follow a set itinerary on their iPod tours or design their own. Princess' iPod tours, available in 16 European cities for $29 each, provide passengers with a detailed map of attractions along with recorded tour information. Regent also offers iPod tours of some European cities.
Here are a few active, less-structured shore explorations.
Hog alert: On the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, MSC offers adults a guided motorcycle tour that lasts about five hours and runs through the French side of the island. Participants can ride either a legendary Fat Boy bike or the classic Harley Heritage, but must have a current motorcycle license (available in most states) and credit card. Price is $395.
One unusual NCL tour is a mountain bike expedition in Corfu, Greece. Only 20 people can participate. The tour takes them to such untouched regions of the island as the villages of Kato Korakiana and St. Markos. Price starts at $179.
Passengers not afflicted with the fear of heights now can climb Sydney, Australia's famous Harbour Bridge all the way to the top, more than 400 feet above the water, on a ship-arranged tour. Participants must wear a jumpsuit, headset and harness, pass an alcohol breath test and negotiate 1,400-odd steps on catwalks and ladders. Price starts at $175.
An evening at Russia's famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, when the facility is closed to the public, is offered by Celebrity. Included is a private tour of its celebrated artworks and a ballet performance. Cost is $299.
For the ecologically minded, Costa offers a tour from the port of Ilheus, Brazil, that visits CEPLAC, a research center devoted to the preservation of sloths and other creatures in the Atlantic Forest. Guests also drive on the environmentally friendly Ilheus-Itacare Road, where nets have been installed in treetops above the roadway so that small animals can cross in safety. Cost is $59.
Jay Clarke, former travel editor of the Miami Herald, is a freelance writer based in Coral Gables.