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Beyond The Cruise Ship: Cruise Lines Offer Go-To Shore Excursions

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Cruise line shore excursions get you up close and personal with such bucket list attractions as the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises

Your cruise vacation takes you on a beautiful ship, with comfortable accommodations, fine cuisine and more tantalizing activities than you can possibly do in a week. But you’ll also be visiting fascinating ports of call almost every day. So the question is, what’s the best way to take advantage of exploring the destinations you visit?

For veteran cruise passengers, the go-to options are shore excursions offered by cruise lines. With years of experience in organizing the most popular shore excursions and long-standing relationships with local tour guides, the cruise lines offer a practical and hassle-free way to see the sights, experience local culture, safely pursue adventure activities such as snorkeling and ziplining, and arrive at the best lounge chairs on the best beaches – icy cold rum drinks optional.

“Tours are the best way to get to know the country and its people in one day,” says Frank Boensch, director of shore excursions for Germany-based AIDA Cruises. “The choice is huge. For instance, I often recommend bike tours for our active guests because you see the sights while pedaling, providing a whole different perspective. It’s amazing how diverse our world is and it’s unbelievable what you can experience.”

Whether you are looking to enjoy year-round summertime weather in the Caribbean on Carnival Cruise Line, explore the Mediterranean including small heritage towns (so called “borghi”) on Italy-based Costa Cruises, explore the beautiful beaches, fascinating culture and World War II sites of the South Pacific islands with P&O Cruises Australia or see the world with Cunard, shore excursions are the key to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Local guides add insight, and special activities add a wow factor.

The tours represent significant value, as cruise lines partner with qualified tour companies and feature transportation, expert guides, admission or activities fees and, in some cases, lunch and drinks. To prove the value proposition of their shore excursions, Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises all offer a best-price guarantee.

Peace of mind is another benefit, as cruise companies are in contact with their partner tour operators and able to track where a particular tour is, and when passengers will be returning to the ship. In the rare case of a port of call being canceled, passengers booking through the cruise line will have their shore excursions costs refunded.

To help you find the tour that’s right for you, here are some tips from shore excursion pros.

Think about what you want to do. “My first question is always, ‘What do you want to see?'” says Claudio Schulze, destinations manager on the new, ultra-luxury, 600-passenger ship Seabourn Ovation.

Bus tours work well for some passengers, particularly those who want to see the top sights without extensive walking. Active tours provide even more Instagram-worthy experiences and include such options as flightseeing, deep-sea fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking and ATV adventure, to name a few.

Culture vultures will find tours focusing on cooking classes, dance performances and local artist studios. On lines such as Holland America Line and Seabourn, there is also the option of private tours.

Weigh excursions vs. DIY. On paper, you may think you can get around on your own. But in some ports, key sights are a significant distance from the pier. You can try your luck with a local taxi, but after dealing with issues such as language and currency exchange, you may find you don’t get to all the places you’ve come to see.

Shore excursions, on the other hand, are choreographed to get you to the key sights in the time that you have in port and are conducted by local guides who share their own stories.

“It’s far more immersive than trying to follow a map or flick through the pages of a huge guide book on your own,” says Alison Webster, a port presenter for British line P&O Cruises. “You leave the planning to someone else and spend your precious port time enjoying your chosen destination or attraction.”

Do a little research. Shore excursion experts say guests benefit from knowing at least something in advance about the destinations they will visit.

Cruise lines make it easy with websites packed with information – Holland America Line even has advice from the experts at Afar magazine.

Hamish Gordon, the line’s senior manager of group shore excursions, says before they get to the ship, guests should download the shore excursion brochure and call the cruise line’s shore excursion desk with any questions.

He also recommends a quick Google search of each port to check out the top attractions you might want to see.

Check peer reviews. When deciding on excursions, it’s advisable to read peer reviews online, either on independent websites such as CruiseCritic.com and TripAdvisor or on the cruise line websites.

Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, encourages passenger reviews and ratings (the ratings system is managed by an outside company) and lists the top five excursions in each port of call.

“All are actual passenger reviews. It tells you what your fellow passengers have done and which they have particularly enjoyed,” says Gavin Burgess, senior shore excursion manager onboard the new, 3,960-passenger Carnival Horizon. “You’ll learn, for instance, that if you go to Alaska and don’t do shore excursions into the wilderness, it’s like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids.”

Use onboard resources. Shipboard port presentations by destination experts provide information about each port of call, including outlining mistakes people make and how to avoid them.

It’s a good idea to attend these sessions, whether you’re doing a shore excursion or plan to explore independently. You may also want to speak personally to the experts, who can share their first-hand experiences.

“It’s their job to know the places that you visit well and ensure that you get the most enjoyment from your time ashore,” says Webster of P&O Cruises.

At the new state-of-the-art Explorations Center in the Crow’s Nest lounge on select Holland America Line ships, guests can also sit down and view digital displays highlighting shore experiences.

Know your limits. It’s important to read descriptions and choose tours that are right for you.

“Mobility and activity level are certainly things to be considered,” advises Rex Donasco, shore excursion manager with Princess Cruises, and currently on the Ruby Princess in Alaska.

Shore excursion brochures rank activity levels from low to high. Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, with its newly rebranded Carnival Adventures program, uses a symbol of a person, ranging from one person being minimum activity to four meaning full-on athleticism. If you are unsure about where you fit into the spectrum, call ahead or simply consult with the shore excursion team onboard your ship.

“Be assured there is something for everyone,” said Michael Mihajlov, destinations director for P&O Cruises Australia.

Include excursions in your budget. You don’t want to miss a key experience because you get hung up on price while cruising.

Budget ahead for excursions that make you say “wow,” suggest the experts.

Princess Cruises’ Donasco counts on his must-do list a seaplane flight from Juneau to the Taku Lodge, which he says focuses on the best of Alaska in one excursion.

“You see miles of glacial ice from the sky before landing at a remote log cabin where you explore wilderness trails and watch for wildlife, before enjoying a delicious salmon feast,” he says. “It’s an unbelievable experience.”

Book in advance. You’ll want to reserve your must-do shore excursions prior to your cruise because some popular tours, including active excursions and other small-group experiences, tend to sell out. If you change your mind, you can make changes when you get to the ship.

If you have a specific request, such as a need for transportation with a wheelchair lift or a food allergy, it’s advisable to alert the shore excursion team well in advance.

Read what’s on your ticket. When you receive your shore excursion tickets on the ship, included will be specific information about each tour. It’s important to read that information.

“You would think everyone would know to bring a swimsuit on a snorkeling tour, but they forget,” Carnival Cruise Line’s Burgess says. “When they are on vacation, some people don’t want to think. That’s fine. We’ve got you covered. We want you to have fun and not worry about anything. We spell it out for you so you have the most enjoyable time.”

Whichever shore excursions you choose, plan to take lots of photos and share the experience – not only with those at home via social media posts, but also with new friends on the ship.

“Often guests on a shore excursion have such an amazing bonding experience,” says Holland America Line’s Gordon. “It’s not unusual to see them dining or having drinks together, swapping photos on their cellphones.”

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Boats & Cruising

Celebrate The Holidays Aboard One of Seabourn’s Five Ultra-Luxury Ships

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Seabourn, the world’s finest ultra-luxury cruise line, is inviting travelers to enjoy this year’s holiday season alongside family and friends aboard all Seabourn ships. Those on board will celebrate the holidays in different regions around the world with festive onboard events, an array of gourmet culinary offerings, and celebratory programming across the entire fleet.

Each of the five ships in the Seabourn fleet – including the new Seabourn Ovation – will be sailing through the last weeks of December, with Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s festivities scheduled in desirable ports of call and at sea.

“The holidays are the most wonderful time of year to be together with family and what better way to share that time than traveling together on the world’s finest ultra-luxury resort at sea,” noted Chris Austin, Seabourn’s senior vice president of Global Marketing & Sales. “We’re excited about this year’s holiday offerings, which will combine a festive atmosphere, onboard events, and appealing destinations that are just right for celebrating the season. With five ships and cherished destinations to choose from, Seabourn should be on everyone’s holiday wish list.”

There are several ways guests can get in the holiday spirit with Seabourn. Each holiday cruise is complete with everything to make each guest feel right at home onboard. Kicking off the season will be Thanksgiving, when guests can enjoy a traditional turkey dinner, prepared by the ship’s Executive Chef and highly skilled culinary team. From there travelers can celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah as the ship transforms into a holiday wonderland with gingerbread village displays and evergreen hangings draped from railings and balusters. The season comes to a close with a toast to 2019 as guests dress in formal wear for a New Year’s Eve affair to reflect on the memories of the past year and look to the new one ahead.

Details on Seabourn’s Holiday sailings for the 2018 season ahead include the following:

36-Day Holiday Australian Exploration (December 11-January 16) – Travel the southern and western coasts of Australia aboard Seabourn Sojourn, departing Sydney and stopping at various destinations including Flinders Island, Penneshaw, Fremantle (Perth), Hunter River, Darwin and more. Christmas Day will be enjoyed at sea, while New Year’s Day will arrive in Broome. The holiday journey will also take in Komodo Island and other destinations in Indonesia before arrival in Singapore. This voyage is also available in two segments with a 16-day itinerary departing from Sydney on December 11 and a 20-day itinerary departing from Perth on December 27.

24-Day Holiday Antarctica, Patagonia & South Georgia (December 20-January 13) – Set sail for as far from the North Pole as one can get with this adventure to the Great White South. After departing Buenos Aires, guests of Seabourn Quest will spend Christmas Eve at sea and Christmas Day at South Georgia, and will ring in the new year in Antarctica. There will be plenty more to enjoy after returning to South America including scenic cruising of Canal Sarmiento, El Brujo Glacier, Chilean Fjords and the Gulf of Corcovado in Chile before arriving at San Antonio (Santiago).

16-Day Holiday Australia & New Zealand (December 21-January 6) – After setting sail from Sydney and spending a lovely Christmas Eve in Melbourne, Australia, guests will celebrate Christmas Day at sea aboard Seabourn Encore en route to the southern and eastern coasts of New Zealand. Destinations include Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, Akaroa (Christchurch) on New Year’s Eve, Kaikoura on New Year’s Day, Queen Charlotte Sound, and more before arriving at Auckland.

7-Day Holiday Yachtsman’s Caribbean (December 22-December 29) – Have limited time to spare for the holidays? This weeklong cruise in the sparkling Caribbean aboard Seabourn Odyssey is a great way to get in the spirit, with departure from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten to Carambola Beach, Saint Kitts and Nevis; Christmas Eve at Road Bay, Anguilla; Christmas Day at St. Johns, Antigua and Barbuda, and more. Following arrival at Bridgetown, Barbados, guests will have plenty of time get home – or board another Seabourn cruise and celebrate the New Year!

14-Day Holiday Thailand & Vietnam (December 22-January 5) – The first-ever holiday cruise of the maiden season on the line’s newest ship is going to be a good one. Board Seabourn Ovation in Singapore and head north for Christmas Eve at sea and Christmas Day at Laem Chabang (Bangkok), Thailand. Then travel on to Cambodia and Vietnam, with two days in Ho Chi Minh City before celebrating New Year’s Eve at sea, and New Year’s Day at Da Nang (Hue), Vietnam. A day in Halong Bay, Vietnam, will follow before arrival at glimmering Hong Kong.

Seabourn represents the pinnacle of ultra-luxury travel with intimate ships offering key elements that set the line apart: spacious, thoughtfully appointed suites, many with verandas and all 100% ocean front; superb dining in a choice of venues; complimentary premium spirits and fine wines available on board at all times; award-winning service and a relaxed, sociable atmosphere that makes guests feel right at home on board. The ships travel the globe to many of the world’s most desirable destinations, including marquee cities, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and lesser-known ports and hideaways.

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Princess Cruises Unveils 2019-2020 California Coast Sailings

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The west coast’s leading cruise line, Princess Cruises, returns to the region in 2019-2020 with itineraries visiting top destinations including Monterey, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and San Diego. Princess continues to provide guests new and enriching destination experiences featuring award-winning culinary and entertainment programming while sailing the west coast.

Highlights for the 2019-2020 season include the introduction of one of the line’s newest ships to the California Coast, Royal Princess, for her first full season based in Los Angeles. Royal Princess will offer nine coastal departures including the Classic California Coast itinerary. Royal Princess itineraries offer guests a variety of More Ashore opportunities, allowing guests to spend more time in port , as well as the opportunity to enjoy evenings in San Francisco and San Diego.

“Bringing Royal Princess to the west coast for her first season is just one of the ways we are solidifying our commitment to providing our guests even more opportunity to sail the California coast,” said Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises. “She joins a fantastic roster of ships sailing the region which are already offering guests some of our newest innovations including SHARE by Curtis Stone, The Salty Dog Gastropub, and entertainment experiences including the Voice of the Ocean.”

As the only cruise line to sail year-round out of San Francisco, Princess offers Grand Princess sailing along the west coast once again in 2019. San Francisco departures for the season include a new five-day West Coast Getaway itinerary featuring a late night departure in San Diego, and a call to Ensenada, Mexico. The ship will also offer two variations of coastal sailings including the Classic California Coast itinerary featuring More Ashore late night calls in Los Angeles and San Diego, and the Pacific Northwest Coast itinerary featuring More Ashore late night calls in Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

Star Princess will make her return to the west coast in 2019 featuring departures from Seattle and Vancouver. Itineraries include a seven-day Northern California Coast sailing from Seattle with late night calls in San Francisco and Victoria, Canada and a 10-day Coastal sailing from Vancouver with a late night call in Los Angeles and overnight stay in San Francisco.

Other west coast cruises offered in 2019 include six or seven-day Pacific Wine Country voyages between Los Angles and Vancouver aboard Royal Princess, Ruby Princess, Star Princess, and Island Princess. For those guests with less time to get away, Princess also offers shorter coastal sailings of less than five days on eight ships in the region.

Princess guests sailing onboard California Coast cruises will have an exclusive opportunity to get a behind the scenes glimpse into the Hollywood experience as part of the Encounters with Discovery at SEA program, featuring special celebrity speakers showcasing their work in the music and movie industry of Los Angeles. The experience includes an event hosted by celebrity presenters incorporating interactive media, live music, special performances, and hands-on workshops. The program aims to teach guests about the elements required to produce movies and music for the entertainment industry.

Additionally some speakers will be judges on ‘The Voice of the Ocean,” an onboard singing competition for guests that Princess features in partnership with the worldwide TV hit phenomenon. Princess Cruises continually adds guest stars to the Encounters with Discovery at SEA lineup in destinations around the globe throughout the year. Speaker details and additional information on the Encounters with Discovery at SEA program can be found here.

Princess has also developed enhanced shore excursion offerings in collaboration with Bill Esparza, noted author and leading expert on Latin American cuisine. Guests sailing the California coast are invited to sample local cuisine, specifically focused on the Latin American influence in California. Esparza has developed exclusive culinary shore excursions for Princess in Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Ensenada. In addition, Princess offers excursions to the California wine country, visiting local vineyards and winemakers throughout the region.

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Costa Cruises Celebrates Float Out Of Costa Venezia

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Costa Cruises, the world’s largest leisure travel company, and Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, one of the largest shipbuilding groups in the world, today celebrated the official float-out ceremony of Costa Venezia – Costa first ship designed and built specifically for the China market. The ceremony was held at Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, where the ship is being built.

As part of today’s float-out ceremony, the new Costa ship officially reached the sea for the first time. The celebration followed the protocol provided by the seafaring tradition for such occasions, by flooding the basin where the ship took shape in recent months, following the cutting of the ribbon and the breaking of the bottle by the float-out ceremony’s godmother Chiara Ustulin, an employee of Monfalcone shipyard. Costa Venezia will enter service in March 2019, once the interior fittings have been completed.

More than just a new addition to its existing China-based fleet, the Costa Venezia marks a new milestone for the Italian company and its commitment to the future of the Chinese cruise industry.

As our first ship built specifically for the Chinese market, Costa Venezia marks a new era not just for Costa Cruises and Fincantieri but for the Chinese cruise industry as a whole,” said Mario Zanetti, president of Costa Group Asia. “From its initial conception all the way through to today’s float-out ceremony and beyond, everything about Costa Venezia has been designed with the Chinese consumer in mind. Costa Venezia will continue to deliver on Costa Cruises authentic Italian experience while also providing a unique vacation experience that will resonate with Chinese guests by being fully tailored to their travel preferences.”

Today we celebrate a milestone in the construction of Costa Venezia which, together with its sister ship, will strengthen Costa’s commitment in an emerging market,” said Luigi Matarazzo, Fincantieri Executive Vice President New Building – Merchant Ships Business Unit. “Thanks to the effort of the Monfalcone shipyard, in a moment of exceptional growth of the cruise industry, we confirm our global leadership in this sector and our long term relationship with Costa Cruises”.

Designed with the specific leisure and entertainment requirements for Chinese guests, Costa Venezia will bring to life the passion of Venetian and Italian culture.  The ship’s theatre will be inspired by the Venetian “La Fenice” theatre; the main atrium will recall “Piazza San Marco”, while restaurants will be dedicated to the typical architecture of Venetian alleys. Costa Venezia will also feature original “gondolas”, made by local artisans. An enchanting masked party will recreate on board the magic atmosphere of the famous Carnival of Venice. Guests will also be able to sample the delights of fine Italian dining, luxury Italian shopping and world-class Italian entertainment, while enjoying home comforts such as a range of Chinese cuisines and Chinese-style karaoke and the “Golden Party”, with lots of surprises and gifts to be won every ten minutes.

Before arriving to China next May, Costa Venezia will set sail for two cruises, both departing from the Italian port of Trieste. On March 3, 2019 the vernissage cruise to Greece and Croatia, followed on March 8 by a 53-day inaugural cruise, in the footsteps of Marco Polo, making its way through the Mediterranean, the middle east, Southeast and East Asia, before arriving at Tokyo. The vernissage and the inaugural cruises will be the only departures available for European and American guests to enjoy a holiday on the new ship. Starting from 18 May 2019, Costa Venezia will be dedicated to Chinese guests, offering them an Italian twist throughout East Asia, with homeport in Shanghai.

Costa Venezia will mark the latest step in a long list of innovations from the first international cruise company to begin serving the local Chinese market in 2006. At a length of 323 meters and measuring 135,500 gross tons with a capacity of more than 5,100 guests, Costa Venezia will be Costa largest ship operating homeport cruises from China.  Costa Venezia will also be followed by the launch of its sister ship in 2020, being built by Fincantieri at Marghera shipyard. These two new ships for Asia will bring to 14 the total number of Costa ships built by Fincantieri in Italy, for a total investment of over 6 billion euros. The projects for construction of the new ships require thousands of shipyard workers and ancillary employees. Employment benefits not only concerns the shipyards but, above all for the interior design, also external companies, most of which are Italian.

Overall, the Costa Group currently has seven new ships on order by 2023. Costa Venezia will be followed by Costa Smeralda, the new flagship of Costa Cruises, scheduled for delivery in October 2019.

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