November 19, 2019

Choose Your Adventure

Speed along a Jamaican bobsled track and more
on these energetic shore excursions

By Rebecca Matheson Ortiz

Vacations Magazine: Choose Your Adventure
Princess Cruises
Cruise lines are keeping pace with their more adventurous guests by bulking up on shore excursions that provide just the right dose of excitement for every traveler. From a Bahamian beach day to a flight aboard a Russian MiG fighter jet, these 10 shore excursions round out the latest options for action. Embrace your wanderlust and delve into local culture, attractions and terrain on your outing.

Book your can't-miss, off-ship ventures in advance so you don't lose out due to limited availability. Some activities have restrictions, like a minimum age or weight limits, so brush up on your options to choose the trips best suited to your interests, fitness level and capabilities. To browse itineraries and find discounts for cruises that call on these destinations, contact the specialists at Vacations To Go through the links below.

Swimming with Bahamian pigs
Wild pigs are making a big splash with tourists in the Bahamas. While the story of their arrival remains a mystery, one local legend suggests they were dropped off by a band of sailors who lightened their load but never made it back for the bacon. Today, the famous oinkers (including curly-tailed piglets) welcome guests to their white-sand shores.

Those making the trip to Great Stirrup Cay, the private Bahamian retreat of Norwegian Cruise Line, get the chance to "Swim With the Pigs," as the excursion is called, on a visit to nearby Treasure Island. Upon arrival, you will learn how to safely interact with these porkers as they paddle out into the crystalline water to greet you. Offer them some pats and treats and they might agree to cuddle up for your latest vacation photo.

When you've reached cuteness overload, take a break with an ice-cold beverage atop an observation deck before heading back to port.

Bonaire by Harley
Just 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, the 112-square-mile Dutch island of Bonaire invites explorers to its coral-rich waters and verdant landscape. Though the general vibe of this destination is laid-back and unhurried, Carnival Cruise Line patrons with a need for speed can don a helmet and whiz along the coast on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for some sightseeing on the wild side.

On "Bonaire by Harley-Davidson," your guide will lead you to the 1,000 Steps dive site where turtles, manta rays and whale sharks often are spotted from shore. Farther inland, a flamboyance of flamingos strut in Goto Lake. Stop your hog for a cool drink of water in Rincon, the oldest village on the islet, before breezing by the famous salt pyramids, each standing about 50 feet tall and composed of 10,000 metric tons of the mineral.

Diving with Hawaiian sharks
Sharks play an important role in Hawaiian culture. Some species are highly regarded as aumakua, or family guardians, while others once were utilized by islanders as a food source or to create traditional weapons and instruments from the skin and teeth. Today, visiting the isle of Oahu with Princess Cruises can provide up-close views of these predators in the wild from the safety of a cage.

Learn all about shark biology, behavior, conservation and more on the 3-mile boat trip from the town of Haleiwa on the North Shore. Upon arrival at the designated hot spot, pop on your snorkel and mask and dip into a floating cage for a full 30 minutes surrounded by these sinuous swimmers. Curiosity might draw the toothy beasts near the bars for a good look at the humans, but don't worry, they're not interested in a taste.

Two of the most commonly seen species are Galapagos and sandbar sharks, but be on the lookout for other fish, dolphins and even whales in the distance.

Helicopters and dog-sledding in Alaska
Part of the Juneau Icefield, the 13-mile-long Mendenhall Glacier is a vast river of ice that reaches depths of up to 1,800 feet. Setting foot on this glacier, a relic of the last ice age, is like stepping into another world; blue-tinged icebergs bob nearby, deep crevasses mar the snow-packed ice and craggy seracs jut up in sharp angles along the frozen expanse.

On "Dog Sledding on Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter," Holland America Line guests suit up in glacier boots and special gear in Juneau before boarding a chopper for a 15-minute flight to the heart of the glacier. In the air, observe the Last Frontier's rainforests, Coast Mountains and the southern portion of the ice field before touching down at a dog-sled camp.

Shout "Mush!" as you try your hand at the official state sport. You can drive the team with the help of professionals or, if you'd rather sit back and relax, let them handle the dogs while you enjoy the frosted vistas.

Peek through the entrance of the Mayan underworld
Journey to the edge of Xibalba, the mythical Mayan underworld, when you dock in Belize City with Silversea Cruises and embark on the simply named "Belize Cave Tubing Adventure." A drive through mangroves and along country roads delivers you to a jungle camp, where a local guide leads you to a river that flows through the gaping maw of a limestone cave. Settle into your inflatable tube and let the water carry you through a system of tunnels and archways in Nohoch Cheen Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve.

Some chambers, illuminated only by headlamps, act as a sacred museum for both natural formations and archaeological treasures. It was in these caves, believed to be the entrance to the spiritual realm, that the ancient Mayan people would conduct rituals and even human sacrifice. In rocky cathedrals where stalactites hang from the ceilings, underground waterfalls trickle and bats flutter to their perches, tubers might spy ceremonial pots, wall writings and more before drifting back out into the sunlight.

Bobsledding in Jamaica
Warming the hearts of millions across the globe and even prompting the hit Disney movie "Cool Runnings," the Jamaican national bobsleigh team slid into fame as the underdogs at the 1988 Winter Olympics and still are an inspiration today. When MSC Cruises docks in Ochos Rios, Jamaica, the "Bobsled Jamaica and Falls" excursion explores the region's most famous natural feature before providing thrills on the Mystic Mountain bobsled ride, inspired by the team.

The tiered Dunn's River Falls are unique because the rushing water deposits calcium carbonate to create travertine rock -- instead of erosion, you see regeneration. Climb to the top of these cascades, often hand in hand with your fellow cruisers to maintain your balance, for lush jungle views before the excursion's heart-pumping finale.

After the falls experience, guests board a chairlift to be elevated 700 feet through the forest canopy and brought to Jamaica's signature adventure ride. Pitch down the mountainside along a few thousand feet of twisting, turning track on this one-of-a-kind bobsled. Hand brakes allow you to control your speed for the chance to soak in the tropical setting.

Kayaking a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico
When the sun has finished the last leg of its daily race and tucks under the horizon, and when the stars begin to twinkle and the coqui frogs start their serenade, a rare phenomenon takes place in Laguna Grande near San Juan. As they're disturbed by movements in the water, millions of bioluminescent plankton called dinoflagellates begin to glow, lighting up the lagoon in fluorescent blues and greens.

See it on "Bioluminescent Bay Kayak Adventure" while docked in Puerto Rico with Celebrity Cruises. Paddle through mangrove tunnels in the Nature Reserve Cabezas de San Juan until you reach this mystical bay, where every stroke of the oar makes the water shimmer. You'll learn all about the chemical reactions happening in these single-celled aquatic organisms as you skim across the lagoon, one of only five such accessible locations in the world. After that upper-body workout, enjoy some light refreshments before returning to your cruise ship.

Amsterdam by bike
During a Disney Cruise Line port call in bustling Amsterdam, get a feel for the place like the locals do. In the 1970s, this Dutch destination began changing its infrastructure to become more bike-friendly, and today more than half of the population chooses this method of transportation.

"Amsterdam Local Biking Tour and Lookout" pedals south of the city and takes a break at the Riekermolen windmill, built in 1636, for a quick history lesson. Lower that kickstand again at the A'Dam Lookout for 360-degree views of the busy port and its beloved canals from a 328-foot vantage point. A rooftop bar, interactive exhibit and the continent's highest swing, which glides over the edge of the building, await after the nearly two-hour ride. Even the elevator is exciting, as it launches to the top of A'Dam Tower in 22 seconds, saving your tired legs from stairs.

Volcano trekking in New Zealand
For globetrotters looking to delve into mysterious, far-off regions, "White Island Volcano Experience Cruise and Guided Exploration" is the Royal Caribbean International excursion for you.

Tauranga, New Zealand, is the jumping-off point for a visit to the country's most active volcano. Grab a gas mask and then motor across the Bay of Plenty in a Zodiac craft to reach White Island, called Whakaari by the Maori people. It seems like a magical realm, where mud pots bubble like a witch's brew and vents in the sulfurous yellow ground puff out white clouds of hot steam. The heated land seems to have a pulse as it hisses, roars and shifts. On this tour, you'll walk into a volcano and live to tell the tale, with excellent photos to boot.

Take to the Russian skies
Flight enthusiasts, action movie buffs and adrenaline junkies assemble: Crystal Cruises offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Baltic Sea voyagers that puts you in the cockpit of a Russian MiG fighter jet -- and not for a quick look at the console. On this outing, available during calls in St. Petersburg, Russia, you'll take to the skies in an aircraft known for reaching speeds more than twice the speed of sound.

Preparations at Sokol Airbase include a physical exam, a fitting for a flight suit and helmet, instructions and -- finally -- climbing into the cockpit with a skilled test pilot to go over the instrument panel. Feel the rush of G-force as some skilled aerobatics press you against your seat before you try some flying of your own, guiding the jet with the expert help of your pilot. When your "Top Gun" dreams have become a reality and the plane comes in for a landing, you'll get a flight certificate and picture to document the affair.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Summer 2019. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.


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