Curated Cruising: Unique Land Excursions Are 2018's Biggest Trend

In Bagan, Myanmar, Seabourn gives cruisers a chance to take to the air in a hot-air balloon and float over thousands of stupas.

When visiting the Eiffel Tower and gazing out at Paris’ cityscape, travelers on a motorcoach tour often grab their phones for fun selfies. But instead, a couple could tour the iconic landmark on a curated small group or private shore excursion with a professional photographer — arranged in advance by an ultra-luxury line — and return home with “bragging rights” photos to savor for a lifetime. Curated land adventures are a robust cruise trend, and for 2018 and beyond, these include immersive shore excursions, creative pre- and post-cruise packages, small group programs, private arrangements and special World Cruise events. Here’s a look at some of our favorites. 

Seabourn’s new fully escorted Seabourn Journeys are pre- and post-cruise curated land experiences, many taking luxury travelers to UNESCO World Heritage sites that simply aren’t accessible on single-day excursions from a ship. Most are designed for two to 10 guests, maximum. We suggest the seven-night, “Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan’s Temples & Inle Lake” program, offered seven nights pre-cruise or six nights post-cruise. What’s special? Luxury cruisers will gaze at Yangon’s ancient Shwedagon Pagoda, massive Reclining Buddha statue and carved Lion’s Throne, but, in a more personal note, will also participate in the ritual lighting of a thousand oil lamps. 

They’ll soak in local color by seeing hill tribe residents in a local market, receive a Shan-style cooking lesson and visit a stilted village to see silk weaving, blacksmithing, traditional cigar rolling and boat building. At Inle Lake, they’ll board a boat to view gold-leaf Buddhas at Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda and the stilted Nga Phe Chaung Monastery. And while in Bagan, they’ll take to the air in a hot-air balloon and float over thousands of stupas. 

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Pre-cruise, Seabourn includes upscale accommodations at the Sule Shangri-La, Yangon (one night), Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort, Bagan (two nights), Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort, Inle (two nights) and Four Seasons Hotel, Singapore (one night); the post-cruise option does not include the one-night stay in Singapore. Either pre- or post-cruise, a flight to or from Singapore is included. This curated land program is offered on dates in November and December as well as during first quarter of 2019.

Or, luxury travelers might opt for Seabourn’s five-night “UNESCO India’s Golden Triangle: the Taj Mahal & Jaipur” program. Travelers will tour Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid mosque and Chandni Chowk (old market) and ride in a cycle rickshaw. In New Delhi, they’ll see the Parliament House and India Gate, and they’ll also visit a local family in their elegant home and dine on the family’s heirloom recipes. In Agra, guests will tour Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, before proceeding to the Pink City of Jaipur to visit its ornate “Palace of Winds” (Hawa Mahal) and the City Palace. Touring the Amber Fort and the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing are also on tap, as is an elephant safari. 

For the ultimate adventure, we’d suggest cruisers check out Seabourn’s 13-day “South Pole Quest” to Antarctica, departing January 1, 2019. It begins in Santiago, Chile, where travelers board a flight to Punta Arenas, Chile, a staging location for the Antarctic trip. That’s followed by another flight to Antarctica’s Union Glacier Camp, where travelers will stay in comfortable base camp facilities. Expedition guides will share knowledge of life in an Antarctic climate and talk about the wildlife that guests are likely to encounter. 

Guests will spend time exploring the glacier, including Elephant’s Head, Drake Icefall, the Hidden Valley and Rossman Cove’s beach. The crowning achievement is arriving via ski plane at the “bottom of the world,” the South Pole, for a brief time. Then it’s back to base camp and on to Punta Arenas with a stay at the Hotel Cabo de Hornos. The “South Pole Quest” will conclude with a stay at Santiago’s W Hotel. Given this journey’s remote nature, the guest complement is a bit different — a minimum of 10 guests is required and up to 25 are accepted.

Windstar’s “Taku Lodge Feast & 5 Glacier Seaplane” shore trip will attract aviation buffs. Seen here is the port of Juneau with a sea plane that will take guests on a flightseeing tour.

Small-ship Windstar Cruises will return to Alaska this year for the first time in more than two decades. It’s recently introduced a new Signature Expeditions program, new pre- and post-cruise options and new shore excursions that reveal the quintessential Alaska. Starting in May and continuing through September 10, the 212-passenger, all-suite Star Legend, fresh from a drydock update, sails voyages to such less-visited Alaska ports as Metlakatla and Wrangell. Many cruises are 12 to 14 days.  

Seeing wildlife is a bucket list item for many Alaska cruisers, and a new shore excursion will take guests to Kroschel Wildlife Sanctuary near Haines, where the caregiver is Steve Kroschel, a real-life “Alaskan Dr. Doolittle” who’s produced wildlife documentaries and worked on films for Disney and National Geographic. At the sanctuary, cruisers will photograph orphaned Alaskan animals living in natural habitats. Aviation buffs or those who simply love scenic flightseeing can check out the “Taku Lodge Feast & 5 Glacier Seaplane” shore trip; it combines seaplane-only-access to Alaska’s famous Taku Glacier and lodge dining. From Juneau, guests will board a classic DeHavilland seaplane for flightseeing over five glaciers surrounded by the Tongass National Forest. Everyone gets a window seat and headset to listen to expert narration. Then at the lodge, travelers will savor fresh Alaska specialties and home-made dishes.

For anglers, Windstar’s new “Fishing the Inside Passage” shore excursion in Wrangell offers a chance for catching a variety of fish from halibut to salmon. What’s nice? A quick boat ride ensures that maximum time is spent fishing rather than just getting to the fishing spot. In addition, with “captain’s choice” fishing, there’s a higher likelihood of catching a specific species for that given day. For an added fee, cruisers can have their catch professionally processed and shipped home. 

Windstar’s new pre- and post-cruise, curated Alaska land tours can be added to many 2018 sailings. A four-night journey between Seward and Fairbanks includes a trip to Anchorage to explore the city’s museum before continuing to Talkeetna, an aviation, mining and climbing town, where travelers will overnight. The next day, it’s a journey by rail followed by a guided Denali National Park tour and musical dining experience. Cruisers also receive a park orientation, prepping them for the seven-hour adventure into the park the following day, where they’ll look for caribou, moose and brown bear. Then it’s on to Fairbanks for a Chena River cruise and farewell dinner. 

For luxury travelers desiring exotic, exclusive experiences, Silversea Cruises’ new “2018 Couture Collection” comprises five- to 11-day, fully escorted land tours created after direct feedback from the ultra-luxury line’s North American cruise guests. Nine programs offer such exclusive amenities as private helicopter service in Mongolia and vintage rail travel in India. Limited to small groups, these journeys include most meals, beverages and exclusive culinary events, plus stays at boutique hotels, lodges and private tents 

Silversea’s “Bolivia: A Short Walk onto Another Universe” land program takes guests to Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat.

The most enticing option? We particularly like Silversea’s seven-night “Rwanda & Serengeti: Walking in the Footsteps of Giants” land program, roundtrip from Zanzibar, which departs November 20 or November 27, and is combinable with a Silver Discoverer voyage. Travelers will explore rainforests at Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and search for mountain gorillas during a two-day guided trekking experience. Then at Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, they’ll take a safari via a customized 4x4 vehicle — with the likelihood of spotting wildebeest, gazelles and zebras, and possibly “The Big Five” — lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo. The Rwanda program includes charter air with a Pilatus PC12 while on safari, special conservation lectures and exclusive hotel, lodge and tented camp stays. 

In addition, an 11-day “White Desert & South Pole” Antarctic itinerary will allow travelers to explore ice caves and tunnels, climb a glacial island, photograph Atka Bay’s colony of emperor penguins, or journey to the South Pole as Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott did. Travelers will stay at Whichaway Camp and fly in and out of Antarctica on a Gulfstream business jet. 

“Been there, done that” travelers can check out Silversea’s new eight-day “Bolivia: A Short Walk onto Another Universe” land program. Travelers will stay at Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, nestled in natural surroundings in the Catarpe Valley of the Salt Mountain Range; the mountains are home to the ice-capped Sajama, Bolivia’s highest peak. Guests will head out to see volcanoes, hot springs and 3,000-year-old plants. During their visit to Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, travelers will have a one-of-a-kind stay in a luxury camp of geodesic dome tents. After a tour of Tahua village near the Tunupa Volcano, they can hike to the cave holding the ancient Coquesa mummies. Departures are October 17 or October 26, combinable with Silver Cloud expeditions departing on October 15 or 26.

In 2018 and 2019, SeaDream Yacht Club will offer specially curated Wine Voyages in the Mediterranean that pair onboard wine-focused tastings and activities with land-based adventures that appeal to oenophiles. For example, two such Wine Voyages are SeaDream II’s 2018 voyage from Nice, France to Civitavecchia (Rome), departing May 12, and SeaDream I’s October 6, 2018 sailing from Civitavecchia to Nice.

Onboard the 112-passenger yachts, guests will participate in exclusive wine tastings hosted by a well-known vintner. They’ll also receive a Winemaker’s Dinner comprising a degustation menu created by the executive chef and top vintages from the visiting winemaker “host.” Then, going ashore, they can explore via SeaDream’s curated Wine Land Adventures. 

During a call at Porto Ercole, Italy, we’d head out on the “Truffle Hunt in the Italian Forests of Umbria.” It’s fun and savory at the same time. At Castello delle Regine, known for its wines, guests will accompany a local truffle hunter and his dogs in searching for truffles and wild herbs. After the forest hike, the small group of cruisers will visit “Livia” in her estate home — learning about the family’s heritage while sipping on the estate’s wine and dining on a meal prepared by the estate’s chefs. 

SeaDream II’s Wine Land Adventures include a trip to Provence’s Gassin, where cruisers get to explore the village’s narrow, winding streets and pastel-hued buildings.

Another example of a curated adventure on the May 12 voyage is the half-day “Taste of Provence: Gassin Exploration & Wine Tasting.” Cruisers will stroll Gassin’s narrow, winding streets with pastel-hued buildings and gaze at the Gulf of Saint-Tropez from the village’s rocky perch, before wine tasting at Bertaud Belieu’s family-owned cellars.  

Later this summer, Scenic will debut its new oceangoing Scenic Eclipse, the first 228-passenger “Discovery Yacht” oceangoing vessel. Travelers will discover an appealing portfolio of new shore adventures. We’re intrigued by the 21-day “Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica” itinerary, departing Buenos Aires on December 17. What’s the draw? Cruisers will spend Christmas Day 2018 venturing close to South Georgia’s massive population of King Penguin pairs that call the remote outpost home.

History buffs can also “retrace” (in theory, at least) the path of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton from his historic first arrival point on the east side of South Georgia Island — having previously been shipwrecked and trekked overland from King Haakon Bay — to Stromness, where Shackleton and his stranded men heard the Stromness Whaling Station’s old whistle, alerting them to the possibility of their rescue. 

Historically, curated tours and options have been undertaken for the “crème de la crème” of ultra-luxury voyages, the so-called World Cruise. High-end guests love these one-of-a-kind voyages that span several months and feature exotic port calls and dedicated events. During Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 2019 World Cruise, departing January 4, 2019, from Los Angeles to New York onboard Seven Seas Navigator, those on the full 131-night voyage will be treated to three exclusive shoreside events. 

In Sydney, they’ll be transported to the city’s grandiose Town Hall, reflecting neo-classical and French Second Empire architecture, where they will listen to an exclusive concert by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Inside, one highlight to peruse is the historic Grand Organ, the world’s largest mechanical tracker-action pipe organ. Later that month, during a Bali (Benoa), Indonesia, port call, guests will have an up-close pachyderm experience at Regent Seven Seas’ “Elephant Safari Under the Stars” World Cruise event. 

In a tropical park setting, cruisers will see elephants cooling off in the lake, hand-feed them and watch some elephants paint on a canvas with their trunks. Carrying into the evening, guests will enjoy a talent show and sumptuous meal by candlelight at the Pachyderm Palm Grove. 

Later, during the Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., call, cruisers will visit the home of the Yas Marina Circuit, the Formula 1 racetrack, and have a gala dinner at the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel’s Palm Garden with music and dances by traditional Ayala performers. 

Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi overlooks the Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts Formula 1’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

On both Queen Mary 2’s and Queen Elizabeth’s World Cruises, Cunard Line offers many overland adventures that help guests become even more immersed in the destination. For example, guests can head out on “The Garden Route of South Africa,” to the Kariega Private Game Preserve. Cruisers staying in the River Lodge’s luxury suites will have views of Bushman’s River. They’ll also venture on safari looking to snap selfies of antelopes, birds, lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants and Cape buffalo. 

In addition, Cunard offers an overland trip to the Lalibela Game Reserve and Safari Lodge on the Eastern Cape. Overlooking Lake Kariega, the five-star Water Lodge’s thatched chalets offer the full safari experience. The big draw for this trip? It’s the possibility of spotting the local white lions. 

Inaugural sailings are another way to experience curated land options. Ponant’s new Le Laperouse sails a seven-night “Icelandic Mosaic” inaugural voyage roundtrip from Reykjavik on June 19. Its “Global Circle” excursion delivers maximum destination touring during a nine-hour program. Guests will visit “The Big Three” — Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for the Alping (or Althing), the site of Iceland’s first parliament dating from the 10th century; Gullfoss or “The Golden Waterfall”; and Geysir, a geothermal area.   

Post cruise, an “Icelandic Landscapes” option departs June 26 from Reykjavik. Cruisers will visit Eyjafjallajokull, a volcano located among glaciers, mountains and black sandy beaches before heading to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Highlight? It’s the foot path that allows cruisers to walk under the falls. It’s also a hoot to head for lunch in Skógar village, population 25, to meet the locals and tour the Skógar Folk Museum; cruisers will learn how people lived and worked in the past. 

Skógar Folk Museum in the Icelandic village of Skógar, which has a population of 25, will delight guests on Ponant’s Le Laperouse.

For cruisers with a kind heart and a strong sense of global community, a voluntourism shore trip is appealing. As part of the “You Care, We Care” program, Crystal Cruises offers a series of ocean cruise voluntourism adventures. Travelers 12 and older can head out in Barcelona, Spain, for a five-hour experience, “The Rescue & Rehabilitation of Marine Animals,” a curated experience that will take guests to the city’s Rehabilitation Center, a facility dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of endangered marine animals. For example, cruisers might participate in the rescue drill of a dolphin or another experience.

Closer to home, in Charleston, SC, cruisers can sign up for Crystal’s “Ronald McDonald House” shore excursion. At this home away from home for families with critically ill children, cruisers can pitch in and lend a hand and a smile as they assist for several hours with projects that staff has selected for the visit. In Falmouth, Antigua, cruisers who so choose can help PAAWS, a non-profit shelter for abandoned cats and dogs, and the Humane Society’s Donkey Sanctuary, home to hundreds of donkeys that are retired. 

Destination: European Rivers

Many river lines also have done their homework in developing shore options for cruisers eager to immerse themselves in the destination. In 2019, AmaWaterways will offer an optional two- to three-night, pre-cruise land extension for every cruise, giving travelers new ways to experience such cities as Amsterdam, Budapest, Lucerne, Munich and Zurich. New pre-cruise extensions are planned in Bilbao and San Sebastian, Spain, prior to the “Taste of Bordeaux” itinerary. Separately, a new post-cruise option in Rwanda, Africa, can be added to all AmaWaterways’ African itineraries, so guests can explore Kigali and Volcanoes National Park to see mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. 

Uniworld’s “Let’s Go” active options include guided hikes, kayaking, golfing and bike excursions. On its Paris & Normandy cruises that offer the Generations program, guests can take a guided three-mile bicycle ride to Giverny, where artist Claude Monet lived. 

On that same itinerary, golfers can play at Golf d’Etretat, a visually spectacular links courses on Normandy’s Alabaster Coast, and Mont-Saint-Aignan, a course near Rouen. The ship’s staff can customize the arrangements with private transportation, optimum tee times and post-golf dining or other activities. 

The Gardens of Giverny: Uniworld has a three-mile bike trip to Claude Monet’s home.

Cycling fans can curate their own cycling day trips with Scenic’s Tailormade GPS locator. With dozens of cycling options, the device will guide guests, provide commentary and an interactive map to help them stay on course. Scenic and other lines carry bicycles onboard for guest use. Separately, Scenic and partner, Trek Travel, a luxury vacation cycling company, are increasing the number of dedicated departures to 11 for 2018.

Crystal River Cruises added more than 225 curated destination experiences for its 2018 European cruises along Danube, Rhine and Main rivers. They strive for authenticity, are designed for small groups of no more than 15 guests, and many can be tailored to travelers’ interests. They fall into five focuses. “Personal Connections” are hosted by local residents, artisans and experts, while “Tantalizing Gastronomy” tours reflect regional culinary styles with both dining and hands-on culinary activities. “Cultural Discoveries” feature expert guides about historical landmarks, museums and iconic sites. “Exhilarating Adventures” combine historical and cultural experiences. With “Design Your Time,” a concierge will create a private tour or guests can select from a menu of customized choices.

Viking River Cruises is back in Egypt this year with the totally renovated and updated Viking Ra. On the 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids itinerary, two days are spent in Luxor, and guests will head out on the included “Karnak and Luxor Temples” tour. An added plus? Viking will assist guests in understanding Egyptian history and culture on the included “Luxor Library & Heritage Center” tour. They’ll visit the Forsan al-Sama’a Hall’s exhibits of astrological equipment and the 3D Show Hall with artifacts from the Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic eras. They’ll also visit the library with thousands of Egyptian history books and a map room.

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