by Vivian Holley
Camel trekking in the Caribbean? Of course.
Not to mention dog sledding and yacht racing. Or learning how to cook like a pro or fly through a forest.
Board a cruise ship sailing for sunny destinations in the eastern, western and southern Caribbean and you’ll be served up a grand smorgasbord of new shore options.
Long or short, pricey or budget-minded, adventurous or luxurious -– an enticing roster of fun activities awaits the curious cruiser.
Here’s a sampling of what’s new and adventuresome this winter season in the Caribbean.
Kids in tow? While many a shore trip is well suited for family fun, you can’t go wrong with the "Duckaneer Adventure"offered by Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn.
Youngsters will love this amphibious tour bus dubbed Duckaneer and its journey by land and sea.
This 75-minute narrated tour – a spirited mix of music, history and sightseeing – sets out from St. Thomas (on eastern Caribbean itineraries).
The Duckaneer travels the west side of the island through the Crown Bay cruise ship docks to Lindbergh Bay.
Upon arrival in Frenchtown, the bus magically transforms into a boat -- sailing away for a look at stone towers named for the infamous pair of pirates known as Bluebeard and Blackbeard.
As inventive island lore has it, the two used the towers as vantage for their own terrible purposes. All ages are likely to thrill to chilling tales of dastardly pirate deeds in these now-peaceful waters.
The Duckaneer Adventure costs $49 per person for adults, $39 for children. Contact NCL at 800-327-7030 or go to www.ncl.com.
Yearn to cook like a seasoned chef? Then cruise to Cozumel (on western routes) via Holland America Line’s Veendam or Westerdam and master the preparation of a delicious Mexican meal on a five-hour tour aptly titled "Mexican Cuisine Workshop and Tasting."
The culinary-themed shore excursion begins with a scenic drive to Playa Mia Grand Beach Park.
There, your Mexican chef awaits to preside over individual work stations, each ready to roll with all necessary ingredients and utensils.
Armed with recipes and the chef’s expert advice and assistance, you’ll soon be sampling your own artful creations, happily accompanied by Mexican wines.
Efforts are rewarded by an Open Bar plus time to splash in the crystalline waters of the Mexican Caribbean.
This cuisine workshop is priced at $99 per person. Call 800-426–0327 or visit www.hollandamerica.com.
Dog Sledding and Camel Trekking?
Possibly you’ve dreamed of dog sledding and camel trekking adventures – but probably not in a Jamaica setting.
But now you can sail to Ocho Rios (on western Caribbean itineraries) onboard Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess and sign up for both unusual shore trips.
An excursion billed as "Chukka–Jamaica Dog Sled Ride" ($159) takes wannabe sledders to Chukka Cove Farm for a memorable two-and-a-half-hour experience. First, they get acquainted with the remarkable Jamaica Dog Sled Team – rescued from the streets and shelters and now enthusiastically towing their wheeled sled.
Next comes assisting with harnessing, then hopping on the sled for a spin around the farm’s green fields to shouts of "Mush, mon!" The dog sled ride is $159 per person.
The Camel Trek is a four-and-a-half-hour adventure that includes a stop at Dunn’s River Falls.
You can pretend you're Lawrence of Arabia as you ride an exotic camel through the tranquil countryside of Prospect Plantation.
The camel trek is priced at $99 per person.
For more information, call 800-PRINCESS or go to www.princess.com.
Crazy Canopy Tour
Here’s the chance to show off your simian skills with a swing through the 100-foot-high trees of a tropical paradise. No worries –- you’ll be securely anchored to cables. It’s called, appropriately enough, the "Puerto Limon Crazy Canopy Tour."
This tour is available on western Caribbean itineraries for the MSC Lirica.
What you get while surfing the Costa Rica rainforest is an up-close and personal encounter with eye-popping birds, butterflies and flowers.
Examples of Costa Rica's flora and fauna are shown at right and below.*
Including the nearly two-hour, one-way drive from the port, this MSC Lirica shore trip takes about six-and-a-half hours.
Cost of this crazy canopy tour is $99 per person. Call 800-666-9333 or visit www.msccruises.com.
Not everyone can compete for the prestigious America’s Cup. But if you sail Carnival Cruise Lines’ Celebration, Fascination or Sensation to Nassau, Bahamas (on eastern Caribbean itineraries), you can soak up a similar challenge.
The three-hour "America’s Cup Racing Experience" treats tour participants to an adventure aboard former "Team New Zealand" racing yachts.
Cruisers can do as much or little as they like onboard. Some cruisers opt to just sit back and observe.
But most leap at the opportunity to trim the sails or steer the helm, plunging into a heated race to beat the opposing team to the finish line.
This racing experience is priced at $125 per person.
For more details, call 800-CARNIVAL or visit www.carnival.com.
Best of St. Lucia
But not all new shore trips are "high adventure." You can also kick back in solid luxury at a pampering hotel property.
Consider a cruise with Silversea’s Silver Shadow (shown above*) and its "Best of St. Lucia" excursion to the top-ranked Ladera Resort from the pier in Castries (on southern Caribbean itineraries).
Set 1,100 feet above the sea atop the port town of Soufriere, Ladera is an elite retreat with stunning vistas of the tropical coastline and dramatic Piton peaks. Think celebrity visitors from Bill Gates to Harrison Ford.
High point: a fine-wine-accompanied lunch at the resort’s noted Dasheene Restaurant. The five-and-a-half-hour trip includes a post-lunch motorboat jaunt along the west coast, with a stop for an hour of swimming.
The Best of St. Lucia costs $136 per person. For information, call Silversea at 800-722-9955 or visit www.silversea.com.
The above options are just a few of many new and enticing Caribbean shore excursions you might consider if you sail from a southern U.S. port this winter.
So zip through a treetop canopy. Sail on an America's Cup yacht. Head out on a sled dog, camel or Duckaneer amphibious vehicle. Cook up some Mexican cuisine. Luxuriate at a fine resort. But whatever you do, enjoy your day ashore!
Vivian Holley is travel editor for Southern Seasons magazine, contributing editor for Recommend magazine and an award-winning freelance travel writer/editor specializing in upscale travel including cruising. She is a longtime member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the Southeast Tourism Society and the Atlanta Press Club.
*Photos on this page are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the various cruise lines or shore operators mentioned above. All rights reserved. Do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.