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For today’s cruise passenger, shore excursions can be just as important as the onboard facilities. Shore programs are now seen as a way to entice new passengers onboard as well as encourage repeat bookings from passengers looking for something different on a favourite route. Here are six of the latest developments in shore excursions

1. Local guides
A good guide can make or break a shore excursions, so many lines are putting their focus on developing a worldwide network of knowledgeable, entertaining and informative local guides. Royal Caribbean has introduced new tours that focus on localised, unique experiences with smaller groups and local guides. These guides are also able to introduce passengers who have visited a port a number of times to new experiences, rather than having to follow the first-timer tourist trail.

2. Gourmet focus
Food onboard cruise ships is certainly improving, and lines have now begun to offer complementary gourmet shore excursions. Visits to local producers, wine tastings and farm tours allow passengers to experience regional cuisine. Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises now call at Margaret River in Western Australia to visit the world-class wineries. Royal Caribbean and Azamara have introduced a series of ‘cruise global, eat local’ tours that take passengers to off the beaten track restaurants.

3. Exclusive experiences
Many cruise lines have formed partnerships with land based operators that give them exclusive access to certain sites or experiences. They may be the only cruise line that is able to access these excursions or their guests may be able to visit them privately, without other tourists present. Celebrity Cruises runs a number of Celebrity Exclusive shore excursions, like a private floatplane tour over Ketchikan, Alaska. On the rivers, APT and Scenic takes their guests for a private Viennese concert at the Palais Lichtenstein.

4. Active pursuits
There are now many more tours geared towards the active traveller who wants to explore under their own steam. The standard city tour has been given a makeover, with guests now given the option to explore as a group or individually on bicycles. MSC Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2 offer bike excursions around the Mediterannean and Northern Europe, while a number of river lines (like Scenic, Avalon Waterways and APT) have bikes onboard. Some even offer e-bikes, which have an inbuilt motor to make the going a little easier.

5. Cultural immersion
Shore excursions don’t have to be about hitting the major sites, snapping a few photos and getting back on the ship. Some lines, particularly on rivers, are learning that passengers want to meet local people and have meaningful interactions with them. On APT’s cruises on the Lower Ganges in India passengers have the opportunity to play a game of cricket with local villagers. TravelMarvel’s Vietnam itineraries include a visit to the remote Kinh, Black H’mong and Red Dao hill tribes in Sapa who have lived apart from the rest of the world for centuries and still practice their ancient traditions.

6. Longer stays
Standard shore tours see passengers file off the ship in the morning and file back on a few hours later for an early evening departure. But a number of ships now stay overnight at ports or depart late in the evening, giving passengers a chance to experience a city by night. Viking Star takes passengers for an evening of flamenco dancing in Barcelona while Celebrity Cruises is introducing an Evenings Around the World program of events that begin after dark. Some lines have even introduced multi-day excursions available on longer cruises. Crystal’s Overland Adventures are one- to four-night excursions that take guests hundreds of kilometres from port, like the two-night Kingdom of Bhutan adventure departing from Bangkok.