By Stephen Jermanok
November 10, 2010
For most cruise passengers, a typical walk leads you off the dock to a parade of jewelry shops that are often owned by that same cruise line. You certainly wouldn’t expect an overnight backpacking excursion with a naturalist to rarely seen Alaskan coastline or the chance to bag a peak and camp near the summit.
Yet, when the M/V Wilderness Adventurer returns to the waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage next spring after a complete overhaul by its new owner, overnight backpacking and sea kayaking options are two of the many shore excursions it will gear to the more intrepid traveler. Other options include caving and a fishing charter that will pick you up from the ship.
Adventure cruising might sound like an oxymoron, but more and more cruise lines are jumping on the active lifestyle bandwagon as the demand grows. A younger clientele and athletic baby boomers have helped transform an industry best known for its all-you-can-eat buffets and cozy lounge chairs to one where a weeklong itinerary might include sea kayaking, biking, hiking, scuba diving, ziplining, and rock climbing.
“Over the last three to five years, we’ve seen an explosion of people who prefer this type of cruise. They want to spend the day outdoors and return to a hot shower and nice meal,’’ says Todd Smith, founder of AdventureSmith Explorations, a company that partners with small cruise ship expeditions around the globe.
Smith started in the cruise business in the 1990s, working as a naturalist aboard an Alaskan cruise. He notes that the Alaska shoreline, with its rugged mix of mountains, glaciers, deep forest, and protected coves, is the ideal terrain for the active cruiser. Add the excitement of sea kayaking with seals, otters, and whales, and with bald eagles overhead, and you have a memorable outing you won’t soon forget. Smith adds the Galápagos Islands and Antarctica to a growing list of locales that attract the sporty sect.
Most of the ships Smith represents, like the 49-passenger M/V Wilderness Adventurer, have the capacity to get people on and off the boat away from port. This opens up remote territory that larger cruise lines can’t get to and helps preserve the wilderness experience with nights spent in sheltered bays with no other vessels. It also lends itself to more rigorous outings.
“It’s easier to get 20 people into kayaks than 120,’’ says Smith.
That’s not stopping the larger cruise lines from also embracing the new type of cruiser. On a jaunt last year to Puerto Vallarta on Princess Cruise Lines, Fran Golden, inveterate cruise writer and travel news columnist for AOL, said she spent a day riding mules up a mountain, then rappelling and ziplining down that same peak.
“There’s definitely been more shore excursions in the past five years that cater to people who want to be active,’’ says Golden. She also notes that the ships themselves are gearing up for a healthier clientele, adding rock walls and rappel lines.
“Royal Caribbean’s new Allure of the Seas, making its debut in December, has its own zipline on board. And a new Carnival ship plans to have an outdoor weightlifting area,’’ says Golden.
There will always be the passenger who wants to simply sit in the sun and savor a margarita. Thankfully, cruise lines are finally realizing there’s more than enough room to accommodate other travelers, those who like to keep active, on and off the boat.