A line on adventure

For daring cruise passengers, ships are just the way to get to the action

September 30, 2007|By Sheila Young | Sheila Young,Special to The Sun

Stomach clenched and legs wobbly, I climb hesitantly to the launch platform of the Dragon's Flight Zipline, discovering that it's a ledge, really, and not much of one. The metal cable that will carry me half a mile at 50 mph is a slim silver line. And I wonder: What in the world was I thinking?

This had seemed like a good idea.

I wanted a new experience, and the Dragon's Flight, a new Vitality adventure excursion on Royal Caribbean's stop at Labadee, Haiti, its private beach resort, promised me that.

I look out, and the view is beyond spectacular.

Our ship, Liberty of the Seas, floats majestically far below, a white jewel in the blue crown of the cove. I suddenly realize that even with clear skies and visibility for miles, I am so high and so far away from the landing that I can't see the end of the cable. But eventually I get there.

Zip lines are all the rage, from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to Canada, as are all sorts of adventure excursions on cruises. These days, cruise guests can drive a Formula 1 racecar in Monte Carlo; go cave tubing in Belize or white-water rafting in the Chilean fjords; try rock-climbing in the Klondike; or fly over an active volcano in Hawaii. Some whale-watching excursions in Alaska even offer a money-back guarantee.

"Over the last four or five years, there is probably an increase in things that you may call adventurous," says Bob Sharak, vice president for marketing and distribution for the Cruise Lines International Association.

" `Adventure' sometimes has this connotation of Indiana Jones," he says, "but I think what you're seeing here is just what is happening in the world in general. People are looking for a little more action and enrichment in their lives."

Sharak's favorite cruise excursion involves sport fishing.

"I just got back from Alaska and had a great time catching salmon," he says. "I went out with my wife and my 15-year-old son, and it was glorious. We had glassy clear water, and there were eagles sitting on the rocks right next to us. It was so beautiful it was unbelievable. If I didn't catch a thing, I would have been satisfied."

But he did catch fish - cohos and some king salmon at 30 to 38 pounds - and kept one. "As soon as you get back on the boat, they take your information and freeze the fish [for the rest of the cruise], then pack it in dry ice, and you take it home. I've been enjoying it ever since. A 35-pound fish - that's going to last a little while."

An adventure excursion can inspire you to leave your comfort zone, too. Several years ago, when they were in their late 50s, Shirley and Craig Sisk of Severn went on a snorkel excursion in the Caymans so they could swim with stingrays.

"I don't swim," Shirley Sisk says. "So I don't stick my face in the water. I don't open my eyes in the water."

But when they arrived at the stingray area, Sisk gamely donned snorkel gear and jumped in the water. "As a first test, I leaned over and opened my eyes," she says. "Then I actually went under and gave it a try. I came up and I went, `I did it, Craig, I did it!'

"I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So you get over the fear and just do it."

Was it worth it?

"That was the best part of the Caribbean," she says.

Of course, shopping and bus tours remain popular excursions.

They are "huge," Sharak says, with emphasis. "Shopping remains one of the most, if not the most, popular activities of all. That and exploring the port itself."

Bus tours give you a chance to snap scenic photos and hear interesting information about the place you're visiting.

In the Caribbean, if you like shopping, you shouldn't miss the town of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. Shopping experiences are emphasized in just about every port, but St. Thomas merchants seem more eager to make deals than their counterparts elsewhere. And if you don't like the idea of missing beautiful tropical scenery, cruise lines offer excursions that combine an island tour and plenty of time for shopping.

It's also possible to "do it yourself" on excursions. On a Caribbean cruise in January, we docked in St. Thomas. My husband, Rick, got off the ship to walk around for a bit, spotted a motorcycle for rent and took an impromptu ride around the island. My son, Owen, and his shipboard friends grabbed a cab and rode over to Magen's Bay Beach for a swim.

In St. Martin, the pier has a large tourist information booth. Owen and I stopped there, having tried too late to sign up for the ship's beach excursions. The staff happily pointed to a water taxi just a block away, which took us on a fun, inexpensive five-minute ride to Great Bay Beach for the afternoon.

And when we docked in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, we took a walk uphill on our own to see the historic San Cristobal fort.

There is also something to be said for staying aboard ship, sprawled on a deck chair at the now-uncrowded pool as waiters take your drink order.

But for excursions on my cruise in July, I had adventure in mind.

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