Is a shore excursion reason enough to take a cruise? In order to continually provide new experiences for the large number of cruisers who keep coming back for more, and, equally important, to capture the attention of those who have never cruised before, the members of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) are doing everything they can to make the answer to that question "Yes."

The result is an ever-expanding menu of often exclusive or even private, innovative shoreside activities that range from a few hours to several days in some of the most famous, beautiful or extraordinary places on earth. These are not the traditional half-day city tours, though those represent an excellent way to get a feel for a new city or destination. Rather, today's most exciting excursions offer fascinating and always pleasurable ways to pursue favorite interests and activities in new settings, satisfy life-long curiosities and dreams, enrich the intellectual or spiritual life, encounter nature in wonderful ways, and even indulge in fantasies.

"The member lines of CLIA enjoy the highest rates of repeat business in the travel industry but they also have a huge untapped market of vacationers that have never realized that they can pursue what they love doing most on a cruise. Creative, unusual land programs, from short shore excursions to overland adventures that may last several days, keep loyal returning customers happy and intrigue non-cruisers, helping to motivate them to give it a try," said Terry L. Dale, CLIA's president and CEO. "The common denominator for both groups is the indisputable "wow" surprise factor: many of these shoreside opportunities are truly astonishing."

These are a few examples of shore excursions offered by member lines of CLIA all over the world:

Sports: Living the Ultimate Fantasy
Golf at some of the most famous clubs in the world is par for the course on many cruises but, by picking the right itinerary, travelers can also live out their ultimate fantasy whether it be driving Maseratis, Lamborghinis or Ferraris on the French Riviera, high-speed ocean yacht racing, or a 4x4 mountain rally at the Rally Club of Barga near Florence. Other extreme options include Scuba diving in Turkey, mountain biking in the Canary Islands, snorkeling in Alaska, hot air ballooning in Stockholm or Paris, snowmobiling, and dog sledding under the Northern Lights.

Slightly tamer but definitely unusual active excursions include biking on top of the ancient walls of Lucca in Tuscany, one of Europe's best preserved cities, and walking across the rooftops of Stockholm. On some South American cruise itineraries, guests may opt for a canopy ride across Chile's Osorno Volcano, and, in the Caribbean, explore the island of Cozumel by Scoot Coupe, the miniature, three-wheeled convertible.

For those passengers who prefer sports of the spectator variety, there are cruises that feature excursions to some of the world's greatest events, including the British Open golf tournament, Wimbledon tennis, the Monaco Grand Prix and others.

Culinary Delights
Dining is a highlight of any cruise, with some ships offering more than a dozen options featuring food from around the world. But shore excursions also provide an opportunity to explore local cuisines and culinary traditions in unique ways, often in very intimate settings. Off the coast of Africa, for example, cruise passengers may enjoy traditional grilled octopus in the Seychelles islands. In Spain, cruise guests can sample caviar and learn how it is produced. In Italy, a traditional farmhouse is the setting for dining and wine tasting with the Tuscan Cooking School. Cooking classes with an Italian countess in Venice or a typical Ligurian seafood lunch on a small boat in the Italian Riviera are other options. The wines of the Danube's Wachau Valley in Austria are featured in a special dinner and wine tasting on a river cruise, and visitors to the Adriatic can sample traditional cooking during a home-hosted lunch in Croatia.

For a real change of pace, there is a high tea served at the Burj al Arab in Dubai, the most luxurious hotel in the world. Closer to home, culinary shore excursions include an Alaska seafood feast, lobster dinners in Bar Harbor, and king crab safaris in Alaska's Barents Sea.

Personalized Culture and World Heritage Sites
In addition to the popular group sightseeing excursions offered on most itineraries, today's cruise guests have numerous other options, including private tours of all kinds and opportunities to enjoy a unique, personal perspective on some of the world's great cultural landmarks. There are private visits, for example, to such iconic places as the Doge's Palace in Venice, and a backstage tour at the Monte Carlo Ballet. The famous Edinburgh military tattoo is a feature of some UK itineraries and, half a world away, cruise passengers can explore the tunnels of the DMZ dividing North and South Korea, or meditate and enjoy a formal tea ceremony in the garden of Korea's 6th century Hwaeomsa Temple.

The world's largest collection of Viking rune stones and Norway's Stone Age settlements are featured on some Scandinavian cruise itineraries and, among the more than 100 World Heritage Sites featured on cruise itineraries are the Temple of Borobudur, Kakadu National Park in Australia's Northern Territory, and the Galapagos Islands. In Asia, cruise passengers can take an overland journey from Vietnam to Cambodia to visit the legendary Angkor Wat temples.

Among the natural wonders of the world that are featured on cruise shore excursions are the elephants, rhinos and buffalo of Kapama Private Game Reserve; the whales, bears, sea eagles and glaciers of Alaska; the unique landscapes of Antarctica; the Chilean fjords and many others. Cruise passengers can even choose to study the illusive Orangutans of Borneo in their natural habitat.

Fun for All Ages
No vacation offers more for families and kids than a cruise, in part because of shore excursions designed to be fun for all ages. What could be more exciting, and different, than bobsledding in the Jamaican rainforest, riding the Magical Flying Beach Chair from the cruise terminal in Roatan to Mahogany Beach, or body boarding on the flow rider in Grand Turk?

Examples of other family-oriented excursions include the "In the Steps of the Beatles Tour" in Liverpool, England, a treasure hunt in Tunis, a lobstering and fishing expedition in Downeast Maine, a visit to the Akvariet Aquarium in Norway, the largest collection of saltwater fish in the world, and even a gala ball at the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, complete with Disney princesses.