What's new in the world of shore excursions...

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The experience ashore is key to the success of any cruise line, yet funnily enough, the focus on the shoreside experience doesn't seem to match the investment in what happens on board, with many lines appearing to hand over their shore excursion programme to local operators lock, stock and barrel.

Yes, we have seen the major cruise lines invest in their own private islands in the Caribbean over a number of years, but that seems to be it. New entrants to the market may change all that.

At Ritz-Carlton, President Doug Prothero says: "I'm a firm believer that the experience ashore is just as important as the experience on board, so we spent a long period of time consulting with local guides to find unique, individual experiences designed to meet the demands of today's luxury traveller. The result was the creation of 'The Shore Collection', which offers a flexible range of options to suit each guest."

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection - Marina

Ritz-Carlton ended up with five distinct categories of experience ashore for their guests to choose from, named Stirring the Senses, Active Explorations, Epicurean Experiences, Iconic Sites, and Cultural Connections. This mirrors Crystal's five-stranded river cruise excursion programme of Cultural Discoveries, Tantalizing Gastronomy, Personal Connections, Exhilarating Adventures, and the bespoke Design Your Time. In the luxury arena an increased focus on time ashore is obviously resulting in similar thinking.

Meanwhile over at Virgin Voyages there is also a lot of talk about the shoreside experience, but for the moment they are remaining coy about exactly how that is to be managed.

Virgin Voyages - Scarlet Lady

Outlining the nature of their super cool target market, they point out that a Virgin Sailor is the sort of person who will want to explore independently and off the main drag - so how will that translate into a Virgin shoreside experience?

Hints that the initial itineraries will include Cuba are interesting, but we know that other lines have found the process here challenging, with rules and regulations blocking anything but the most organised of shoreside activities. But this may be a case of 'who you know' - Richard Branson has been operating flights into Cuba for some years, and his connections there are well developed. Who knows what they have in mind? A Virgin Clubhouse in downtown Havana might be fun…

Havana, Cuba

Saga have announced a really interesting 'Explore Ashore' programme offered free of charge to their guests. This will be a highly developed concierge service to include maps, advice, restaurant reservations and more, to appeal to the more sophisticated and active Saga cruiser who has the confidence to set forth on their own.

Saga Cruises - Saga Sapphire

And of course, the briefest glance at the sudden increase of interest and capacity in expedition cruising, with its keen focus on destination, reinforces the zeitgeist which is steering us towards experiences rather than possessions, and participation rather than observation.

Silversea Expeditions - Zodiac landing in South Georgia

On exactly this topic, a recent relaunch by Silversea highlights ostentatious opulence giving way to authentic memorable experiences. They show evidence that luxury buyers are moving away from conspicuous consumption, with luxury watch sales down, and a rebalancing of demand by De Beers in 2015 which saw their sale of raw diamonds reduced by 39%. They say that Baby Boomers are more active and dynamic in retirement, ready for enrichment and reward, more hungry for experiences, and moving from material ownership to personal fulfilment.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

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