By Suzanne Bopp
Holland America Line’s new EXC Tours let you see — not to mention hear, taste, touch and smell — the world in new ways.
Taste wines in Burgundy, see Vietnam from a rickshaw or meet a sloth in Costa Rica: with Holland America Line’s EXC Tours, these adventures and many more can be easily arranged during your next cruise. These new shore excursions offer authentic local experiences meant to awaken the senses and create lifelong memories.
To create these tours, Holland America Line has partnered with local businesses and guides in their destination ports to arrange a variety of outdoor adventures, urban excursions, arts experiences and culinary explorations. You’ll find something for every interest, preference and capability — and to delight every sense.
Beneath tall, snowy mountains, at the head of Iceland’s longest fjord, is Akureyri. This charming town, which boasts some of Iceland’s best-preserved traditional turf homes, is filled with galleries, restaurants and cafes. Stop in at the popular Blaa Kannan Cafe, a striking dark blue building in the center of town. It’s known for its homemade terta, a tall multilayer cake Icelanders bake at home on special occasions. Here you can savor a slice anytime, accompanied by their renowned hot chocolate, thick with fresh cream.
Maybe you’d like to give your taste buds a wake-up call in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the cuisine is known for its unique and powerful flavors. You’ll be welcomed in a local kitchen — belonging to a woman well known in the country’s culinary scene — while she prepares several traditional dishes. At her cooktop, you can learn her techniques as she makes curry, sambol, rice and salad using local recipes. Then taste it all when you sit down with her and enjoy lunch.
Of course, cooking is a vivid experience for the nose too, as is every inhalation at the Keukenhof tulip festival in The Netherlands. Some say the park of Keukenhof — known as the “Garden of Europe” — is the most beautiful in the world: nearly 80 acres exploding with tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and other spring blooms in every color. You can stroll among them, inhaling the sweet scent of millions of flowers.
Accompanied by a local expert, you’ll see centuries of history and culture preserved in its old town center. Nine hundred years ago, this area served as the frontier between Moors and Christians; it’s best experienced by meandering the narrow streets, surrounded by the sight of house fronts and their medieval doors. Perched high above town, spot the Biar Castle on a rocky hillside. Continue your wandering in this Muslim-era fort and see its unusual 12th-century dome up close.
Before you’ve seen the sight, it’s hard to imagine the glow worms of New Zealand’s Waitomo Caves. Walk into a cave filled with stalagmites, stalactites and other calcite deposits forming tall, gnarled shapes. Deep inside the cave, you’ll board a small, open boat and ride in silence — the worms extinguish their lights when disturbed — along the underground river. The darkness is complete, except for the millions of dots of light coming from the bioluminescent glow worms on the cave ceiling. They look like a secret galaxy of tiny stars.
Two of the world’s great sights await when you dock at General San Martin, Peru. Machu Picchu is one, the 15th-century city of stone, surrounded by tropical forest, sitting in the sky (the elevation is almost 8,000 feet). Closer examination reveals how each stone is fitted precisely into the next, staying together without mortar; what remains of this lost city seems almost to rise naturally from the rocky mountaintop. While at sea level, a boat takes you to the Galapagos Islands to see the enormous tortoises going about their day. You may get close enough to hear them chewing leaves.
What does a stingray feel like? Dock in Bora Bora and you’ll have a chance to find out. Swim through the calm, clear turquoise water, passing multicolored coral gardens teeming with bright tropical fish and harmless black tip sharks. The graceful stingrays will glide serenely and effortlessly around you. Get up close and, with your guide’s assistance, you can touch them and feel their firm, slippery skin.
In Alaska, feel the crisp, clean wind in your hair, first aboard a high-speed catamaran headed for Skagway on the longest and deepest fjord in North America. Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by mountain peaks, waterfalls and hanging glaciers far above you. The waters teem with life: seals, sea lions, humpback and orca whales. Bald eagles are a frequent sight. In Skagway, you’ll take a short walk through the trees to a series of zip lines hung throughout the forest canopy. Buckle in and go: you’ll be soaring like a bird among the trees.
Havana’s Tropicana Cabaret was known as “Paradise under the Stars” back in its heyday as the epicenter of Cuba’s sizzling nightlife scene in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s still Cuba’s largest nightclub, home to an open-air extravaganza after dark. Elaborately costumed showgirls dance and an orchestra plays under the night sky, surrounded by royal palms and mango trees, while you listen to the pulsing rumba and mambo beats.
Catch a show that actually promises to “set all your senses aflame” in Quebec. In the port of Saguenay, it’s a dramatic stage performance that relays the history of the region with hundreds of actors, a large cast of farm animals and extensive audiovisual techniques creating a sensory feast: rain, fireworks, horses, fire and cannons on the stage.
On the other side of the globe is a sound that few people ever will hear: the mystical water music of Vanuatu. From the edge of Vanuatu’s largest island, women wade waist-deep into the ocean wearing traditional dress, including arm bands and headpieces of flowers and leaves. In unison, they slap and splash the sea surface; a watery, percussive music fills the warm South Pacific air. On these remote shores, you’ll also sip from a coconut and see a traditional dance; like all EXC Tours, it’s an experience made to thrill every sense and bring the wonders of the world up close.
Hungry to explore one of these exciting destinations? Holland America Lines and your local AAA Travel Agent can make it happen. Call 800-750-5386 and book today!