For many people, the thought of a cruise vacation conjures images of lounging by the pool, dancing all night in the clubs and dining with views of the water. You can certainly do each one, but there are also plenty of opportunities to learn more about the histories and cultures in different parts of the world.
With a little planning, you can turn your cruises into cultural experiences that enrich your mind and feed your soul.
1. Choose an Itinerary That Takes You to Culturally Rich Ports
Cruises take you to a variety of interesting destinations all around the world. If you really want a culturally rich experience, choose ports of call with fascinating histories and diverse cultures.
If architecture is your thing, consider cruises to La Romana, Cozumel or Rome, where you can explore ancient buildings and ruins. Take a Segway tour through Ensenada for a first-hand look at the famous Fish Market, then migrate to the historical plaza. If your favorite part of discovering new cultures is tasting the food, tickle your taste buds in Jamaica or Puerto Vallarta.
2. Research Your Destination Before You Set Sail
As soon as you choose your destination, start learning more about it. The more you know about the people, landmarks, and activities in the area, the better prepared you are to embrace the culture. This also helps you choose the best shore excursions on your cruise to The Bahamas, Alaska, or Bermuda.
Perhaps you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of a whale on your cruise to Alaska, and start looking for the best time of year to sail for this experience. You may find interesting tidbits about the region, decide to learn more about the history of Skagway and tack on a blown-glass art class to your to-do list.
3. Sign Up for Cultural and Historical-Themed Shore Excursions
No one says you have to spend your onshore time lounging on a beach or snorkeling with marine life. You can get up close to the history and culture of the region by signing up for shore excursions that take you away from the touristy tourist attractions.
Sign up for a trek to the ruins in Belize or Cozumel on a cruise to the Caribbean. Climb on board the USS Missouri to learn more about World War II battleships at Pearl Harbor. Participate in a Mayan spiritual ceremony surrounded by Guatemala’s volcanoes and plantations. Your souvenir is the indelible memories you make in such stunning environments.
4. Set an Itinerary
Time flies when you’re having fun, and it can easily take all day to find your way around town. Your cruise itinerary tells you how much time you have in each port of call. Nine hours in Belize isn’t enough time to see all of the Mayan Ruins in the area. You may not have time to do everything in a single visit. That’s okay, though. You can always return on a later cruise.
5. Get Your Own Tour Guide
Sign up for a shore excursion and a Carnival tour guide will show you around once you get off the ship. You’ll receive a unique experience designed to show you as much of your destination as possible. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a story or two about life in the area that no one else on the ship will hear.
6. Check Out Onboard Experiences
If your idea of fun is learning something new, check out onboard Food and Wine pairings, dance classes or cooking demonstrations. You’ll leave your vacation with newfound knowledge to bring back to shore. If you’re looking for time to yourself, get lost in a new book you’d pick off the self at the ship’s library and read to the soundtrack of the ocean
7. Open Your Mind and Your Mouth
We’re sure you’re going to love the onboard cuisine, but save some room to try the local culinary delights when you’re in port. You’ll find sweet and savory flavors for everyone, and may discover a new favorite when you least expect it. Food gives you a way to connect with the region and the people who prepare it.
8. Get Moving
One of the best ways to get to know a new destination is to walk the streets and sidewalks. The farther you get away from the spot where the cruise ships dock, the closer you get to the town’s real life. You’ll rub elbows with locals who can direct you to a favorite café or bar, where you can rest your feet for a bit.
You can wander the historical streets of Christiansted in St. Croix. Join a ghost tour to discover the stories behind the spirits who once lived in Skagway. Stroll through Puerto Rico’s San Cristobal Fort to find out the secrets of the Spanish military that once guarded the city.
9. Give Back During Your Visit
Sometimes the greatest cultural experience is the chance to do something good for the country you’re visiting. You may consider visiting a local church or orphanage that helps take care of the less fortunate as part of your cruise to Mexico and other parts of the Caribbean.
It’s a rewarding opportunity to learn about the work these groups do in places like Liberty Children’s Home Orphanage in Belize, or San Miguel Village in Cozumel.
10. Spend Some Time at the Ship’s Art Exhibitions
You don’t have to leave the cruise ship to find culture. You’ll also find it as part of the onboard cruise experiences. Each ship has art exhibitions that show off spectacular pieces produced by talented modern artists. Best of all, it doesn’t matter if you’re on a cruise to Hawaii, Europe, or Mexico. There’s always something to see.
The best part of a cruise vacation is the ability to customize the experience. You — and everyone else in your family — can find your idea of fun on our ships, including some of the best cultural experiences just waiting for you to explore.
Note: Onboard activities, shore excursions, and dining options may vary by ship and destination.