A quiet revolution has been underway in the cruise world in the past several years: Day trips and multiday outings offered by upscale cruise lines have a new focus. They are moving away from day-long coach trips to tired tourist traps and instead are planning rare, immersive experiences that passengers would be hard-pressed to organize on their own.
Leading the trend are such high-end cruise operators as Silversea, which recently launched 14 once-in-a-lifetime, multiday experiences that can be added to select voyages. Dubbed the Couture Collection, these overland trips incorporate private helicopters and private jets to get travelers to some of the world’s most inaccessible and untouched places—among them, the South Pole and the northern mountains of Mongolia.
Another upscale line, Windstar Cruises, recently unveiled a new Beyond Ordinary collection of 10 over-the-top, highly curated excursions that includes a Michelin-starred lunch in Provence and a private yoga session on the rooftop of the Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery in Roses, Spain.
Here, we assembled some of the rarest excursions that cruise lines are offering.
Glamping in Bolivia’s Salt Flats and Atacama Desert
Two nights of glamping in one of the most extreme places in the world—Bolivia’s Unuyi Salt Flats—is the highlight of this six-night overland excursion, which is bookable in conjunction with select Azamara voyages to South America and Antarctica. Passengers will stay in a deluxe Airstream camper and have a private guide, driver, and chef as they explore the 4,050-square-mile landscape of bright-white salts, rock formations, and cacti-studded islands. Then it’s on to the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth, for unparalleled nighttime stargazing and geyser watching with the upscale Alto Atacama Lodge and Spa serving as a base. From $6,399 per person; azamara.com.
Exploring underwater life in Antarctica by submarine
Thousands of people have walked among the penguins along the shores of Antarctica in recent years, but few have gotten to see the colorful sea life that lives just a few meters under the water. Enter luxury outfitter Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, which this winter began offering a submarine ride in Antarctica’s coastal waters for passengers aboard its new discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse, the first upscale expedition ship to be outfitted with a submarine. Passengers can choose between a 20- or 40-minute dive that typically brings sightings of brightly colored corals and sponges, octopus, huge jellyfish, and the occasional diving penguin or seal. From $250 to $475 per person; scenicusa.com.
Exclusive after-hours visit to the Louvre in Paris
Yes, it’ll be just you and small group of your fellow cruisers getting up close to the Mona Lisa on this exclusive visit to the Louvre in Paris. Included for every passenger signing on to one of Tauck’s all-inclusive Impressions from the Seine: Paris to Normandy river cruises, the after-hours excursion to the world’s most visited museum gives you rare access to the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece and other iconic works in a blissfully crowd-free setting. These sailings also offer an exclusive early-morning visit to Monet’s home in Giverny, France. Included in the cruise fare, which starts at $4,390 per person; tauck.com.
Visit the reindeer herders and eagle hunters of Mongolia
Available as an add-on to a few Silversea cruises in Asia per year, this super-exclusive, super-pricey seven-night tour—part of the line’s Couture Collection—will bring you to some of the most remote parts of Mongolia. The trip includes a chartered helicopter ride to visit a nearly extinct tribe of nomadic reindeer herders living in a roadless mountain area in the north of the country. There’s also a visit with Kazakh eagle hunters in the western mountain region of Sagsai, near the Kazakhstan border. During the latter stop, you’ll stay in a camp of traditional Mongolian gers (sometimes called yurts in the West) set up by Silversea staff in a mountain valley. Priced at $61,000 per person; silversea.com.
Helicopter ride to a Michelin-starred lunch in Provence
Offered during port stops in Monaco, this five-hour Windstar Cruises excursion kicks off with a private, 30-minute panoramic helicopter ride over the Provence countryside on the way to legendary chef Alain Ducasse’s La Bastide de Moustiers in the town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie in the south of France. Landing right at the ancient property, which initially was Ducasse’s home and now is run as an inn and Michelin-starred restaurant, passengers will experience a gourmet feast created with local ingredients by the restaurant’s master chef, Frédéric Garnier. Then the helicopter returns them on another scenic flight back to the ship. This culinary-focused outing is a highlight of the line’s new Beyond Ordinary collection of excursions. Priced at $1,999 per person; windstarcruises.com.
A deep dive into Egyptian treasures in London and Oxford
Amateur Egyptologists will get rare special access to Egyptian treasures in London and Oxford, England, during this new four-night overland excursion from the river cruise arm of Viking Cruises. Designed as a precruise add-on to Viking sailings on Egypt’s Nile River, the British Collections of Ancient Egypt tour includes a behind-the-scenes visit to the private archives of Howard Carter (who unearthed Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922) at Oxford’s Griffith Institute. There’s also a private tour of the home and personal museum of Sir John Soane, who amassed an exquisite collection of Egyptian antiquities, including a 3,000-year-old sarcophagus. Other stops include an early morning visit to the Egyptian Collection at the British Museum before it opens to the general public. From $3,499 per person; vikingcruises.com.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Getting up close to Rwanda’s magnificent mountain gorillas is the focus of river line AmaWaterways’ new Rwanda Extension, which is designed to pair with all five of the itineraries AmaWaterways offers in southern Africa. Beginning and ending in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, the four-night excursion includes two days of trekking through the tropical forests of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park in search of the extremely rare primates (fewer than 900 remain in the wild) as well as the endangered golden monkey. Nights are spent in the shadow of the park’s volcanoes at the upscale Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. From $3,795 per person, not including mountain gorilla and golden monkey trekking permits that cost $1,500 and $100 per day, respectively; AmaWaterways.com.
Breakfast in the shadow of Mount Everest
Still in the final phase of development, the over-the-top, four-night “Kathmandu: Capital of Nepal and Gateway to the Himalayas Overland Adventure” excursion from Crystal Cruises will include an epic helicopter ride to a champagne breakfast at the edge of Mount Everest. Boarding the helicopter in Kathmandu, participants will fly to the Hotel Everest View, a 12-room property on a ridge not far from Everest Base Camp. From there, they’ll have sweeping views of the mountain and the Everest Range. At 13,000 feet, Hotel Everest View is billed as the highest hotel in the world. The excursion, which also includes exploring in Kathmandu, will be offered in conjunction with Crystal’s World Cruises in 2020 and 2021. Participants will leave the ship in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and rejoin in Mumbai, India. Pricing not yet set; crystalcruises.com.