Janet Hyman could have scaled Ayers Rock or saddled up in the outback. Instead, when the Deerfield, Illinois, travel agent cruised the Australian coast several years ago, she often stuck to the poop decks. Even day trips ashore failed to provide the full down under. "I didn't get into the small towns, the sheep farms, Alice Springs," says Hyman. "In Australia, like a lot of places, it's the people that are most interesting, and you don't always get that on a ship."
Now, cruise lines are eager to make those introductions. To supplement the appeal of exterior staterooms, round-the-clock buffets, excursions ashore, and nightly stage revues, the companies are breaking away from the docks entirely, offering "cruise-tours" or sea-and-land packages that deliver the best of both environs.
"A cruise is a great way to see a lot of destinations in a short period of time," says Geoff Silvers, who packages cruise itineraries for Orbitz.com. "But many travelers want to dive in and get even more of a cultural experience from it."
Ship-and-shore excursions lure landlubbers to sea, too. "It's a way to introduce the cruise concept to many that may have been considering going with a land-only escorted tour," says Aimee J. Ricca, a Rockport, Maine, travel agent who specializes in cruises.
Alaska, Australia, Europe, and Asia are the focus of most cruise-tours. For instance, Princess and Holland America offer not only Alaska's Glacier Bay, but Denali National Park, too, which is 237 miles inland from Anchorage. Royal Caribbean offers a "Magical Tour of England," which hits sites used in filming the Harry Potter movies. Viking River Cruises' passengers follow China's Yangtze River, then go ashore to visit the Great Wall and Xian's terra-cotta army.