Just imagine: the pyramids of Egypt, amazing Petra in Jordan, the canals of Venice. There’s no need to simply imagine. A cruise vacation can bring these and other cultural destinations to life and provide up-close-and-personal shore excursions that will enlighten your mind. Best of all, you unpack once and travel in style with features and amenities that will pamper and relax you.

Cultural experiences onshore

One of the most exciting aspects of a cruise vacation is planning your cruise activities onshore. Most cruises visit a variety of fascinating ports on any one journey each offering new sights, exotic cultures and world-renowned landmarks to explore.The best way to experience a destination’s ambiance is through a cruise line’s shore excursion program. From awe inspiring Alaska to the marvels of the Mediterranean, the list of shore excursions offering cultural opportunities and adventurous activities will boggle the mind.

Shore excursions

Cultural cruise activities vary depending on where you’re cruising. Some of the smaller port stops are relatively easy to explore independently; however, to experience numerous sites in and around your port of call it’s best to sign up for one of the ship’s shore excursions.

Quite often excursions offered by the cruise line take considerable planning and would be difficult to arrange yourself once in port. Designed to make the most of your time in port and cover a range of tastes, shore excursions arranged by the cruise line include anything from cultural walking tours, museums, culinary schools and shopping tours to adventures such as sailing, zip-lining, helicopter rides, biking, kayaking and wildlife treks. Best of all traveling on these shore excursions you will meet like-minded people from your cruise.

Another added benefit of taking part in a cruise line arranged shore excursion is that the ship will not depart until all shore excursions have returned. Talk about peace of mind!

Booking shore excursions

It’s a good idea to start planning your shore excursion choices early. You will most likely receive a program of your ship’s shore excursion options with your cruise documents once you have booked and paid for the trip.

Shore excursions are generally an additional cost to your cruise and can be billed to your shipboard account. Ideally the excursions should be booked as soon as you arrive on the ship, as the most popular trips have a tendency to sell out very quickly. Better yet most cruise lines allow guests to book in advance of the sailing on the line’s Web site or through their travel agent.

Once on board, a great way to understand the vast tour offerings is to attend the very informative shore excursion talks that are hosted by the ship’s staff. Additionally, some voyages may offer enrichment lectures on various topics relating to the ports you will be visiting. These are a great way to find your feet on shore, so to speak.

Cruising to far off lands is not only very exciting, but also a very culturally enlightening experience. Immerse yourself during a shore excursion and get set to learn, absorb and explore the world around you.

Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel and cruise vacations. In addition to writing pieces for Princess Cruises, Anita is a weekly travel columnist for MSNBC.com and Tripso, and she is a contributor to Fodor’s “Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2007”