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Six shore excursions that say ‘Wow!’

The ship has docked and it's time to head to shore. Does the prospect of another sightseeing tour bore you? Does the idea of another shopping "opportunity" makes you want to burn down the gift shop? Then check out these unusual shore excursions, which are all high on the "Wow!" scale. Anita Dunham-Potter reprises six favorites.
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Are you tired of the same old shore excursions? Do you yearn for something more exciting than a shopping trip or more enriching than a beach break? If you like living la vida loca, here's a list of high-energy tours that will make you say "Wow!"

Helsinki, Finland: Lapland expedition by private jet
The tour begins at the Helsinki airport, where participants board a private jet (one that is sometimes used by the Finnish president) and take off toward the Arctic Circle. Destination: Rovaniemi, the administrative capital of Lapland. Upon arrival, guests are met by local guides in traditional costumes who escort the group on a short drive to the Kemijoki River. Here participants board a wooden riverboat and venture off to a reindeer ranch. Later, participants engage in an Arctic Circle crossing ceremony in a traditional dwelling and are presented with a reindeer bell as a memento. If you are bold, you can try to lasso some reindeer. After a Lapp lunch with folk dancing, you can visit the Arktikum, a museum and science center. The final, lighthearted stop of the journey is a trip to "Santa Claus Village," located right on the Arctic Circle, for a visit with the jolly old elf himself and a chance to send a postcard from his post office. This tour is offered only by Seabourn.

Belize: Cave tubing and rain forest exploration
This is one of my favorite tours of all time. The tour begins with a one-hour drive north from Belize City through the lush Belizean countryside to the tiny resort of Jaguar Paw. After an orientation session, participants are fitted for an inner tube and headlamp, then trek 45 minutes through the rain forest to get to the river starting point. During the trek, guides point out the flora and fauna (yes, there are jaguars in the area, but sightings are rare). Upon arrival at the Caves Branch River, you leap off a 12-foot cliff into the river, then head for the underground streams. Once you are in the caves, you'll be floating on your inner tube with only the headlamp and the dim jungle light to light your way. You'll see stalagmites, stalactites, underground waterfalls and thousands of bats! A highlight of the trip is the Crystal Cathedral, said to be a spiritual center for the ancient Maya. Most cruise lines that call on Belize City offer this tour or another, similar one. It is available only during the rainy season, August through January.

Ketchikan, Alaska: Rain forest canopy tour
If you're up for something completely different, try getting in touch with your inner Tarzan. Alaska Canopy Adventures allows you to zip across Ketchikan's rain forest 135 feet above the ground. There are seven zip-lines and 4,500 feet of cable strung across spruce, hemlock and cedar trees; distances between platforms range from 175 feet to 850 feet. There are also three rope bridges to navigate. If you are brave enough to look down, you might catch sight of a bear; glance upward and you might get a bird's-eye view of a bald eagle. The tour is offered by Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam: Bay kayak adventure
This tour lets you explore the caves and grottoes of Ha Long Bay off northeastern Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Sheltering 1,969 stone islands of various sizes, the bay is world famous for its spectacular scenery; in fact, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tour members will paddle a two-person kayak into Thien Cung (Heavenly Residence Grotto) and Dau Go (Driftwood Grotto), then explore the famous Ba Hang (Three Caves) area. After a long morning and early afternoon of paddling, participants will board a junk for an authentic Vietnamese lunch. The tour is available only through Silversea Cruises on stops in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Huatulco, Mexico: Free the turtles
Every year, for just a few evenings after each full moon, thousands of turtles swim to the west coast of Mexico and come ashore in the state of Oaxaca. Here they scoop out holes in the sand and lay their eggs. The eggs are protected by armed military patrols, as are the baby turtles, who are allowed to mature on the beach. In 1991, the National Mexican Turtle Center was established at Playa Mazunte, which was formerly a killing beach. The center now arranges for young turtles to be taken to the port of Huatulco to be set free. Here, participants in the shore excursion have the unique opportunity to adopt a sea turtle and liberate it into the ocean with their own hands. The program is available only through Regent Seven Sea Cruises on ships with stops in Huatulco from June through February.

Willemstad, Curacao: Animal encounter
Want to hand-feed a shark without getting a bite back? The Curacao Sea Aquarium offers the chance to do just that with its adventure called "Animal Encounters," the only program in the world to let you feed sharks and sea turtles in just one dive. A natural tidal pool near the edge of the aquarium is home to hundreds of tropical fish, including a group of sharks that lives behind a wire fence fitted with a Plexiglas window. The best thing about the tour is that both certified divers and novices can participate, so long as they are at least 12 years old. Participants who are not certified divers will take a special 30-minute PADI-approved immersion course. After a short animal briefing, bag of sardines in hand, participants can feed the sharks, turtles and many species of fish through small holes in the Plexiglas. The program is available through all cruise lines that dock in Willemstad.

Shore excursions don't have to be a yawn. Check these out, then send me your own recommendations!

Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita's columns have appeared in major newspapers and many Internet outlets, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2006."