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CRUISE SHIPS OFFER PASSENGERS BIG ADVENTURES ON LAND

Until recently, cruising's catchphrase was "the battle of the bulge." That's because cruise lines always have boasted that their ships are bigger than those of their competitors.

But this year's motto could be "my shore excursion is better than yours."

In Jamaica, for example, Royal Caribbean will have you swinging, literally, from the trees. In Ocho Rios, a cruise port flush with lush woodlands and waterfalls, you'll get a bird's-eye view of jungle canopy at the Cranbrook Flower Forest.

Strapped into a harness hinged to an intricate pulley system, you can play Peter Pan for about two hours.

First, you take off from a cliffside platform 20 feet above the ground and begin what sounds like one heck of a ride. Go from platform to platform, more than three miles, with the longest midair crossing more than 600 feet.

Some platforms rise to 210 feet, letting you swoop above "a giant valley carved from the surrounding mountain by ancient waters," the line's Web site notes. "You will even get a glimpse of the miles-away Caribbean Sea and learn interesting facts about the surrounding tree and plant life from our well-informed guides." Cost: $89 per person -- Dramamine not included.

Royal Caribbean has added 100 unusual excursions just in the Caribbean this winter, bringing its catalog of tropical adventures to more than 600.

Among other new options: The Tabacon Hot Springs and Arenal Volcano tour, an outing in Costa Rica that invites you to take a dip in the hot springs at the base of an active volcano.

Even the timid will appreciate the respite offered: The featured springs and volcano are set in the center of the country, a three-hour drive from the ship -- each way. Cost: $108 per adult and $88 for kids up to 12 years old.

You can explore ancient, remote Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala. During the ship's call in Belize, you fly to Guatemala, where local guides enliven your exploration of the extensively excavated and restored site in the dense jungles of Peten. Cost: $425, air to Guatemala included. For information, call (800) 398-9819 or visit royalcaribbean.com.

Luxe-line Radisson Seven Seas also wants to send its passengers soaring through a rain forest. In this case, the locale is Dominica, the most mountainous island of the Lesser Antilles, and the means is via aerial tram (the tropical island's first).

The three-hour adventure rises above the famed Boiling Lake near the village of Laudat, where steep hills of the Trafalgar and Roseau valleys reach heights of more than 2,000 feet. Even if the vertical drops don't daunt you, remember this is a rain forest: Ponchos are highly recommended. Cost: $95 per person.

Another new Radisson excursion won't be offered again until next year: canoeing in a sloth sanctuary in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. The 4 1/2 -hour experience reveals the world's only private wildlife sanctuary and rescue center devoted to these gentle creatures.

A video, which introduces you to the sanctuary, is followed by a lecture about the sloth. Naturally, there's a visit with the residents. A one-hour naturalist-escorted canoe ride plies the sanctuary's calm estuaries. The guide also leads a short, informative rain-forest walk to reveal the interaction of humans, sloth and the fragile habitat. The cost has not yet been set.

Radisson also has something new up its sleeve for kids.

In June, on the Paul Gauguin's South Pacific sailings, the line will launch an environmental program aimed at youngsters 9 to 15. In partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society, Radisson's program offers children an interactive experience that emphasizes the critical importance of coral reefs, sustainable lifestyles and traditional Polynesian culture, and how nature conservation contributes to daily life in French Polynesia.

Program activities can include hiking rain-forest trails, learning to paddle an outrigger canoe and exploring reef habitats.

Radisson isn't just juicing up its extracurricular activities. It's spicing up its fleet with a selected makeover of menus. For example, a new "Indochine" menu debuts in Latitudes, the smallest and most intimate of the restaurants on Seven Seas Voyager and Mariner.

Among the exotic new creations: Cambodian wafu salad, steamed fresh halibut in a matsutake mushroom broth with gingered vegetables and a spiced rack of lamb accompanied by aromatic jasmine rice, wok-seared snow peas and fresh sprouts in peanut jus, finished with fresh ginger dumplings with chocolate mousse and raspberry sauce for dessert.

For Navigator's Portofino restaurant, chef Angelo Elia from the Casa D'Angelo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale is serving up a new twist on traditional Italian cuisine. According to a Radisson spokeswoman, the chef's specialties -- Tuscan entrees with southern Italian accents -- have earned him a spot on Zagat's "America's Top Restaurants" list.

At sea, Portofino's patrons will dine on such selections as gnocchi with white truffle and chive cream sauce, grilled shrimp with seafood ravioli and lobster reduction, and grilled medallions of beef served with truffled fresh porcini mushroom fricassee and olive mash.

Is your mouth watering yet?

e-mail: AJBleeckeraol.com

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