One of my favorite things about a cruise are the days in port where we have a few hours to explore a new destination. Because our time in port is usually much shorter than we’d like, we’ve found that it pays to learn what we can about the city, country and shore excursion options before our trip. Sometimes we book shore excursions directly through the cruise line, but we plan our own as often as we can.
Here is what you need to know about shore excursions BEFORE your cruise.
When to book through the cruise line
When time or distance is a concern – One big advantage of booking your excursion through the cruise line vs booking privately is that you’ll have a guarantee that the ship won’t leave without you. What if your bus, taxi or tour boat breaks down? Or you get lost? Or your tour guide or taxi driver is incompetent? All of these things are unlikely, but if it’s an official cruise excursion, they’ll hold the ship for you. If it’s not, you’ll have to find your own way to the next port, at your own expense.
When we took an all-day excursion to the Lamanai ruins in Belize, this was a no-brainer. It was a long tour, miles away from the port by bus and boat, scheduled to return to the port within an hour of departure. We booked directly through the cruise line in advance and this excursion was one of the highlights of our trip!
When the activity is risky – If you like adventurous activities like zip lines, ocean kayaks or glacier hiking, you may want to book directly through the cruise line because you know that the tour provider has been vetted for liability insurance and other legalities. Depending on the activity, you may feel confident booking your excursion on your own if another local provider has a lot of solid reviews on a reputable travel site. For me, it’s a case-by-case decision.
When convenience and certainty are worth the extra cost – Let’s be honest. It takes time and effort to plan your own shore excursion. It’s also riskier than taking the official tour… Will our taxi driver REALLY come back for us? More about that later.
For some of us, it’s all part of the fun. For others, it’s S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L! If you fall into the second category, I won’t judge. Just read through the list of shore excursions before your trip or once you’re on board and sign up for your favorites.
On our Eastern Caribbean cruise, we had a disappointing whale-watching excursion on which we saw zero whales in Dominica and needed a slam dunk for the following day in Grenada. We had planned to take public transportation to the Seven Sisters Falls hike, but thought better of it. We marched down to the shore excursions desk and signed up for the cruise tour, and are glad we did. We would have lost valuable time figuring out the local bus system, and the trail head was not close or well marked. With the tour, we had a great time and had a couple of hours left to spend at the beach. Worth. Every. Penny.