15 secrets for perfect shore excursions

Posted By Allison on Mar 8, 2016

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Hey there!

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.

15 secrets for YOUR perfect shore excursion | tipsforfamilytrips.com | cruise tips | budget cruise | cruise with kids

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.

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Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.


  1. Some great tips here. Though I have to say, the independent peeps who are authorized to run excursions often go through a rigorous process, too. Cruise ships tend to go with big tour companies, but the little guys are just as qualified and know the risks should something go amiss.

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    • I agree with you Jody. I think it depends on how much research you are willing to do on your own to ensure that your excursion provider is safe, reputable and insured. When you pay extra for the official excursion, you get the assurance that the cruise line has done that work for you. You may actually have a better experience with the smaller company.

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  2. I like planning my own, but agree about the stress of worrying about getting back to the ship on time. Plan VERY carefully and allow a big buffer!

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  3. Great tips here! We haven’t cruised in a long time but I know I’d be interested in exploring on our own.

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  4. Great information! We are going on our first family cruise next year and I think I will be pre-booking all our family excursions. I’m okay with paying a little more for the official excursion when the safety and comfort of my kids is involved. It’s crazy how much my traveling ways have changed now that I have kids!

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  5. I do love reading through the shore excursion descriptions and picking my favorite from there but we have also saved a lot of money by booking on our own!

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