You’ve booked your cruise and are ready to set sail but there’s one thing left to decide – shore excursions. When you stop in port you have a few options about what to do. You aren’t required to get off of the ship, but chances are you’ll want to. You can opt not to book anything and simply explore the area on your own or book an independent experience. Or, you can plan ahead of time and book a ship sponsored shore excursion. H aving a great day at port is important and so is getting the most for your money.
5 Tips for Selecting Cruise Shore Excursions:
Ship Sponsored vs. Independently Booked Excursions
This is often the biggest question people ask. If you book an independent excursion you’re taking a risk. If you don’t make it back to the ship in time, the ship will leave without you. If you’re on a ship sponsored excursion that runs behind; they will wait for you to get back. However, you also will pay more for the ship sponsored shore excursion. Additionally, the companies working with the cruise line strive to keep up a level of service to continue that relationship.
That being said, reputable companies make their living catering to cruisers. It’s not good for business if you miss the ship or leave a bad review. If you want to book an independent excursion, research the company and read reviews from other travelers. We have found many independent excursions to be just as popular as ship sponsored that go to the same area, for less money. On our upcoming Alaskan cruise, we have booked 2 independent excursions and 1 through the ship. The one through NCL was about $150 more even with $100 excursion credits, but we couldn’t book independently for our required timeframe.
Just be sure to leave enough time to get back to the ship if something goes wrong!
Age and Activity Level
Not all shore excursions are well suited for everyone. If you’re traveling with little children you may find your options are even more limited. Excursions with a lot of physical activity or walking may not be a good choice for those who have a stroller to push or who have mobility issues. Take this into consideration when you’re choosing what to do. You’ll find the difficulty level and any requirements listed with the excursion details.
We wanted to plan a snorkeling adventure during one of our cruises. We had a difficult time finding companies that would allow children, even though my kids are experienced swimmers and snorkelers. We finally found a reputable company and my kids ended up spending more time in the water than 50% of the other adults on the excursion!
For many people what to do boils down to how much it’s going to cost. You may not want to pay hundreds of dollars per person to do a shore excursion one day after you’ve paid for the cruise. You may also discover that there’s one activity during one port day that’s a higher cost but something you really want to do. This means the other port days you go for a less expensive option or just explore the port on your own.
Length of Time
Do you want to spend all day on a shore excursion or would a few hours be enough? Consider how long you’ll be in port and what else you might want to do. Explore the local beaches? Go shopping? Whatever it is, know ahead of time what you want to do and choose a shore excursion that fits with your ideal visit.
Pay in Advance
One nice thing about cruises is that you can pay for it over a period of time. Not only can you pay off the cruise itself in installments (depending on how far our your book), you can pay for your shore excursions ahead of time. Imagine if you didn’t have to pull out your credit card once while you were on vacation? You’ll be sure to enjoy your time even more if it’s all taken care of ahead of time!
My family likes to choose 1 or 2 excursions per cruise and spend the rest of the time exploring the port independently or simply enjoying the ship. We do a lot of research before traveling to determine what activities each port offers that will suite my families needs. Balancing budget, time and kids can make choosing cruise shore excursions stressful. Plan ahead and you’ll be skipping off the ship ready to experience all the port has to offer.
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What are your tips for selecting cruise shore excursions?
Arlen Adanza says
We’re going on a mediterranian cruise this may 2020 with royal caribbean cruise for 12 nights. Can you give me suggestions or tips on shore cruise excursions for this trip. Thanks in advance.
Dana Zeliff says
Where are you going exactly?
I’m going on with RCL to St. Martin, Labadee and San Juan. There are a lot of excursions to choose from so I was just wondering if you had suggestions to narrow it down!
Dana Zeliff says
Just walking around the Old San Juan and seeing the forts is a great way to spend the day. You can even relax in the sun at Condado Beach near the resort area. If you’d like to take an excursions, consider a day trip to the El Yunque Rainforest.
St. Martin has a nice shopping district right off the terminal in Philipsburg. There is also a nearby boardwalk and beach at Great Bay. You can easily spend the day without venturing far from the terminal.
Maho Beach is also popular and where people get “blown away” by the airplanes flying overhead. Other popular beaches include Orient Beach and Mullet Bay which is about an hour away from the port.
You can also visit the Loterie Farm or Butterfly Farm.
Deb Pearl says
My husband and I are planning to go on a cruise this year, and we wanted to try and do a shore excursion. Thank you for all the tips on how we can select one. I like your tip about considering how long we want the shore excursion to be. It is true that we might want to do more that day.
Dana Zeliff says
I’m glad you found the tips helpful! Yes, some excursions last all day, so you won’t get to see anything else at the port. But it’s all in what you’d like to do during the visit. Sometimes the all day tours are worth it.
Our family of 12 (3 grandchildren) are going to Alaska on Royal Carribean. What shore excursions would you suggest? We leave in May so I wanted to get the excursions done now.
Dana Zeliff says
It will be such an amazing experience! My mother-in-law helped with this question as she’s done this cruise multiple times.
Ketchikan: we did the Saxman Native Village tour the 1st time to Alaska, unless it has changes a whole lot would NOT recommend.
What I would do and we did twice is walk to the area where the famous Dolly’s house is. a river runs through that area and is beautiful to see, plus the history of a very well paid lady of the night is fascinating. Ketchikan also has a huge store called the Tongass Trading CO. it is fun to walk through, clothing, fishing, hunting and souvenirs galore. They also have a lumber jack show, which is a lot of fun.
Juneau: We did the tour twice as we enjoyed it the first time; It was a compo tour of the glacier gardens and the Mendehall glacier. The gardens have upside down tress where all the flowers grow out of the roots(kind of neat to see), the Mendenhall glacier is a real glacier and it is a state park kind of area, they have an inside area with a history on glaciers, and we saw big horn sheep there (not always possible) but we did.
Skagway: No doubt about it, I would do the white pass railroad train ride again, it takes you into the Yukon territory, a beautiful ride of the true Alaska land, this is where Alan got a picture of the bear right near our train car. You can go out on a platform and take pictures, as long as you can deal with the cold of standing outside. Once you have completed your tour the train, you should walk around the town, it is small and quaint, walk by the Red Onion Saloon (the girls dance and hang out the windows) as in days gone by. Little shops and ice cream stores, walk along the street with old fashion board walk sidewalks and see the snow train car and side cars you can get pictures on.
Icy Strait Point: Another great place, the best place to see whales is here! we booked a private excursion here as the Royal Caribbean one packs the people on like sardines. This is also a fantastic place to see eagle by the dozens. If you don’t want to spend the extra money to see whales you can walk on the paths they have. they take you into a small wooded area, along part of the shore and back around, they also have a small museum set up with salmon packing info and pictures or equipment. If you truly want to see whales…………don’t pass up this area for spending the money to see whales because this is the place for whales.
1.The train in Skagway…………DEFINATELY!
2. the free walk around Ketchikan (go to Dolly’s house, cost to go in… but not necessary)
3. whales in Icy Strait …………….I highly recommend, if in your budget.
Tours for adventurers:
Also, a friend of mine did this cruise with her family in 2017 and recommends ABAK glacier trek and paddle in Juneau. This is geared toward adventurers and is a strenuous tour. The grandparents didn’t do this tour as it was above their activity level.
The Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour in Ketchikan is also highly recommended and the grandparents were able to do this excursion. She said it was an interesting tour and seeing the bald eagles was amazing.
We have a whole post on this now: https://www.thetalkingsuitcase.com/alaska-cruise-excursions/
Dana Zeliff says
Hi, I just wanted to update you that we now have a whole post up about Alaska Cruise Excursions: https://www.thetalkingsuitcase.com/alaska-cruise-excursions/