You have booked your cruise. You are excited. Now the cruise line keeps emailing you reminding to book your shore excursions. You look at the excursions offered by the cruise line and the prices, and you begin to hyperventilate. You had planned to explore and experience the ports. That is one of the reasons you chose this cruise. But the prices are so steep.
Now what? Do you bite the bullet and pay the high prices?
- Explore on your own;
- Take cruise-sponsored shore excursions; or
- Book your own shore excursions through local tour operators.
Explore On Your Own
On my very first cruise, my tablemates told me that they walked off the ship and booked an excursion with some local company that was on the pier. I almost had a heart attack. I did not know that you could do this or that it was safe. They proceeded to tell us that they often rented a car and just explored the city. They seemed to be no worse for the experience and they were excited about the adventure, especially about getting lost and the people they met. Well hello there. I did not know you could do this or that it was an option. So much for being a newbie at this.
So, the first option is to arrive at a port and go off on your own. Public transportation is usually very easy to access from the ports. Some people make a plan on where they want to go, how they will do it, and how best to manage their time. Others might only wish to see one particular site and feel comfortable taking the day to find it and explore. While others want nothing more than to shop, walk, or find a terrific restaurant in the city without anything truly organized or nailed down
We have done this option multiple times and had great experiences. We have walked into towns, found some quaint shops, snorkeled on the spot, met interesting people and ate some great food.
This option is not for everyone but is quite achievable for those who are good with maps and have an adventurous spirit.
Just remember that the ship will not wait for you if you are late coming back to the pier.
Cruise Sponsored Shore Excursions
These are the ones organized by and offered through the cruise ship. These have a wide range of activities and cost a fair amount of money
There are many advantages of choosing to do one of the shore excursions offered by your cruise ship.
With the cruise ship excursion, everything is taken care of. You are told to meet at a certain time and place, and everything is organized for you – transportation, guides, and timing. It is effortless.
You do not have to be stressed about being late and the cruise ship leaving without you.
Book Through Independent Operators
I prefer to book my shore excursions this way. Why?
- Typically, the cost of shore excursions offered by the cruise ship is dramatically more than the amount charged by local independent tour operators.
- The cruise ship usually organizes shore excursions that maximize participation, thus cruise ship excursions’ are normally jammed pack with people.
Our first cruise to Alaska we did whale watching with the cruise ship and had 45 people on our small boat. The next year we booked with an Independent operator and it just was our family of 6. Quite a different experience.
- A small group or private tour allows participants the ability to ask questions. You may also be able to adapt the itinerary to meet the needs of you and your family.
Such as, on our small whale-watching group, we were seeing plenty of humpback whales when Captain Jack was informed of a pod of orcas around the point. Because it was only us, he took us there.
- The local tour operators catering to cruise line shore excursions organize them so that it is easy to meet your driver or guide at the port. It might seem overwhelming to receive instructions to walk through the port and exit at a certain place to find your car, driver or guide, or to meet at a certain statue in town. However, the reality is that local tour operators have made it as simple as possible for their clients. This is one of the ways they stay in business.
- Most local tour operators catering to shore excursions also understand the importance of returning their clients to the ship on time. I have never been on one that did not have a schedule and was not strictly followed.
- Here is a list of the independent operators that we have used on multiple occasions:
When a cruise ship reaches a port, passengers have many options about how they want to use their time. What you choose to do is a very personal decision. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. For me and my family, we prefer shore excursions that are with local tour operators that offer private or small group tours. We like shore excursions that are off the beaten track and are less expensive than the cruise sponsored ones. That is what works best for our family.
However, this is not always possible or desirable. I have booked cruise ship sponsored shore excursions when I wanted to see or do something hours away from the port or when I did not want to worry about traffic problems that could impact a timely return to the boat. I also booked with the cruise line when they were the only ones that offered a certain excursion, such as stingray city.
Each of our experiences has been enjoyable, rewarding and had its purpose.
See Ya Makin Memories!