You’ve decided on your cruise and itinerary and made your deposit. Now is the time to start thinking about shore excursions. Perhaps you haven’t been to these ports before or maybe you are a brand new cruiser. How do you decide which excursion is right for you?
- Research your ports: Before you go, learn about the areas you will visit. If you visit a port and it is well known for it’s cultural sights and you instead take an excursion to the beach, know what you might be missing in advance instead of being surprised later.
- Decide what you want to do: What you might be interested in doing while on vacation is not always the same as what you might do while at home. This is the time to try a wine tasting tour or a Segway tour. Be adventurous!
- Budget: Although your cruise is paid for by the time you board the ship, your excursions will cost extra. Keep this in mind when planning your budget.
- Physical capabilities: Sounds strange, but you should know what you can handle before you pay for and embark on your excursion. If you have any physical mobility issues, don’t sign up for a biking or hiking tour. If you are afraid of the water, you might not want to go snorkeling. Sounds like common sense, but often one member of the family will sign everyone up for an excursion without thinking of these things. Plan ahead and it will save you time, money, and stress.
- Purchase through the ship or independently: I am still surprised that many cruisers don’t realize that they can purchase their shore excursions either through the ship or independently. The cruise lines contract with the same independent operators but will markup the cost of the excursion to make a profit. How do you decide which is right for you? If the tour is exactly the same as the one the ship offers, that’s easy – go with the independent tour. If it is not one that is offered through the ship, make sure that the company is one that has gotten good reviews online and most importantly, will get you back to the ship in time. For first time cruisers I usually recommend taking the ship excursion to understand how the process works, but after that — feel free to try out other shore excursions.
For many, a cruise to the Caribbean is their introduction to cruising. With that comes the expectation of relaxing on the beach with a cold drink in hand. This is a small private beach we visited in Costa Maya, Mexico. This was a private excursion not offered through the cruise line and we had the entire beach to ourselves. It was magical!
You might decide to check out a place you’ve heard about from others, like Atlantis in the Bahamas. Instead of taking the excursion through the cruise line, we took a cab over to Atlantis and got day passes, which saved us money.
A guided tour that shows you the highlights of the port you are in might be another option. Tours can range in length from 1-8 or more hours. This is a tour we were on in St. Lucia where we were able to see the Pitons despite the low lying clouds and so much of St. Lucia.
A leisurely day out on a catamaran is a great way to enjoy the water, especially if you like to swim and snorkel or like for us in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to see the whales.
If you are looking for more activity, there are many varieties of adventure activities for excursions. Here you see our ziplining adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Another favorite of ours was visiting Diamond Falls in Soufriere, St. Lucia and the mineral baths, too.
Instead of staying on the ship, take a chance and explore your port. With many cruise lines, you can book and pay for your excursions even before you board the ship. That’s great if you are trying to budget for your cruise. If you don’t want to pay for an excursion, go to your local library and pick up a book on the country you are visiting and learn some of the tips and tricks that way. Rick Steves and Lonely Planet are a few examples of great tour books. Lonely Planet has many self-guided walking tours that you can do on your own.
Be it self-guided tours, renting a car in the port you visit, or taking one of the many shore excursions available from the cruise line, treat the port you are visiting as if you might never visit there again. If you do that, then you will most likely pick the best excursion for you and your family.
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