One of the aspects of cruising that I most look forward to is experiencing each port of call.  There are endless ways that you can choose to spend your time in each port.  Most of them are via excursions that you can book either directly through the cruise line or using an independent tour operator.  If your ship docks within walking distance of a city or tourist area, you can forego an excursion all together and just walk off the ship to discover the area yourself, but do your homework here because not all ports of call are safe to explore on your own.

Decide what type of activity you want to do while you’re in port.

There are so many options when choosing shore excursions.  There are historic tours that allow you to learn about the history of the area you’re in while providing you the opportunity to take amazing photos of architecture, forts, monuments, etc.  Adventure lovers need not worry as there will likely be something for you as well such as biking, repelling down a mountain, zip lining, hiking, etc.  For my foodie friends, more and more cruise lines and river cruises offer food, wine and beer excursions also.  Of course, for the vacationer who is looking to simply relax, how about a beach excursion where you can lounge and swim at your leisure?  Eco tours are very popular and one of my personal favorites, as you can view animals and marine life in their natural habitats.  Volunteering excursions are an emerging type of experience that both cruise lines and independent tour operators are starting to offer more and more.

Why book a cruise line shore excursion?

There are a few big benefits to booking your excursions through the cruise line.  Taking a cruise line’s sponsored tour can save you the time to research independent tour operators.  Each tour operator is vetted by the cruise line to ensure that they are legit, dependable and meet safety standards.  The biggest benefit to taking a cruise line-sponsored tour is that should anything happen while on your tour that prevents you from getting back to your ship on time, the ship will wait for you.  If you are late getting back to your ship on an independent tour, they will not wait for you.

Why book an independent shore excursion?

 OK, so for this one I’m going to jump right up to the top reason why independent tours can be better than ship tours…PRICE!  Cruise-sponsored tours are often more expensive than independent tours, and what’s more, you can usually get more for your money on an independent excursion.  Independent tours can offer more flexibility and personalization with smaller crowds.  If you go this route, do your homework thoroughly and look for reviews.

So, where do I start my research for cruise shore excursions?

There are so many great resources for your cruise excursion research.  Here is my list of just some of the ideas to get you started as you begin to research what you want to do in port on your next cruise.  Don’t forget to check out my Resources page as I have included links to some of my favorite sites.

  • The Cruise Line’s Website.
    • The cruise line’s website should offer a link to list all of their excursions that include price, description of what you’ll see and do, what you should bring and what restrictions, if any, may apply.
  • Your Travel Advisor.
    • By now I think my readers know me well enough to know that I value the expertise and advice that a Travel Advisor brings, and utilizing them to help choose the right shore excursion is no exception. They have first-hand knowledge of many ports of call to advise you on such as best beaches, best bang for your buck and even what to avoid in certain ports of call.
  • Cruise Critic.
    • This is another great resource for cruisers. There is such a wealth of information here including shore excursions.
  • TripAdvisor.
    • Here you can not only search for shore excursions by specific ports of call, but you can get user-generated reviews.
  • Word of mouth.
      • Join a Facebook cruise group and ask questions to other cruisers about what shore excursions they recommend.
      • If you have a specific cruise booked, log onto Cruise Critic and join a Cruise Critic Roll Call for your specific cruise. Here you’ll meet other cruisers taking the same cruise as you, and often times within your roll call thread cruisers will discuss ideas, recommendations and even organizing group shore excursions.
      • Ask friends and family members.
  • Independent Tour Operators. There are a ton, and way too many for me to list or even know about, but here are a few that I have used:
    • ResortForADay.com offers day passes to Bahamian, Caribbean & Mexican resorts.  It’s a great way to spend a relaxing day at the beach or resort pool while visiting an island during your cruise.
    • ShoreTrips.com offers several different types of shore excursions at cruise ports of calls across the world.
    • HopeFloats.org offers volunteering excursions at several Caribbean islands where you can spend four hours donating your time and giving back to the local people in need.

For my upcoming 12-night cruise in December to the Southern Caribbean I will be taking a mix of excursions that include cruise-line-sponsored tours, independent tours that I found on TripAdvisor and that were recommended by my Cruise Critic Roll Call group, I’ve scored day passes at two different Sandals properties and I’m doing my very first volunteering excursion that I’m super excited about.  Of course, I will be sharing all of my experiences via blogs afterward, so be on the lookout for that in mid-December.

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