Cruise Vacations: A Beginner’s Guide to Shore Excursions


What is the precipitation? A shore excursion is an opportunity to put some distance between you and the ship. Photo / Hello Bulb, Unsplash

“Going to sea to see the world” is the great paradox of cruising.

Like the obligatory cruise ship buffet, this is a tantalizing array of opportunities that you only have a short time to try.

Choosing activities can be paralyzing. How would you know if, while you’re snorkeling with stingrays, there isn’t a life-changing experience elsewhere to reflect on existence in the Mayan ruins?

Each multi-stop itinerary comes with careful decisions between sights, places, and experiences you may never get to visit again. The perfect shore excursion is a fine art; executed with surgical precision, maximum leisure, and the suspended perspective that an accident might see you miss the boat. The weather, the tide – and the cruise ships – wait for no one.

Making a “proper” shore excursion is a big concern for sailors.

Admit it: on a pleasure trip, with cooking, cleaning, and most other needs taken care of by someone else, choosing shore-based activities can be the hardest decision you have. never to be taken on a cruise ship.

With each quiet stop come careful decisions about once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  Photo / 123RF
With each quiet stop come careful decisions about once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Photo / 123RF

Deep or wide brush

Ships rarely spend more than 12 hours in port. With these rare moments, you have to decide how to distribute them.

Speaking to David Mutton, a cruiser convert who pre-Covid spent 600 days at sea over five years, there are few places he hasn’t been through yet. His advice for visiting a new port is to sightsee and see the big picture. If he’s been here before, “it’s good to do something more specialized,” he says.

Choose one thing. Do good.

Book in advance or book on board

The shore excursion desk is a busy part of most ships. With an experienced team working closely with operators, they’ll have no shortage of recommendations or advice – should you need it. However, booking on board is often more expensive than organizing your own adventure. The excursions run by these operators are made to please, but you may feel like you’re giving up the opportunity to tailor a trip to you and your interests.

A self-researched, self-booked excursion can often be more rewarding and less expensive than booking through the ship’s excursion planner, although it does take time to coordinate and arrange. And this is a case of careful buyer – getting back to the ship in time is your own responsibility and at your own risk.

A key and redeeming feature of a boat tour – one that some people are willing to pay more for – is that you never miss the boat.

Doing a “good” shore excursion is a big concern for sailors.  Photo / 123RF
Doing a “good” shore excursion is a big concern for sailors. Photo / 123RF

Be open to suggestions but know what you want

Destinations that receive a lot of ships develop a strange sub-economy – the shore peddler. Every time a ship lands, you’ll notice stores/cafes/museums come to life to prey on the poorly researched and easily distracted. If you don’t want to be trapped looking at displays of art deco doilies or paying for overpriced tea, it’s worth having a plan before you disembark.

Yes, ask for local advice, but be careful who you take it from. You will need to know your own mind.

Do you want the confidence of a large group tour or do you want to get away from the crowds? Do you spend every hour on land or will you have seen enough by noon? Yes, it is possible to jump from the longest flying fox in the world, but do you pass a local specialty? A piece of culture that you won’t find anywhere else?

Having an activity or destination in mind can help anchor your plans.

When a ship is in town, must-do excursions and signature experiences tend to fill up quickly. It is worth booking in advance.

It can be costly, not to mention exhausting, trying to make an excursion to every port.
You better save your energy and budget for something you absolutely want to see and do.


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