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Guide to Booking Cruise Shore Excursions

Chances are if you’re booking a cruise, you’ll also want to book shore excursions.

What’s a shore excursion, you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like…an excursion while you are at shore. Every time you dock in a port, your cruise ship will offer variety of tours to local or nearby attractions. They can range from parasailing adventures in the Caribbean or visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico to wine tasting in Provence or a tapas tour in Spain. There are usually a plethora of options catering to a wide variety of interests.

So, how do you go about booking a shore excursion, or should you even bother? Perhaps you’d rather do your own thing in each port but are worried you might miss out. Follow these handy tips for everything you need to know.

Book in Advance

One of my favorite things about cruises is the fact that they are more or less all-inclusive. If you don’t want to spend more than your fare to get on board you don’t have to. But if you’re planning to take a shore excursion, your costs can quickly pile up. For this reason, I recommend booking all of your excursions before setting sail. That way, you won’t have any nasty surprises when you when you get your receipt at the end of the cruise.

But how do you book in advance, you ask. Well, it’s easy. Visit the website for your cruise line, and log into your account. There will be a selection of activities available for your sailing. Read up on the ones you like, and simply add then to your cart. Alternatively, your travel agent can book them for you. It’s that easy.

Onboard Port Overview

Sometimes there are just too many shore excursions, and you can’t decide which ones to choose. Well, there’s help for that. Before arriving at your first port, the cruise staff will host a presentation showcasing the top excursions for your entire itinerary. It usually takes place on embarkation day or the next day if you are at sea. You can then fill out the firm they give you at the presentation, and leave it with one of the staff members. They’ll get you booked in without the hassle of waiting in line. If you’re on one of the more modern cruise ships, you may be able to book on the the TV in your room or on a touchscreen monitor located in a main thoroughfare.

Alternative Excursions

The cruise line will make every effort to persuade you to take one of the excursions it offers. There are a number of valid reasons to do so. They have established relationships with credible vendors. And they will guarantee their services. If for some reason and excursion doesn’t go to plan, the cruise line will do something to make up for it, such as offer a discounted rate. As well, if you are on a cruise sanctioned excursion and it runs long, the ship will not set sail until you are safely back on board.

Cruise ship shore excursions aren’t your only option. There are other reliable companies that have made an entire business out of providing amazing alternative excursions. They even allow you to search their offerings by cruise line, cruise ship, and sailing. Often, you can find cheaper prices because the ship isn’t acting as a middleman. What’s more is that they are often the same companies providing the ship-based excursions. But you may even find tours to places that aren’t offered by the ship.

Pro tip: If you take an alternative excursion, be absolutely certain you will return to the ship on time. It will not wait for you. I have seen many people left behind as the ship sails to its next port. The captain has a strict schedule, and the ship will receive a hefty fine if it doesn’t leave on time. If it’s your first cruise I recommend taking one of the ship’s excursions to get a feel for what to expect before trying out other options.

Opt Out

You don’t have to take an excursion at all. There are plenty of fun things to do all day on the ship. Or you can check out the port on your own. I’ve gone so far as to recreate excursions myself based on information I learned at the port overview presentation. Be cautious about taking taxis or tours with companies that greet you when you get off the ship. While many are legitimate businesses that will provide amazing services, neither you nor the ship have vetted their business. Do they have proper insurance? Have they got legitimate licenses to operate? You just can’t be sure.

On one cruise, there was a family that wanted to visit a popular site that was not accessible through any of the shore excursions offered on board or otherwise. A local taxi driver happily agreed to take the family to the site. But the driver failed to tell the family that even though the site was typically only a two-hour drive each way, a construction project often tied things up for many more hours. Needless to say, that family missed the boat (pun intended). Cruise staff had learned of this traffic issue and pulled all pertinent excursions weeks earlier, as had other local tour companies. Some times it pays to pay attention.

Do you have other handy tips about shore excursions? Share them with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

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