Many people who are new-to-cruising wonder if they should book shore excursions. I am a member or moderator on many cruise fan pages on Facebook and I see this question come up quite a bit. Nobody wants to waste their hard-earned money on excursions they will not enjoy. In this blog post, I will try to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about shore excursions.
1. Should I book shore excursions?
Shore excursions are activities you participate in at your ports of call. You have to decide if you want to spend your port day on an excursion or explore the port on your own. Some people like staying on the ship on port days, especially if they’ve visited the port many times.
2. What type of shore excursion should I book?
When deciding on the type of shore excursion to book, keep in mind that some shore excursions require physical activity, such as climbing, walking, and hiking while others are not so active. Most excursions will let you know the restrictions for the activity, such as age, weight, height, and handicap. You can find this information on the cruise line web page or ask your travel advisor for more information. Here is Royal Caribbean’s shore excursions web page.
Now, consider the types of activities you enjoy. Then decide if you want to participate in the shore excursion as a family or have an adults-day. As I stated above, not all shore excursions are appropriate for all ages.
Shore excursions are a great way to experience different cultures
Now that you have decided whether or not the entire family will participate in shore excursions, consider whether or not you want to experience the culture of the country you are visiting by participating in cooking or art classes, taking a trolly ride with a guided tour guide, or take a walking tour to learn about the history of the country. There are so many ways you can engage in cultural activities. If you decide to explore on your own, do a little research. In some ports, you do not want to leave the tourist area on your own for safety reasons. My advice is to always have a trusted tour guide with you.
Shore excursions are a great way to experience adventures you don’t have at home
Do you enjoy water sports, boating, fishing, sightseeing, ziplining, or mountain climbing? There are usually over one hundred excursions for your cruise that could include taking your adventures to new depths with scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea, or snorkeling in calm waters. Maybe you like taking more risks, so you choose a thrilling jet boat tour, or whitewater rafting through class five rapids. You can even challenge your phobia of heights by ziplining through the rainforest or from one mountain range to another.
3. What are the costs of shore excursions?
Shore excursion prices range in price from not very expensive, to “I hope you have saved up for a long time” expensive. We have spent a lot of money on certain shore excursions we felt was not worth what we paid for them. However, we felt others should have been more expensive than what we paid. Therefore, do a little research before choosing a shore excursion that is expensive.
We are sailing on Harmony of the Seas in October 2019. So, I went to Cruise Planner and looked at the available shore excursions. There are 129 shore excursions for our sailing. The most expensive was just under $600/person with the least expensive being $19/adult, $39/child.
4. How do I book our shore excursions?
You found the perfect shore excursions your entire family could enjoy. The next question is how do you book them? Well, you have a couple choices. First, you can have your travel agent do it for you. Secondly, another option is to book it yourself through the online portal for the cruise line you are sailing with. Shore excursions for your sailing can be found under Cruise Activities or Cruise Planner on the cruise line’s website. If you are booking an excursion through the cruise line (highly recommended), there will not be any that are outside the timeframe you will be in port, which is an advantage of booking direct.
However, if you are booking a shore excursion outside of the cruise line, you will need to know the date and specific time you will be in port.
5. How do I pay for my shore excursions?
Some cruise lines require you to pay for your shore excursions at the time of booking. Other cruise lines might require a deposit or will allow you to pay when you go. If you have to pay in full for your shore excursions, please purchase travel protection.
There are things to do at each port that are free or extremely cheap, so keep this in mind when planning a cruise. Do your research ahead of time so you are ready! Below you will see pictures of free (or cheap) activities we did. Fort Fincastle was $1 per person.
6. What if I need to cancel or change my shore excursions?
Sometimes, circumstances outside our control happen and your shore excursion could be cancelled. The most common reason shore excursions are cancelled is weather. Another reason could be you have become sick or injured.
I had a recent client book shore excursions that required physical activity. Unfortunately, his son broke his arm and could no longer go on the excursion. He was able to change his excursion as long as it was within the timeframe (24 hours of the time of excursion). Some companies outside the cruise tours are not so lenient. Once you put a deposit down, it is non-refundable. This is one reason why is it vital you purchase travel protection. The amount of money you spend on travel protection could get you a full refund on a cancelled excursion (which you could have paid more for than your travel protection).
7. How long are shore excursions?
Some shore excursions are all day, half-day, or where you pick specific time blocks. You might want to go on a shorter shore excursion and have time to explore the port on your own, or you might want to spend the entire day fishing or scuba-diving to get the most out of your money. Some shore excursions are further away from the port and the transportation time is long. Usually those are the excursions that will take up your entire port day.
8. When do I book our shore excursions?
Excursions do not have to be booked at the same time you book your cruise. You have up until two days prior to the voyage to add shore excursions. If you miss the cut-off date for online booking, don’t worry. You can take a chance and try to book excursions while you are on the ship on embarkation day. Normally you will go to the Port Excursions/Shore Excursions desk on board, but, I strongly suggest pre-booking them. Most shore excursions have a limit to the amount of guests that can sign up and the popular ones fill up fast.
9. Where do our kids go if we are doing adult-only shore excursions?
All cruise lines have kids clubs. Some kids clubs have specific, limited hours on port days, while others are more flexible. Make sure you check with your travel advisor or cruise line for kids club hours when considering adult-only shore excursions.
10. You booked shore excursions. Now what?
When you have a booked shore excursion through the cruise line, you are assigned a meeting place somewhere on the ship with a designated meeting time. Usually, you get tickets in your stateroom with your shore excursion information. Hold onto those tickets and take them with you to your meeting place. After everyone is checked in, you usually follow someone off the ship who is holding a sign. Then if the destination requires transportation, you board a bus or vans to take you there.
When it is time to meet back up, you go straight to the meeting area. If you booked a shore excursion that is not affiliated with the cruise line, you are on your own for transportation to and from the destination. Booking shore excursions through the cruise line is important when planning a cruise. You do not want to be left behind! If you are late getting back to the port, the ship will not wait for you if you are not on an authorized excursion.
My experience with shore excursions
While many people look forward to shore excursions at ports of call, I usually enjoy exploring the port without structured activities. This is probably a topic where my views differ from others. We have done cruises with excursions and some without.
Some of our excursions I do not feel were worth the hassle of going. There are ports where we have only been to once and I did not get to see the towns because we were on a bus going to an excursion and had no time to sight-see when we returned. For ports we have returned to many times, it’s nice to do excursions so we can see more.
My advice on shore excursions for your first time at a port
My personal advice when booking shore excursions for your first time in a port, is to book one that is unique to the port you are visiting. I would reserve a shorter-length excursion so you can explore a little on your own.
You don’t have to get off the ship when you are at a port. Some people love port-days because stay on the ship and it is usually quiet. They are able to take advantage of grabbing a nice spot at the pool without large crowds. The people who usually stay on the ship are ones who have visited the ports many times and have experienced all they wish to experience.
I noticed on the cruises where we visited Nassau, the ship is still quite full because people don’t enjoy Nassau as much as other ports.
Ask your travel agent for more information about excursions when you are planning a cruise.