Shore Excursions 101: Everything You Need to Know
A lot of first-time cruisers get caught off-guard by shore excursions.
How much do they cost? What are they? What’s included? These are some common questions about shore excursions. Don’t worry, though. We have you covered.
The cruise ship gets you to the port. But what do you do when you’re actually in the port? Well, that’s where shore excursions come in. Shore excursions are organized adventures, outings or activities available in each cruise ship port.
Choose from relaxing beach days to wild daring adventures like zip lining and cave diving. If you’ve ever dreamed of doing something – cooking in Italy, surfing in Hawaii, or touring a penguin rookery in Argentina, for instance – it’s very likely you can do it through a shore excursion..
Options vary based on the port you’re visiting and the time of year. The majority of ports offer a lot of the same basic excursions: shopping, major sightseeing and historical tours. Most Caribbean ports offer beach days, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming with dolphins, and lots of water- and sun-based fun. European ports specialize in history, adventure and new experiences. Alaskan ports showcase once-in-a-lifetime experiences with wildlife and nature. Some ports offer specialized tours only available in that port.
The sky’s the limit though when it comes to dreaming up your next shore excursion adventure.
What to Expect
First of all, expect a great time. Shore excursions are a big part of what makes cruising so special. You get the chance to get out there and do something!
Expect to see a lot of things in sometimes not a lot of time. Expect to be surprised. Expect to spend the day with complete strangers (You often meet great people on excursions and form fast friendships. As a side note, you sometimes get stuck with some duds, too).
Make sure to keep the following tips in mind. Bring a water bottle and some snacks. If you’re doing a water-based activity, definitely bring a change of clothes and an extra towel. Bring some cash, one credit card and a photo ID (don’t bring all your cash or all your cards – leave some behind in your room). Bring the emergency contact number for your cruise ship. Bring a watch set on ship’s time. If it’s an early morning excursion, lay out everything the night before.
And most importantly, bring a fun attitude!
What’s a research toolbox? Great question! It’s a cool name we came up with because there are lots of tools out there for researching shore excursions. There are lots of tools that help you pick the perfect shore excursion for you.
Cruise-centric sites like Cruisecritic.com offer message boards where you can read about experiences and recommendations from other cruisers who have been where you’re going. YouTube gives you a fun visual way to search different options!
Use our Itinerary Search Box – all you have to do is put your cruise ship and sail date in the box on the right side of this page and popular excursions will show up that match your exact itinerary. You may find options you never knew existed!
Read reviews. You can learn a lot about any shore excursions by reading the reviews. See what other cruisers have said about the tour in the past. Usually more reviews means a more popular tour, but don’t rule out tours with few reviews — they may be amazing, but just new.
Social media can provide a place to post questions and interact with your followers and friends to get their input. Go ahead and post and ask your friends!
With all the resources out there, keep your research toolbox full with different sites and places to give you the most options when making your final decisions.
How and Where to Book Shore Excursions
Shore excursions can be booked several different ways. You can purchase them through the ship or privately through independent shore excursions companies (like Shore Excursions Group, of course!). One major benefit to booking with an independent company like ours is you get more personalized attention on your tours, smaller groups in each excursion (no one wants to be part of a herd) and better prices (our “Best of Halifax and Peggy’s Cove Tour” is one great example). Do your research and book where you’re most comfortable and find the best excursions and deals.
Booking a private tour is a great way to get an up close and personal view of the port. Private tours offer smaller, more intimate options and can very often be tailored to your needs. If you want to stop and spend more time in a location, these tours can give you the flexibility to do that. The tour guides often know the hidden gems of their ports (as the guides are normally long-time residents) including sweet shopping and fabulous food. You should book these tours before you leave for your cruise. With private tours, make sure you’ve done your research and book with a reputable shore excursions company.
Shore excursions can provide it all from an awesome vacation experience to checking something off your bucket list. Take advantage of every shore excursion experience you can — it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
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