Shore Excursion Planning

The fun of a cruise is equal parts what you do on board and what you do on shore and cruise lines offer a full schedule of shore excursions to help you make the most of your time in port. However, the process of choosing and booking tours can be overwhelming for new cruisers.

Advance Planning and Resources

The secret to a wonderful day ashore is to plan ahead. Research and educate yourself about the attractions in each port, so you can decide whether to book a tour or go it alone. For example, if you are planning a New Zealand cruise and you want to visit Christchurch, determine what port the cruise line will use. Lyttelton Harbour is 7.5 miles from Christchurch but Akaroa is a 50 mile trip. If your ship is docking in Akaroa, your time in Christchurch will be limited.

Luckily, cruisers have several resources for researching in-port activities.

  • Cruise Line Websites: Look up your cruise line’s list of shore excursions with tour descriptions and prices. Many cruise lines have this information available online; on higher priced cruises, you might also be sent a booklet of all the tours with your cruise documents. Most lines allow you to reserve tours in advance through their websites.

  • Guidebooks and Travel Websites: Browse online destination guides, or pick up some guidebooks on the destinations you’re planning to visit. If you find that it’s pricey to buy multiple guidebooks for all the regions your ship will visit, consider borrowing them from your local library and photocopying pertinent pages to take on your vacation. Or, buy a guide aimed at cruisers, from major guidebook companies like Fodor’s or Frommer’s.

  • Tourism Bureaus: Contact the tourism bureau for your destination. Tourism websites typically offer a wealth of information, and the bureaus will often send you maps or print materials that detail activities, restaurants and tour companies. You might want to find out if there’s a tourism office at or near the port, so you can pick up a map and get information.

Get the Most From Your Shore Excursion

Here are a few tips to keep in mind so you get the best experience out of your shore excursion.

  • Read shore excursion descriptions carefully.
    Understand exactly how your time will be spent on the tour. How much time is spent on the bus or driving between attractions compared to how much time is spent at the destination. Ask the shore excursion manager to describe the tour in detail. You might have to decide between spending short amounts of time in a variety of places and getting an in-depth tour of one area, while missing out on several others.

  • Determine the excursions physical requirements.
    Be sure to pick tours that you can handle physically. Some tours involve strenuous activity in hot, humid climes or long days with lots of walking. Cruise lines are pretty good at pointing out which excursions are strenuous and which are best for travelers with limited mobility.

  • Query cruise line staff.
    Cruise line staff, since they often visit the same ports, are great sources of information on the best sights to see, restaurants, and shopping. Ask them where they go; the purser’s office is an especially good resource.

  • Budget for excursions.
    Your final bill can increase substantially if you purchase a shore excursion in every port. In some ports, such as Alaska or Europe, shore excursions may be the only way to go. Budget accordingly and stick to your budget.

  • Hire a local.
    A private taxi is often less expensive than the ship’s excursion. When hiring a taxi, be sure to negotiate a flat rate, based on your destination and the approximate amount of time you’ll need, before you depart. If you want narration in addition to transportation, choose your driver appropriately.

Note: If you are planning a cruise for 2022, due to ever changing protocols and safety measures that may be in place, cruise shore excursions may need to be booked with the cruise line. Be sure to check with your cruise line for help and advise when planning your future cruise.

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