Cruise lines all offer shore excursions to ports of call. But sometimes these excursions are quite expensive. Should you take the excursions offered by the cruise line or organize your own day ashore? There are several factors that can guide your decision.
The time you have to plan your excursions
You can save a lot of money by planning your own excursions. However, you need to evaluate how long it will take you to do your research and plan everything well. If you’re an adventurer, it may be right for you. On the other hand, if you don’t want stress, cruise ship tours may be for you.
Proximity to the port of tourist spots
Find out how close the port is to the city or the location you want to visit, as well as the means of transport available at your destination. Some ports are located very close to cities, allowing you to visit them on foot or use public transit. Sometimes “Hop on Hop off” tourist bus routes pass close to the port and are an economical way to visit the city.
If the city is further away, measure the effort, time and risk of returning late to the boat before organizing your day on your own. It should be noted that taxis can be scarce at the port, even in large cities.
The guides will give you interesting information about the places visited. Also, if several sites are visited, the guides know how much time to devote to each in order to see everything and maximize the time you will spend in the port. As in all areas, some guides are more interesting and competent than others.
In some countries or cities, you prefer to be accompanied by an experienced guide who will show you safe places. As a group, you’ll be less vulnerable.
Guarantee of return in time to the ship
Cruise lines will always wait for groups of excursions they organize before leaving. If you visit independently, the company will not wait for you indefinitely and you may stay on the dock. You have to be careful, because a late train or a spontaneous strike can cause you a lot of problems. If you miss the ship departure, you will have to join it at the next port at your own expense.
Independent tour operators
Some independent operators offer excursions to certain ports. Many are experienced and trustworthy. Compare the trip to similar excursions offered by the cruise line to better assess whether the price difference is real or if the tour is simply less complete.
Sites such as Viator have a section dedicated to cruise excursions and guarantee the return to the ship on time for some excursion.
Get Your Guide has a free cancellation policy up to 24 hours before your activity.
Pay attention to the reimbursment terms. If the cruise skip the port for any reason (weather), will you be refunded by your operator?
Guided tours using an electronic device
Several guided tour apps are available on phones or tablets. Most include interactive maps, photos and videos, and on-screen or audio descriptions that can be listened to with headphones. If GPS is enabled, these maps have the advantage of indicating your location in the city. It is important to validate before you leave if the chosen application requires a data connection in order to evaluate the cost of such a plan. Several allow you to download all the information before departure, so you don’t have to activate the data on your cell phone (which could be very expensive).
Some countries such as Russia require a visa for independent visitors, but not for groups organized by operators. This makes it easier and sometimes even cheaper to buy a cruise tour, as you will be covered by a group visa.
Buy before you go
Many cruise lines offer discounts if you book your excursions before you leave. In addition, you can usually cancel an excursion from 24 hours to 48 hours before the date of the excursion without any penalty.
Transfer to the airport
On the day of disembarkation, shuttles to the airport are offered by the cruise line ($). You can also take an excursion to visit tourist attractions and finish the excursion at the airport (if time permits based on your flight schedule) or to the centre of the city if you stay there after the cruise. It’s an interesting way to avoid long hours of waiting at the airport if your return flight is in the afternoon or evening.
There are several styles of tourists. The excursions are suitable for some, but not for others. You should evaluate your level of stress tolerance and organizational skills in order to make the right decision. If you decide to take a tour, read this guide to shore excursions.