Shore Excursions 101


5 Ways to Explore Cruise Destinations Like a Pro

You can soar across a jungle rainforest in San Juan, visit with a Native family in Alaska or see the pyramids along the Nile in Egypt. From thrilling sports to fascinating cultural adventures, cruise lines offer a wide variety of tours – called shore excursions - designed to maximize your time ashore and create long-lasting memories to take home.

A tourist with a red life vest preparing to zip down a waterfall.

A little preparation can help you make sure those memories are the kind you actually want to take home with you instead of spending the next year trying to forget.

1. Know Before You Go

Do your homework on the ports you’re visiting to learn some of the main attractions and how best to fit them in. Many ports are known for a certain activity: shopping in St. Thomas, for instance, or diving in Roatán. If your itinerary takes you to two dive-focused ports in a row, take the time now to decide which port you’ll get wet in (not that you can’t dive both, of course).

2. Decide Who You Will Book With

Ships will always encourage you to go on their excursions — partly because they know and trust the operators; they work with them on logistics so they know passengers will get back on time. And let’s be honest, the cruise lines make money when you use their providers. However, plenty of independent tour operators offer great products in their niches. And there are some ports where you can explore on your own and don’t need to join a tour at all.

In "Shore Excursions: On Your Own or With the Cruise Line?" we have you decide whether it’s best to book with the cruise line or venture off on your own.

3. Book Before You Board

If you decide on a cruise line shore excursion, we suggest booking it before you board. The least fascinating place to explore on your cruise is the line at the Shore Excursion desk, as you wait to grab any available tour when you could be lounging on the pool deck or getting a massage. Avoid the lines and book your shore excursions before getting on the ship.

4. Talk to Your Shore Excursion Specialist

That’s what they’re there for. Ask about proper dress, age requirements, physical considerations and other factors that could affect your enjoyment of the tour. When visiting museums, houses of worship and cultural villages, remember to be courteous to the fact that you may be a visitor and not a customer in someone’s home. Respect their privacy and ask your shore excursion specialist if taking pictures is appropriate. Be sure to pack accordingly.

5. Try Something New

In at least one port, do something that’s at least a little unusual. Shopping your way through the Caribbean? Make time for something cultural. Trekked on a glacier the last time you visited Alaska? How about a salmon bake this time, or a little panning for gold?

But nothing says you can’t go flightseeing every time you visit Alaska, of course. Every tour is different, even if you’ve tried it before. The one thing you’ll never be able to say about shore excursions is “Been there, done that.”

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