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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shore Excursions | How to Pick the Best One for You

Carnival Magic's shore excursion guide
You finally took the plunge and decided to go on a cruise.  You believe you've picked not only the perfect itinerary, but the perfect ship as well and you can't wait to take your cruise.  Final payment has been made and all that's left is choosing your shore excursions. Never having been to any of the ports on your itinerary, you assume that the best thing to do is to go with the cruise line excursions.

But wait!  You have options available to you even if you don't realize right now that you do. Before you give into convenience for convenience sake, try to think outside of the box.  Whether you have several months or only a few weeks before your cruise, you still have time to plan your excursions. This is true even if you consider yourself a spontaneous kind of person.  That's definitely more of the kind of person I am, but I have learned that you can't do that with cruising and always be successful.  With careful advanced planning, you can still have a great time without stressing about what it is that you will do while you are in port during your cruise.

Turtles!
Let's say it is your first cruise.  I can completely understand why you might want to do everything that is available to you from the cruise line.  After that, however, you have to start venturing out on your to see what's available to you.  This isn't just about money although money does play into this. Quite often the excursions that are available through the cruise lines are the same that you can do on your own at a fraction of the price.  Case in point: Our recent cruise that had a stop in Grand Cayman.  Through the cruise line the excursion was $49.99 per person for the Turtles, Turtles & More Turtles excursion.  I had opted to skip over the cruise line's excursions in advance of our cruise and do my own research.  My husband loves turtles and when I saw there was a turtle farm, I was all over it.  The cost for each of us was $36 and we had the same exact experience. I'm not saying a similar one, but the same exact one as we rode the same bus over to the farm and we were part of the same group that paid the extra money to the cruise line for the convenience of booking through them.  Normally, I would balk at the thought of being part of a group, but it still gave us the day that we had wanted.  You can read more about our experience here in my post about our day in port last month.

Where can you look for excursions to do on your own?  A great place to start would be on the boards on Cruise Critic.  Check under the port that you will be visiting on the ports of call board and read what others have experienced.  This doesn't mean that you have to do what everyone else is doing, but you can start to see what's popular, what's not, what to avoid, etc.  Check out travel guides from your local library or buy one and research your various ports of call.  Visit web sites, including blogs, from experienced travelers who can offer you the inside scoop for a port.  Remember, cruise ships carry thousands of passengers into a port and if you are going to be in a popular port, do you want to be squeezed into a tourist attraction with dozens, if not hundreds or more, other cruise passengers?  We prefer researching and organizing our own trips because there are always fewer people participating in whatever we do (sometimes it's just us!) and the price is often far better.

While some people like to be part of an organized excursion, others like venturing out on their own.  You have to figure out what kind of a traveler you are and it's ok whatever you choose.  Whatever you do, be travel smart and protect yourself.  Obviously, you should check out any company from which you purchase an excursion and if you can get references or recommendations, all the better.  If you decide to do a port on your own, be sure to leave information behind in your cabin with where you'll be, etc. in your cabin in case something should happen.  But most importantly, leave enough of a buffer from when you leave the ship until you return so that you arrive back to the ship with plenty of time to spare.  Remember, when the itinerary says the ship is leaving at 6 pm, it means the ship is leaving at 6 pm and won't wait for you.  All your plans and research won't mean anything if you miss getting back on the ship.

Do you always take the cruise line's excursions or do you plan your own?  I would love to hear what people think about this topic so please feel free to share your thoughts.

Marian Krueger

2 comments:

  1. Great advise! The more we cruise, the more we venture out on our own. I really feel like I need to do LOTS of research though. I would never just get off the ship and start exploring. Not that adventurous (or crazy) yet!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks! There has to be a certain level of comfort needed before you can do that and I think it comes over time and everyone has a different comfort level.

    ReplyDelete

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