Cruise Vacations:

Five Travel Tips
for Booking Shore Excursions

By Marianne Schwab | Best Travel Deals Tips Blog

Cruise vacations mean booking shore excursions. If you booked a cruise ship vacation based on the itinerary, then in most cases you are going to want, and need, to book shore excursions for when you arrive in each port. For those of you who may not know, shore excursions are fully escorted, guided tours and/or activities you can take when you arrive in port.

The cruise ship may be a floating all-inclusive resort while you’re at sea, but once you get to port, the cost of sightseeing will be extra and is one of the hidden costs of a cruise ship vacation.

Excursions range from jeep tours, zip lining, parasailing, snorkel trips on catamarans, swimming with dolphins, city tours, countryside and village tours, wine tasting, and much more depending on where your ship ports.

I absolutely love excursions and they've given me some of my favorite travel memories: from climbing the tallest Mayan Temple in the Mexican Yucatan at Coba to being blessed by the Pope at St. Peter’s Square!

1. Always Book Your Shore Excursions through the Cruise Line to Guarantee Making Sail Time Departure. Even if you’re an experienced traveler or cruiser, I highly recommend booking your shore excursions through your cruise line instead of booking excursions on your own or through a third party vendor on cruise vacations for one very good reason. If the excursion you booked through the cruise line is late getting back (and this happened to me on the day we went to the Coba Mayan Ruins), the cruise line has to hold the ship for you if it's set to depart before you actually returned to the ship.

If you booked your excursion through a third party or went off on your own and ended up not making it back to the ship prior to the departure time, it's your responsibility to find a way to reconnect with the ship at the next port and at your own expense. This is definitely something to consider if you have taken a train into a city one hour away and then miss the train on the return (or had no idea the train union was set to start a strike that day). Also, you could get stuck in traffic with your cab or your rental car. While I was on the MSC Poesia, I had an opportunity to sit down and have a short interview with our English Hostess, Laverne DePaul (video above). She had a variety of duties on board our ship including teaching an Italian class and escorting excursions as the cruise line representative.

2. Excursions include Transportation, Admission Fees & (Sometimes) Meals. In most cases, you will be met by a local guide, travel in a well maintained air-conditioned bus, and all of your admissions will be included so you’re all set to start your sightseeing adventures. Meals are sometimes included (especially with all-day excursions).

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3. Inexperienced Travelers Should Book Excursions in Most Cities. If you’re an inexperienced traveler, guided tours are extremely important on cruise vacations. Without a guided tour, you could miss seeing important sites at your destination or you could accidentally wander into a dangerous part of town. In some ports, for instance when I was recently in Cartegena, a guided tour was the only way to go for safety reasons as it is a very dangerous city. Make sure you research your ports of call. Women especially need to be careful when traveling in certain cities.

Although many travel experts may encourage you to explore ports on your own and save a bundle on excursions, I don't necessarily recommend it and must say it depends on the port. Many ports are no where near the destinations that are advertised, for example Rome is an hour by train to get to the city from the port. In certain ports there is much you can do on your own, but I have found that depending on where you port, you're better off booking excursions to get the most out of your trip. If you feel confident to conquer the port town on your own, I've recently discovered two great online resources for ports if you're a more experienced traveler and want to plan your day ashore independently.

If you're taking a Mediterranean cruise, has fantastic port information compiled by my colleague, Martina, who is a former port lecturer for cruise lines so she knows her stuff. I wish I'd discovered her site BEFORE I had a stop prior to a cruise in Venice last year.

If your cruise takes you to the Caribbean Islands, then check out my colleague Eddy's site at as he has info on Caribbean cruise vacation port towns. He lived in the Caribbean most of his life and he has some insider tips to make sure you hit the highlights on each location where your ship ports. If you're like most people, the cruise you take may very well be a once in a lifetime trip so plan for the extra budget you will need to experience the locations you will be visiting.

4. Book Excursions in Advance Because Popular Excursions Sell Out. Don’t wait until you’re on the cruise ship to book your excursion. Popular excursions do sell out on cruise vacations, so if you have your heart set on swimming with dolphins, don’t wait until you’re on the ship to book your excursion. Most cruise lines have online excursion guides and you should review these before you go and determine which ones you want to book. Also, many cruise lines allow you to book these excursions online but will close pre-booking seven days or less before your departure date.

5. Plan a Budget for Excursions of $50 to $150 per port per person. If you’ve chosen a cruise because of its great ports of call and cruise itinerary, don’t forget to budget for excursions. Having been on many cruises and cruise excursions, I have some important travel advice for booking your shore excursions on cruise vacations.

First, as I mentioned earlier, many ports are no where near the destinations that are advertised. In certain ports there is much you can do on your own like Ville Franche has easy access to Nice, Monaco and Monte Carlo by train, but I have found that some port cities are a little intimidating or difficult to navigate. This is a primary reason why booking excursions will help you get the most out of your trip. Second, the cruise you book may very well be a once in a lifetime trip so you don't want to be penny wise and pound foolish. Spend the money or you may miss out on seeing wonderful cities like Rome, Florence or Pompeii, for example. Make sure you plan the extra budget you will need to experience the locations you will be visiting especially if you've chosen the cruise for the itinerary.

Prices for shore excursions generally range from about $25 - $55 for a half-day tour, to $200-$300 for some all-day tours, over land programs including meals and snacks, and such exciting offerings as hot-air ballooning and helicopter "flight"-seeing.

Don’t Forget to Tip Your Shore Excursion Guides & Drivers.
Tipping on cruise vacations is important when you get good service. Your local guides and bus drivers really take care of you on your excursion so make sure you thank them with a small gratuity – especially if you think they did a great job. For half-day bus excursions, tip the guide $2.00 and for a full-day excursion tip $4.00. Don't forget to tip the driver $1.00 for a half-day excursion and $2.00 for a full-day excursion.

I have some important additional travel tips for First Time Cruisers before you book your cruise. Also, if you're not sure how to handle tipping while on your cruise ship vacation, just check out my tipping guidelines for cruises on this website.

I hope you’ve found my travel advice on booking shore excursions for your cruise ship vacation helpful. If you follow my travel advice, I can save you money and headaches on your cruise.

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About Marianne Schwab
TV Travel Show Producer

For over twenty years, TV Travel Show Producer, Marianne Schwab, has been collecting money saving travel tips as a travel producer for high profile television programs. She has flown all over the world and produced live television productions on location from Caesar's Palace on the Vegas Strip to the beautiful island of Oahu. Read more