Swimming with dolphins, zip-lining through the rainforest, kayaking in Alaska — there are some amazing ways to explore new places when you take a cruise. And booking one of these shore excursions can make the difference between a “great” day in port and a “fine” day in port. Here are five things to ask yourself to ensure you choose the best on-land experience possible.
1. What kind of day do you want to have ... and how much are you willing to invest?
First, ask yourself what kind of experience you're looking for: Are you up for adventure? Consider a heli-skiing or scuba diving, but be prepared to pay top dollar for the experience. Are you a culture vulture? A tour through Mayan temples in Tulum or a visit to a museum might be for you. Or do you just want to kick back and soak up the sun? A trip to the beach is always fun — and it's generally a wallet-friendly option.
2. Do you know what's included?
If there are more than two hours of driving involved to get to your destination (say, Chichen Itza from Cozumel, which also involves a ferry) you may end up feeling like you wasted most of the day traveling when you could’ve had your toes in the sand — or you could think the jaw-dropping ruins were the well worth the drive. It's all up to your idea of a successful day, but we recommend reading these kinds of details carefully before you book so you're not surprised.
3. Have you done your research?
Click around your cruise line's website — some have reviews from past cruisers which quickly clue you into the popularity of the excursion. If you're still having trouble deciding, call the line to discuss your options or head to the shore excursions desk on your ship once you board.
4. Do you want to book through the cruise line?
A local tour provider could offer a lower price than your cruise line and potentially be a smaller group. But some cruise lines, such as Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises, offer a price guarantee if you find a local tour priced lower than theirs. (Carnival gives you a 110 percent refund of the price difference in the form of onboard credit.) Another benefit of booking through the line: The ship will wait for you if your tour gets back late, which won't happen if you make your own arrangements.
5. Is a site important enough to you to make the time to plan ahead?
If you do decide to book an excursion through your cruise line, don’t expect to land your top choice if you go to the shore excursions desk the night before you sail into port — the best ones always sell out quickly. Most cruise lines allow you to start booking shore excursions online up to a year in advance, which means you have plenty of time to plan the perfect adventure.