How to Avoid Tourist Traps in Port

by Kayla Becker

How to Avoid Tourist Traps in Port

by Kayla Becker

You usually only get one day to explore a new destination on a cruise. That means you’d better make sure you’re getting the most memorable food and authentic experiences possible — and sidestepping the rip-offs. Here, seven ways to avoid tourist traps in port on your cruise.

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Disembarking in Nassau / iStock / fallbrook
Researching excursions
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Do your research.

In addition to researching at home, get advice from your ship’s shore excursions desk once you board. Some cruise lines also have additional resources to help connect passengers to the destination. Holland America, for example, offers guides, a digital port planner, and maps through its new Explorations Central program, with a lounge and interactive screens you can use to research the best attractions. The new Ocean Medallion technology on Princess sends you personalized shore excursion recommendations for your next port of call. With all the resources, you should at least have a basic game plan when you step foot on land.

In addition to researching at home, get advice from your ship’s shore excursions desk once you board. Some cruise lines also have additional resources to help connect passengers to the destination. Holland America, for example, offers guides, a digital port planner, and maps through its new Explorations Central program, with a lounge and interactive screens you can use to research the best attractions. The new Ocean Medallion technology on Princess sends you personalized shore excursion recommendations for your next port of call. With all the resources, you should at least have a basic game plan when you step foot on land.

Maximize time in port with apps
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Download an app.

Major cruise ports — including Barcelona, London, and Paris — all have great free walking apps you can use to hit the top attractions on your own. Better yet, choose an app like Cool Cousin (also free!), which sends you recommendations from locals.

Major cruise ports — including Barcelona, London, and Paris — all have great free walking apps you can use to hit the top attractions on your own. Better yet, choose an app like Cool Cousin (also free!), which sends you recommendations from locals.

Piazza San Marco
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Don't go by crowds.

Just because there’s a flock of cruisers lined up at a restaurant doesn’t guarantee it’s a hit — it may just have a great location. We’ve seen plenty of packed port-side bars in Mexican beach towns, for example, but you can easily find a better place to dive into authentic Mexican food. Our advice? Ask locals where they like to go for, say, tacos or guacamole.

Just because there’s a flock of cruisers lined up at a restaurant doesn’t guarantee it’s a hit — it may just have a great location. We’ve seen plenty of packed port-side bars in Mexican beach towns, for example, but you can easily find a better place to dive into authentic Mexican food. Our advice? Ask locals where they like to go for, say, tacos or guacamole.

Exploring St. Maarten
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Venture out.

The first places you see when you get off the ship are usually souvenir stands and restaurants and — you guessed it — they’re often overpriced. The best places to dine and shop are usually further inland and may require some navigating to track them down, but they're worth the effort.

The first places you see when you get off the ship are usually souvenir stands and restaurants and — you guessed it — they’re often overpriced. The best places to dine and shop are usually further inland and may require some navigating to track them down, but they're worth the effort.

Times Square
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Be wary of places next to tourist attractions.

When is the last time you saw a local eating in Manhattan's Times Square? Or next to Rome's Colosseum? Chances are, these tourist district eateries are filled with mostly tourists. And while it sounds like common sense that the top attractions are surrounded by overpriced restaurants and shops, it can be hard to realize that when you’ve never been in port — or worse, are hungry and starting to run out of steam. Make your meal plans in advance so you don't end up just grabbing something that's convenient.

When is the last time you saw a local eating in Manhattan's Times Square? Or next to Rome's Colosseum? Chances are, these tourist district eateries are filled with mostly tourists. And while it sounds like common sense that the top attractions are surrounded by overpriced restaurants and shops, it can be hard to realize that when you’ve never been in port — or worse, are hungry and starting to run out of steam. Make your meal plans in advance so you don't end up just grabbing something that's convenient.

Souvenir vendor in Cabo San Lucas
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Steer clear of in-your-face advertising.

If a shop or restaurant is worth your time and money, they usually don’t need hawkers to sell you on it. Avoid restaurants where waiters aggressively try to draw you into a restaurant or a souvenir stand where the vendor won’t stop pestering people who pass by.

If a shop or restaurant is worth your time and money, they usually don’t need hawkers to sell you on it. Avoid restaurants where waiters aggressively try to draw you into a restaurant or a souvenir stand where the vendor won’t stop pestering people who pass by.

Café in Paris
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Avoid restaurants with photo menus and multiple languages.

If there are multiple languages printed on the menu, and photos with every dish, that's usually a good sign that the place caters to tourists. Plus, if the menu is the size of a small textbook — with a dizzying array of dishes to choose from — ask yourself: How many of these dishes can they actually cook well? Of course, there are exceptions to these rules, but they're just that — exceptions.

If there are multiple languages printed on the menu, and photos with every dish, that's usually a good sign that the place caters to tourists. Plus, if the menu is the size of a small textbook — with a dizzying array of dishes to choose from — ask yourself: How many of these dishes can they actually cook well? Of course, there are exceptions to these rules, but they're just that — exceptions.

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