How to Plan Your Own Shore Excursions

by Fran Golden

How to Plan Your Own Shore Excursions

by Fran Golden

Cruise lines make it easy to explore at the ports of call, selling organized shore excursions. Booking through your line is always the simplest way to buy a tour. But you also have the option of do-it-yourself activities and sightseeing, which can save you considerable money. This is a good choice if you have more time than budget, or if you want to get away from the crowds or see something not offered by the line. Here are some tips to get you started:

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Kayaking in Thailand / iStock.com / Dudarev Mikhail
Kotor Bay in Montenegro
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Research your options before you leave

Do a search of each destination your ship will visit. You can start with our handy port pages. Official local tourism agencies are a good place to gather further information on attractions and activities — some even provide handy downloadable maps, or will mail you packets of information if you ask them for it. 

Do a search of each destination your ship will visit. You can start with our handy port pages. Official local tourism agencies are a good place to gather further information on attractions and activities — some even provide handy downloadable maps, or will mail you packets of information if you ask them for it. 

Gray Whale in Mexico
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Compare prices

Private excursion companies with a broad range of tours include ShoreTrips (shoretrips.com), Shore Excursions Group (shoreexcursionsgroup.com) and Viator (viator.com). Check them all to see if there's a better deal for a comparable excursion — you may find a wider range of options, as well as smaller group sizes. 

Private excursion companies with a broad range of tours include ShoreTrips (shoretrips.com), Shore Excursions Group (shoreexcursionsgroup.com) and Viator (viator.com). Check them all to see if there's a better deal for a comparable excursion — you may find a wider range of options, as well as smaller group sizes. 

Mountain biking in the Dolomites
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Pre-book activities

If you have specific things you want to do, such as renting a kayak or mountain bike or trying parasailing, contact local operators, check their prices, and make a reservation early. Keep in mind you could be disembarking on the same day as thousands of other cruisers, some of whom may have the same idea.

If you have specific things you want to do, such as renting a kayak or mountain bike or trying parasailing, contact local operators, check their prices, and make a reservation early. Keep in mind you could be disembarking on the same day as thousands of other cruisers, some of whom may have the same idea.

Tropical Hotel
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Head to a resort

For a beach day, check the prices at resortforaday.com, which sells day passes to Caribbean beach resorts that give access to their pools and changing rooms. You can also reach out to hotels directly and ask for the cost of day passes and afternoon packages. 

For a beach day, check the prices at resortforaday.com, which sells day passes to Caribbean beach resorts that give access to their pools and changing rooms. You can also reach out to hotels directly and ask for the cost of day passes and afternoon packages. 

Parasailing
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Hit the beach

On a lot of Caribbean islands, the best option is just to stretch out in the sun for the day on a sandy shore. Pick your beach in advance, get off of the ship early, and pack everything you need in your day bag — sunscreen, a beach towel, and bottled water — so you don't lose time shopping. 

On a lot of Caribbean islands, the best option is just to stretch out in the sun for the day on a sandy shore. Pick your beach in advance, get off of the ship early, and pack everything you need in your day bag — sunscreen, a beach towel, and bottled water — so you don't lose time shopping. 

New York Public Library
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Figure out transportation in advance

Determine where you'll be docked and whether you can walk right off your ship to the attractions you want to see or if you need to take a taxi, bus, or ferry. Checking taxi fares ahead of time is highly recommended if you don't want to get ripped off.

Determine where you'll be docked and whether you can walk right off your ship to the attractions you want to see or if you need to take a taxi, bus, or ferry. Checking taxi fares ahead of time is highly recommended if you don't want to get ripped off.

Tapas
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Learn your food options

If you don't want to get stuck in a restaurant designed for tourists, do a little research on the choices in port before you leave home. Some food lovers even design an entire day around a long, unforgettable lunch, especially in cities like Rome and Barcelona, where amazing restaurants are plentiful. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance if this is the center piece of your day.

If you don't want to get stuck in a restaurant designed for tourists, do a little research on the choices in port before you leave home. Some food lovers even design an entire day around a long, unforgettable lunch, especially in cities like Rome and Barcelona, where amazing restaurants are plentiful. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance if this is the center piece of your day.

ATMs
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Hit the ATM first

You'll likely need local currency if you plan to take public transportation, visit museums, or eat in local restaurants. Not all attractions will take credit cards, and you don't want to lose time later hunting down an ATM machine.

You'll likely need local currency if you plan to take public transportation, visit museums, or eat in local restaurants. Not all attractions will take credit cards, and you don't want to lose time later hunting down an ATM machine.

Ratchaprarop Road in Bangkok
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Get back to the ship on time

If you're on an official cruise line shore excursion and run into traffic, the line will hold the ship for you if the coach is running late. That's not the case if you explore on your own, so plan to be back on board with plenty of time to spare.

If you're on an official cruise line shore excursion and run into traffic, the line will hold the ship for you if the coach is running late. That's not the case if you explore on your own, so plan to be back on board with plenty of time to spare.

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