One of the simple pleasures of cruise travel is that after booking the ticket, your trip is practically set. Your accommodation, entertainment and even meals have been paid for — but there’s just one thing missing. Shore excursions.
While shore excursions can usually be purchased on board, booking independently lets you handpick unique experiences, secure your spot and better track how much you’re spending.
These tour companies offer an exciting range of landlocked adventures.
I’ve cruised on four occasions, across three different cruise lines. I mainly selected excursions with the cruise line, since third-party excursions offer passengers no security. That means the ship sets sail without you if you miss departure — and you’re responsible to catch up at the next port.
On two occasions, I went out on my own excursions — the first time, I rented a jeep and followed a map to tour the entire coast of St. Maarten, stopping at key points of interest along the way. The second time I rented a golf cart and took my son for a sight-seeing tour of Key West. While local providers assisted us in establishing a self-serve itinerary, there was no assurance if we needed help with setbacks encountered along the way.
I loved both independent experiences, but when you’re out on your own — or even with a third-party provider — you’re constantly mapping your route and watching the time, keeping you from truly relaxing and enjoying the journey. In the future, I’ll likely stick to excursions from the cruise line.
Book shore excursions on these sites
Owned by TripAdvisor, Viator is a one-stop shop for tours, excursions and entry passes in over 2000 locations worldwide. Browse cruise excursions in popular destinations such as Monaco, Hanoi, the Bahamas, Miami and more.
Tours are verified by customer reviews and photographs
Shop handpicked, carefully curated excursions from a company that puts you first — customer service is available 24/7 around the world, whether you’re beaching in the Bahamas or skirting around New Zealand’s coast.
Thousands of experiences in over 300 destinations worldwide
As one of the world’s largest travel websites, TripAdvisor offers a wide range of activities to do wherever the anchor drops. Before you book, read reviews and see pictures posted by its active travel community. Browse by category to target your interests.
Dedicated to on-shore excursions, Cruising Excursions offers tours for a fraction of the price that cruise lines offer. All excursions are timed for your exact cruise’s docking and sailing times, so you can enjoy a stress-free and budget-friendly experience.
Price match guarantee
Full refund if your ship doesn’t port
Save up to 60% compared to cruise line prices
Tips for getting the best deal on excursions
Use promo codes. Most tour companies offer discount codes that slash prices even further. There’s usually a spot to enter promo codes at checkout.
Shop around. Compare rates and activities from multiple tour operators before making a decision. Make sure the one you choose guarantees to get you back to the boat on time, as the ship won’t wait if you’re running late.
Book close to your trip dates. Unless you’re after an excursion that has limited availability, it pays not to purchase your excursion too early. Plans can change, and if they do, the tour company might charge you for the cancellation.
Book multiple excursions with the same company. Some tour companies offer discounts for multiple tour bookings.
Use the price match guarantee. Many tour companies offer a “best price” guarantee. Spend some time researching and if you find the same tour available cheaper elsewhere, ask for a partial refund.
Are shore excursions cheaper if purchased on the ship?
Not necessarily. While shore excursions purchased on the ship can be discounted because you are a passenger, tour companies on the ground are still quite competitive and usually offer price match guarantees.
Be aware, however, that excursions can vary in terms of quality, the attractions visited and the time spent at each location, so it’s worth comparing to see which suits your needs best.
Which cruise lines let you book excursions in advance?
Most large cruise liners, including Princess Cruises and Carnival, will allow you to book or reserve a cruise excursion either while booking your cruise or after it’s been confirmed.
If you’re unsure about whether or not your cruise ship lets you book excursions in advance, visit the experiences section of its website, where you can usually find excursion details.
Which cruise lines include excursions in the fare?
Some cruise lines that offer all-inclusive packages are:
Booking shore excursions independently can open your eyes to experiences you might otherwise miss. But be sure to triple-check your itinerary, because making it back to the boat in time will be entirely up to you.
Frequently asked questions
It’s up to you — compare the prices and features of the excursions available through the cruise line with what you can book online before to inform your decision.
Though booking onshore excursions through the cruise line can be more costly, there are two major benefits:
You can rest assured about returning to the boat on time — and it’ll will wait for you if you’re running late.
The cruise line knows where you are in case of emergency.
It partly depends on the cruise line and how early its shore excursions become available. But if you’re set on booking shore excursions through a third-party site, six to eight weeks before departure is a good time to book. Avoid booking excursions on board, as Internet and phone service can be spotty and expensive.
This depends on how long the ship will be docked for. Carefully note your boat’s itinerary at each port so you know when you’ll need to return. While you might have time for two or three onshore excursions over a full day at port, you might end up wanting some free time to wander around, rather than scheduling something to cover every minute.
Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for a range of travel publications including Thomas Cook Magazine and Showpo. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, and has visited over 50 countries (and counting). She has a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge of travel and helping consumers stretch their travel cash while on holiday.
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