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If you are first time cruiser, you may get sticker shock when you see what is not included in your fare and how much extras cost. (see our article here). Activities that you do while in port are generally called excursions. Cruise lines charge extra for excursions and you may be led to believe that they are mandatory. Check out my tips below.
Bonus tip: you don’t have to get off the ship! Check out the newsletter for the day and enjoy the peace and quiet, along with available deck chairs at the pool.
Extra bonus tip: Be aware of how much time you have. If I have a long time (6 hours or more), I’ll get off and explore the town, come back to the ship to eat lunch and then get off again to catch a cab to a great free public beach.
Here are my top tips:
1. You do not have to buy the ship’s excursions but there are some advantages: they already researched reputable and reliable companies; they're guaranteed not to leave you behind (the ship will wait for you); it’s easier for the more exotic day trips, like parasailing, zip-lining and ATVs.
2. Stop at the information desk when you disembark. Although it seems they are steering you to their friends and relatives in the business (and sometimes they are), they will also guide you to the more reliable vendors. Cruise guide books are a great way to introduce yourself to great sightseeing spots.
3. Explore your options about ports before your cruise (don’t waste precious data while onboard if you bought the internet package). Travel guidebooks (hard copy or electronic) are also a wealth of information. For a book that combines almost all of the Caribbean ports, I use Fodor's.
4. Don’t be afraid to rent a car and explore. Pay a little higher and use familiar names such as Avis, Hertz, etc. Hint about Caribbean cruises: for the most part, you are on an island, which goes in a circle, less chance of getting lost. Don’t waste your mobile phone data with GPS, go old school and use a map, the rental companies will give you one. See more information here.
|Don't forget to gas up before returning the car. You may need local currency.|
5. The above tip being said, be aware of which countries drive English style and which drive American style. Sometimes you get a right-hand drive car, sometimes not. After one excursion you will get the hang of it.
|Barbados lets you know right up front about the taxi fares|
6. For the less adventurous, some islands that have safe public transportation. When a ship is in port, buses miraculously are on the ship’s schedule and seem to be available when you dock. Tell the driver where you want to go and when you need to be back onboard. He or she will tell you what time you should catch the bus back. You may want to take an earlier bus just to be safe (remember the tip about getting left behind).
|Hiring a van for a group can be more economical: they'll give you a tour and take you to a local beach.|
7. For the even less ambitious, a cab will take you to a location and will pick you up at an agreed time. Get a price before you get in, don’t be afraid to bargain. A cab to a beach will probably run you half of the price of the cruise price total. For example, we’ve taken cabs for $25 round trip for 2-3 of us. If you are traveling with another family, you can hire a whole van sometimes for $50 total. We had 7 of us between two families. Not bad when it would have been $280.
8. You can arrange your own excursion with a company in advance from home. However, do your research: check out the reviews on websites such as Cruise Critic or Trip Advisor (but learn how to read between the lines for some of the reviews).
|The Butterfly Farm in Saint Martin|
9. Some sightseeing that you can do on your own are museums, shopping, public beaches (the local cabbies will know which ones are safe for tourists), or even day passes at resorts (Atlantis, for example). Save some fun for the next time so that you will have something new to do when you return.
|Save money and catch a cab to Dunn's River, Ocho Rios, Jamaica|
10. The more you visit a port, the more familiar and safer you will feel. Nassau is one of the most popular ports and you can tell experienced cruisers. They haven’t bought an excursion in years, yet they've done almost everything there.