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Cruising 101, Part 5: Plan Your Own Excursions

Updated: Apr 3

This blog series is for travelers who are beginners to cruising.

10 tips for Planning Your

Own Cruise Excursion(s) This information is based on my personal experiences and research.

If you are first time cruiser, you may get sticker shock when you see what is not included in your fare and how much the extras cost. One of those costs is the excursions: activities that you do while in port. Cruise lines charge extra for excursions and you may be led to believe that they are mandatory (they are not) . Check out my tips below.

Royal Dockyard Cruise Terminal, Bermuda
Royal Dockyard, Bermuda

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 you have a long time (6 hours or more), 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.

Extra extra bonus tip: if you are exploring on your own, and if you get back late, the ship will leave you! Have a credit card with enough money to fly yourself either home or to the next port.

Extra Extra Extra bonus tip: Pay attention to how many ships are in port when you come in. This means certain areas will be crowded and traffic near the cruise terminal may be heavy. This will cut into your time in getting back to the ship.

Here are my top tips: 1. You do not have to buy the ship’s excursions but there are some advantages: they have already researched reputable and reliable companies, they're guaranteed not to leave you behind (the ship will wait for you) and it’s easier for the more exotic day trips, like parasailing, zip-lining and ATVs.

2. Stop at the port information desk on shore when you disembark. They have maps and brochures. They will also guide you to the more reliable excursion vendors. 3. Explore your options about ports before your cruise (don’t waste precious data while onboard if you bought the internet package). Travel guidebooks that combine several ports in one book are economical (hard copy or electronic) and are also a wealth of information.

4. Don’t be afraid to rent a car and explore in some countries. Check with your insurance company to see if you are covered. Stick with well-known companies and reserve before you set sail. Don’t waste your mobile phone data using the GPS, use a real map (the rental companies will give you one). And don't forget to gas up before you return the car. You might want to get a some local currency if you don't want to swipe your credit card at a foreign gas pump.

5. The above tip being said, be aware of which countries drive English style and which drive American style. Sometimes you get a left-hand drive car, sometimes not. 6. Many places have public transportation. When a ship is in port, buses might 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. Take an earlier bus just to be safe (remember the tip about getting left behind). Traffic is a serious concern in busy months at busy ports.

Get a map at a cruise port
There are maps and timetables at most ports

7. For the less ambitious, a cab or van 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 excursion price. Hiring a van for a group can be more economical: they'll give you a tour and take you to a local beach. Settle on the round trip price before you get in and make sure it includes a guarantee that they will return for you. 8. You can arrange your own excursion with a company in advance from home. However, do your research. Be careful of trusting the reviews. And remember it will be your responsibility to get back to the ship on time!!

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 in Nassau, Bahamas, for example). In fact, many cruise terminals are now putting in more cultural experiences right near the cruise terminal so that everything is in walking distance: Nassau, Bahamas; Costa Maya, Mexico; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, New York City, Portland, Maine; Bar Harbor, Maine; Barcelona, Spain; Kotor, Montenegro; Aruba, Croatia; Fira, Santorini, Greece; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Mahogany Bay, Honduras; Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Royal Dockyard, Bermuda; for example. Other terminals have the fun just a short cab ride away (easy to get back to): Freeport, Bahamas; Miami, Florida; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Mykonos, Greece. Look at map app before you sail to see what is within walking distance (besides shopping and restaurants).

10. The more you visit a port, the more familiar and safer you will feel. Talk to experienced cruisers. Many haven’t bought an excursion in years, yet they have explored everywhere.

Happy Travels!

Other Articles in This Series:


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

All text and photos copyright Marcia Crayton All Rights Reserved 2023

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