Despite all the cool features on the newest big and shiny cruise ships, many cruisers pick their trips based on itineraries. They seek to explore new destinations and want to create incredible memories of their experiences in these places.
If your time ashore is crucial part of your trip, you want to pick the best things to do and avoid crucial mistakes that can spoil the visit.
When you get off the ship, cruise excursions can make or break your cruise. Remember: Nobody likes massive crowds, sunburns or watching the ship pull away as you are running down the pier at the end of a day in port.
We travel to create memorable experiences, and there is nothing better than arriving at port in a country with the anticipation of getting to do something exciting, whether it’s a new experience or an old favorite. I have been to Bonaire two times, and I did the awesome drift snorkel at Klein Bonaire each time.
Snorkeling among the pristine reef and dozens of fish and other sea creatures was so unique and interesting the first time that I did it, I made sure to plan for it again on my most recent visit. The outing didn’t disappoint and was a memorable highlight of our cruise.
So, a good shore excursion means you get to do something you enjoy and are able to vividly recall the details of for many years afterward as you talk about the trip with friends and family. For me, this means excursions doing things like hiking, biking and snorkeling or trying local beers and regional cuisine.
Your time ashore also gives you a chance for cultural enrichment. Pick an excursion that visits places that are important geographical or historical sites within that destination. Be sure to visit the most significant and important spots in your destination if it’s your first time there. That way you can avoid the regret of not having taken advantage of your opportunity in case you never return again.
When in Venice, you would most certainly consider an excursion to see the Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marcos and the Doge’s Palace. And you wouldn’t want to leave a port stop in New York without checking out the Statue of Liberty or to Barcelona without a visit to Las Ramblas or Sagrada Familia.
Many aspects of a cruise excursion can go wrong. A few things are left up to the fates, but you can control most others.
Great tour guides can make cruise excursions an incredible experience. But sometimes, you get a dud with little to no personality and maybe only a minimal acquaintance with the facts, history or other important details of your destination that most would consider vital components of a tour. When you book through your cruise ship’s shore excursion desk, you have no idea who your tour guide will be. If you have a bad experience because of the guide, your lone course of action is to submit a review of the tour in hopes that future groups won’t be subject to the same disappointment.
This type of negative shore excursion experience is doubly disappointing if you shelled out big bucks for a tour you had been really looking forward to. You cruise excursion budget is often a major part of the overall cruise expense. Make sure to do research ahead of your cruise to get reviews and advice from cruisers who have tried the excursion you are considering. Go to trusted cruise forums and fan pages like the Cruise Fever Lounge Facebook page, of course, to ask questions and read reviews.
Booking your own excursion independently gives you more control over several things that might go wrong. You can read reviews online and learn about what others thought of the tour and the guides that the company offers. You can even ask for a certain guide who you know receives rave reviews from satisfied customers. Booking independently also often allows you to pick a tour with smaller numbers, making the experience more flexible and intimate than tours that consist of large groups.
Many popular cruise ship tours have extremely large numbers of people traveling together on big buses. These types of crowded outings often leave cruisers disappointed because they move so slowly, block the best views of the sites and make it hard to get one-on-one time with the tour guide.
Careful preparation and a bit of awareness can help you avoid a couple other things that have been known to ruin a cruise excursion (if not an entire cruise).
For one, be careful not to try anything too risky or beyond your physical abilities. Adventurous cruise excursions can be fun, but you don’t want to get injured.
Also, sunburn is a nasty souvenir that you don’t want to bring back from a cruise. Most cruisers have a story to tell about an unfortunate “lobster-fication.”
I have been fried because I had not put on sunscreen liberally or often enough. I was especially caught off guard on a beach day in Aruba when I was certain was staying in the shade enough and applying enough lotion. Nope! Those rays so far south and close to the equator are more brutal than I could have imagined.
Since then, I wear a long-sleeved “rash guard” shirt for my swimming and snorkeling and reapply sunscreen often, and I stay out of the sun for long stretches of my time on shore. Always be wary, is my main point here. Sunburn can seriously affect you cruise. No more restful sleep. No time enjoying the sun and pool onboard. Cancel that massage.
You also don’t want to be one of those unfortunate souls made infamous in a viral YouTube video because you missed the ship after your excursion. If you book through the ship, no worries. You are guaranteed the cruise ship will wait for you. If you book an excursion independently, you’d better keep a good eye on the clock, know when the “all aboard” time is and make sure that you get back on time.
It’s hard to enjoy a cruise when your shipmates sail off without you.
John Roberts is a freelance writer and operator of InTheLoopTravel.com. He writes about cruising and active travel, highlighting how people can connect with the world and other cultures through rewarding travel experiences.