The chance to explore a wide range of amazing destinations in every corner of the globe is one of the major reasons why holidaymakers return to cruise ships year after year. Whether you’re laying the towel down on a paradise island in the Caribbean or pulling into a tiny village in the Norwegian Fjords, excursions provide ample opportunity for cultural immersion, exploration and total relaxation.

So, if you’re new to the world of cruising and excited about the opportunities brought about by shore excursions, but unsure how they work and how to make the most of them, we have produced this guide. From the etiquette of leaving the ship and ensuring the ship doesn’t leave without you to the things you need pack – we’ve got you covered.

We’ll be answering these questions:

Should I Bring My Passport/Cabin Card?

What Should I Pack for a Shore Excursion?

How Long Will My Ship Be in Port?

Do I Have to Leave the Cruise Ship in Port?

Where Will My Ship Dock?

What Are the Different Types of Shore Excursions?

How Do I Book a Shore Excursion?

The is our comprehensive guide to shore excursions.

Should I Bring My Passport/Cabin Card?

One of the most prominent questions asked by first-time cruisers when excitedly waiting for their first taste of an excursion – should I bring my passport, ID and cabin card? And the answer for the most part is ‘yes’.

Whenever you get off the ship, it is advisable to carry your cabin card so you can quickly re-board the ship with minimal fuss. Plus, you’ll also need it to get back in your cabin. If you’re alighting in a different country to the nation listed on your passport – you’ll also need to pack your passport.

However, if you’re docking in the country in which you live – a piece of photo ID will suffice, and you won’t need to bring your passport along. We’d always recommend storing the port agent telephone number as well – so you can make contact in case you run into traffic or trouble when returning to port.

What Else Should I Pack?

Once you’ve sorted your documentation, there are a few pieces you should think to pack when planning a shore excursion. Check the weather and dress accordingly, with a comfortable pair of shoes if you’re planning to tour an ancient city or even if there’s a sizeable walk to the beach. Sunglasses, a protective hat and sunscreen are all essential if you’re visiting somewhere with warmer climes.

We’d also always recommend taking some bottled water with you – to guarantee that you’re not caught empty-handed and thirsty. In more touristy locations, bottled water may be expensive – so it’s worth stocking up on the ship, especially if your drinks package entitles you to refills.

If you have pre-booked a place on a particular excursion, you’ll need to bring this along, too. Make sure you’ve got some local currency or a bank card which will work in the country you’re visiting, in case of emergency or just if you fancy a snack. A map or guidebook is also incredibly helpful if you’re going it alone, and want to see all the major sights.

And finally, all essential medications (and bug spray in forested or riverside locations) should be packed and carried with you.

Whilst your ship is in port, you are usually free to come and go as you please. So, you can pop back in case you forget your sunglasses.

How Long Will My Ship Be in Port?

This will change depending upon the location and the line, but the standard port stay lasts between five and nine hours. However, more and more lines are moving to offer overnight port stays – giving guests the chance to fully explore every destination their ship visits.

The full port stay duration will be stated in the ship’s daily newsletter, so you’ll know when you have to return if you’ve explored by yourself. We’d highly recommend that you leave yourself ample time to get back to the ship – in case of traffic and hold-ups.

Do I Have to Leave the Cruise Ship in Port?

Whilst port days are hotly anticipated by many guests, there are some who would rather stay on deck and continue to enjoy the on-board amenities – and there are no rules against that! If there is a port destination on your itinerary which doesn’t excite you, stay on board and make the most of a quieter ship – so you can get to the front of the lunch queue at a specialty restaurant or go for a few uninterrupted laps in one of the swimming pools.

In fact, there are even more benefits to staying on board in port. Some lines offer discounted rates on spa treatments when in port, so bag yourself some bargain me-time whilst the others head onto land.

Where Will My Ship Dock?

The location of cruise terminals varies from destination to destination. In some cities and regions, the cruise terminal is very centrally located providing quick and easy access to the major sights and experiences. However, some ports are significantly outside the cities they service – the most notable being Civitavecchia cruise terminal, about an hour’s drive from the popular destination of Rome.

We’d highly recommend researching where each port is located in relation to places you’d like to visit, especially if you’re not on a tour and are exploring alone.

If you’re booked on a river cruise rather than an ocean cruise, you can expect to disembark in a very central location – with many major cities built around rivers. The likes of Budapest, Amsterdam and Lyon seem to bloom outwards from the rivers which run through them, making their river cruise terminals very central to all the sights and sounds the cities have to offer.

What Are the Different Types of Shore Excursions?

Cruise holidays are all about freedom and choice, and this is never better represented than the selection of shore excursions on offer. Tailored to the individual, there are a huge number of different types of shore excursion on offer – giving you the freedom to plan your perfect day on shore. Here, we run through the different types of shore excursions you may encounter and share their features and benefits to help you decide.

Active Tours – These will usually require a decent level of fitness and mobility, as you will be tasked with undertaking a little exertion whilst on dry land. They may include cycle tours or walking routes through the cities and regions you visit. These definitely require comfortable shoes and a good breakfast beforehand, but are perhaps the best tours if you want to experience life like a local.

Sightseeing Tours – Sightseeing tours are great for cruisers looking for a more laid-backed pace whilst experiencing all the highlights of the destination. Typically, sightseeing excursions are bus tours which take passengers to the best-loved and most popular sights and the top shopping locations.

Full-Day Tours and Half-Day Tours – Depending on the length of your stay in port, you may have chance to pick between full-day and half-day tours. Some of the full-day tours could take between six and eight hours, whilst the half-day trips could be as short as two. Naturally, the full-day tours tend to be more in-depth – great if you’re really keen to explore.

Highlight Tours – Popular in bigger cities with plenty to show off (Paris, Rome and the like), these tours take you to all the most famous sites (Eiffel Tower, etc.) in one fell swoop. These often provide the classic tourist experience of a city. On the other hand, In-Depth tours take you off the beaten track and to the lesser-known gems of a destination – great for cruisers returning to a city for a second time.

Boutique Excursions – Fancy something a little more exclusive and private while on land? A boutique excursion could be just for you – limited to just a few guests at a time and offering unique experiences. It could be a cooking class with a leading French chef or a private concert in a delightful setting. Stylish and intimate – these excursions provide unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

How Do I Book a Shore Excursion?

There are a couple of different ways to book a shore excursion, and we’d always recommend doing a bit of research before committing.

If there’s an excursion or experience you’re really excited about, then get it booked in advance. This will remove the risk that you’ll miss out on a fully-booked excursion, and gives you time to get excited and prepare. These can be booked through your cruise line or with a third-party excursions provider.

Excursions can even be booked when you get on board your ship. It’s often a good idea to check out the full range of excursions on your first day at sea, and book any which really take your fancy.

It is also possible to book excursions when you arrive in port. Local excursion operators will be waiting in the cruise terminal – offering an array of local experiences. These excursions are often more affordable and flexible than those offered by the cruise line – but make sure they correspond with the time you’re due back on the ship.

So, now you’re fully clued up about shore excursions, it’s time to find your perfect cruise. Head over to our homepage to check out our amazing selection of cruise deals. Alternatively, give us a call on 01 536 0938 and our friendly team will help you find your perfect cruise package


About Author

Belinda Goodman

Cruise 1st veteran Belinda has a passion for travel, especially cruising. She has worked in the travel industry for over 20 years, including a 3-year stint working on cruise ships as a croupier. Belinda regularly writes for the Cruise 1st blog, with a focus on company news and advice for first-time cruise travellers.

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