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Putting your feet up, enjoying all the onboard amenities, and dining in the ship’s many restaurants is just part of your cruise experience. When your ship is in port however, shore excursions open a whole new world of exploration and enrichment. Whether you immerse yourself snorkelling in shimmering blue seas, channel your inner explorer looking around ancient ruins or hike on lush, verdant hills, these onshore adventures expand your holiday horizons instantly.

As a first-time cruiser, you might be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of shore excursions and what they entail. Here, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know about these port of call jaunts.

The types of shore excursion

First things first, it’s worth mentioning there are two types of shore excursion. The first are those sponsored by the cruise line, and ones that passengers can book themselves through local providers. Cruise lines’ excursions use tour operators who are reliable and trustworthy, which will be reflected in the quality of the excursion. They’re also a lot more straightforward since you’re free from the hassle of booking your own excursions.

If you do choose to go the independent route and book your own excursion, you can often find the same excursion but for a reduced price, but be sure to see if the operator is reliable and licensed. Also, you’ll have to be back on the ship in good time as it’s not going to wait for you before setting off.

Booking a shore excursion

After your cruise has been booked, you’ll be able to book your shore excursions through the cruise line’s website or through a travel agent. Watch out for excursions with limited capacity, book as early as you can to avoid disappointment. Same goes for something that you’ve got your eye on. Likewise, the earlier you get things booked, the cheaper it’s more likely to be.

You can book excursions on the ship, too. Though the choice may have dwindled, you’ll have a better idea of the weather, and how that may affect the excursion.

When you book, it’s worth taking into consideration the length of the excursion too. Some last the entire duration of your ship being in port, others are shorter which means you can book multiple excursions and fit a few in when the ship is in port. Be sure that you have plenty of time to get from one to the next. 

What can I expect from a shore excursion?

The variety of excursions cruise lines offer mean there’s something for everyone to do, whatever your interests. Whether you like to get your pulse racing or prefer things on the relaxed side, you can tailor the time spent in port your way. Here’s a broad briefing of the kinds of excursion you can expect.

Active and Sightseeing Tours

If you fancy getting to the heart of your destination, then active excursions are the way to go. From snorkelling to zip-lining, hiking to biking, these excursions are built for those who like to get the adrenaline going. Sightseeing excursions are comparatively more relaxed and typically comprise of bus tours and trips to private beaches.

It depends entirely which part of the world you’re cruising; Caribbean excursions will likely have more of a focus on activities such as snorkelling and diving, while the ancient cities of Europe will favour showcasing its storied museums.

Guided vs. Free Time

Overseen by well-informed, insightful experts, guided tours show off a city’s heritage and history in the capable hands of knowledgeable tour guides.

For something a little more hands-off, there are also excursions where you’re dropped off at your destination and free to explore the city at your own pace until it’s time to get the bus back to the ship. Before your free time excursion, be sure to ask staff members aboard your ship for information on the best beaches, restaurants and shops.

Highlights vs. In-Depth

How much do you want to immerse yourself in a city or country’s culture? Do you want to see lots in one day or just focus on one thing in greater detail? There are shore excursions that pack plenty to do in one trip, or you can explore one site up close with all the time in the world (or until you have to get back to your ship).

How to get the most from shore excursions 

  • Make sure you’re managing your time properly. Between travelling on the bus, taking part in the excursion and then driving back, there’s a lot of time you’ll be using up. If you need to get back to the ship or another excursion, always be mindful of the time.
  • Be sure to dress accordingly if you’ll be walking around in hot, humid climates.
  • Likewise, go for the tours you know you’ll be able to physically manage. By and large, cruise lines will be able to let you know which excursions are suited to you.
  • If you’re planning on renting a car, do it in advance before you depart. Rates will be lower and the process will go a lot smoother compared to renting one on the day.
  • Since not all tour buses will have toilets, carry some spare change with you as you may need to pay to use public toilets.

Whatever you do, shore excursions make your cruise that little bit better. To view our full range of cruises, head over to our dedicated page here, or alternatively, talk to our friendly customer care team, please call 01 536 0938.

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