Shore excursions. They’re important to some cruise travelers, not so much to others. Some play it safe, booking through the cruise line and might pay a bit more. Others book with third-party sources, gamble a tiny bit but save on the cost. Visiting different destinations on one vacation is a big part of why we choose to cruise. Still, planning, paying for and going on shore excursions can be made an far more efficient process if we consider a few basic rules.
Some are general, time tested common sense recommendations while others are more specific. Add them all up, include your own and a good checklist for buying and enjoying shore excursions results. Let’s dive right in on a process that ends in you enjoying shore tours.
- Plan Far In Advance- It’s a good idea to start looking at ports and tours available before booking the cruise in the first place. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the dream and miss the reality; that iconic landmark will require an additional tour to see. Getting to the details requires reading them, a simple enough thing to say but not all that commonly done.
- No, Really Plan Far In Advance- We saw the effect of that first hand on a sailing of Viking Cruises new Viking Star last summer. In Athens, some of those on our included tour of the day assumed that we would visit the Acropolis, a big attraction perched high above the city. Never mind that the included tour description available months in advance of sailing specifically noted that the tour did not visit the Acropolis as did the tour tickets the angry man was holding.
- Consult Multiple Sources- While booking through the cruise line is one way to go and most provide abundant information about their tours, there are other sources as well. TripAdvisor reviews, taken with a grain of salt, can be one element as can travel bloggers specializing in a particular destination or part of the world. Another, unlikely place to turn: a competing cruise line that also goes to the same place. While they may indeed use the exact same people on the ground to run their tours, not all cruise line are alike in providing detailed and accurate information. Note subtle differences and especially conflicting information. If
- Wishing Or Buying, Just Do It-Almost all major cruise lines allow the ability to form a ‘wish list’ via their online cruise planner. Start by reading all about all excursions at every port. That will take some time but just about any cruise line’s description will give you an idea of what will be included on the tour. That’s important if a specific attraction is of interest and a must-see deal breaker. Many tours sound similar but have different elements. Wish list the ones that have the exact thing you want to see and skip the rest. During this process, ignore pricing. This is all about making the dream happen
- All Done? Take A Step Back And Look Again– A common mistake made when planning shore excursions or pretty much any time off the ship is scheduling too much or tours that last too long. On a Holland America Line sailing not long ago, I went on the 12-hour tour of Chichen Itza Myan Ruins, the most in-tact myriad of ruins in the world. Well worth the time spent, all agreed on the way back that once was enough. More commonly mis-planned: tours of 6 to 8 hours in length.
- On Board, Loop In The Shipboard Shore Excursion Team- Developing a relationship with the people who man the shore excursion desk on just about any cruise line will have a bonus effect few cruise travelers give much attention to. More than just the place to go to book a tour, look beyond the desk and consider the people working there. While it may very well be where passengers go to complain later, it’s not the complaint desk. That’s the Pursers Desk
- Get Ready To Tour- Always bring a backpack or some carrying thing that will hold bottles of water plus other comfort items you might need on tour. Towels for a beach excursion are an easy call as are wearing appropriate shoes for the terrain that might be covered while on tour.
- Be Realistic About Your Ability- While most travelers are quite aware of the terrain they can cover, every once in awhile we see people on a tour that have no business being there. Consider the activity level stated on a tour carefully. Those with mobility issues might be better off waiting to book tours on the ship or at the very least check with the Shore Excursion desk people face-to-face and ask before going if booked in advance.
- Provide Feedback, On The Tour– The guy or gal operating the tour should have a crystal clear idea of what you were told you would see and do on tour. If that’s not happening as it unfolds, speak up. You have one shot at it, they are there every week. If the tour description calls for visiting Place A, B, C and D, in that order. Ask why if your first stop is Place C. There might be a logical reason for it but let’s be clear: You are there to see all four points, paid for and expect to see those. Make them explain
- Provide Feedback, On The Ship- Do yourself and passengers of the future a favor and give the people at the shore excursion desk feedback on the tour. Walking by the desk, catching their attention, stating the name of the tour along with showing a thumbs up or down is enough. These are the people who go there every week, the reason why many cruise travelers choose to wait until boarding to book, visiting the Shore Excursion desk right after boarding, as soon as they open.
Enjoying Shore tours
Considering the above can help make our time ashore a wonderful experience but be considered a starting place. I have a list of my own that includes checklist items just for me, based on my own interests. For example, something to listen to and earphones are on my list in case the tour guide is simply boring. It happens. I’d rather be listening to something I like than the drone of a scripted tour guide any day.