If you have never had the opportunity to take a cruise, first thing is why not? But the second thing is to explain what a shore excursion is. A shore excursion is just a tour that the cruise line has organised for a set price. There is a range of positives and negatives which I wanted to share with you from my experience of shore excursions.
I have not kept an exact tally, but I have taken somewhere around 20 shore excursions across the cruises I have taken. All of which I would recommend to anyone travelling to the same areas. But let’s get into a little more detail on the good and bad points.
Positives of Booking Shore Excursions
Booking a shore excursion can make your time in port much on a cruise much easier. All you have to do is make the choice on which tour to book. Although that can be a challenge at times to pick one out of so many great options. But once you are in port with a tour booked you are good to go and make the most of the time.
No Missing The ship
One of the primary benefits that I like is the certainty of being back onboard the ship. As I understand it if the tour does not return on time and the cruise is due to depart it will either wait or arrangements to rejoin the ship will be made. On the flip side if you organise your own tour and miss the ship it is on you to get to the ship and they generally will not wait. Obviously, this does not happen all that often but it can be a good safety net.
The closest I got to this being a reality was with a tour in Costa Rica. The tour I selected was a Zip Lining Experience and it was listed as an eight-hour tour. The port time in Costa Rica was between 6 am and 2.30 pm, with the tour meeting at 6.15 am. That leaves a narrow margin to be back on time for the departure. In the end, the tour arrived back at the ship just around 2 pm, with ample time.
The last benefit that I have found is that it saves doing a lot of research into somewhere you might spend just one day. By picking a tour there is a good chance you will get to see some of the better sights in the port. All you need to do is show up at the assigned meeting place at the assigned time and follow the guide for the rest of the day. But this can also be a bit of a negative as well, which I will discuss in a moment.
Negatives of Booking Shore Excursions
As with all good things, there are also some negative aspects to shore excursions. Continuing on from what I have just discussed, simplicity is in some ways a negative as well. In some cases, shore excursions can be rather lacking in their depth. Giving a rather brief overview to an area instead of going into depth.
One of the biggest downfalls for me is the number of tours that specifically include stops for shopping. I do understand that for some areas a large part of the local economy comes from the tourist trade. But at the same time, I would like an option, instead of being taken to all the shopping points. Especially in some areas where the shopping is totally unrelated to the local trades.
I do want to preface this point with the fact that I understand how a tour works. I know that you basically do what the tour is listed as. However, the lack of flexibility in the tours organised by the cruise line is frustrating sometimes. Even to the point that the guide has described something we are passing and even state they wish they could stop but cannot.
Whereas if you were too organised an independent tour things can be more flexible. With a shore excursion, you go with the tour bus everywhere it goes.
The price of shore excursions is another point that can be a problem from what I have seen. I have not found any of the tours I have taken to be that badly priced. However, there are times where you can get the exact same tour cheaper when you walk off the ship. So while a benefit might be no need to research the port, especially for more expensive tours, I would suggest a little research before hand.
Like anything everyone has their own choice in whether they purchase or not. That is if they feel the price is acceptable for what they are going to get. But you also need to take into account all of the value that you may gain from a tour. For example, the assurance you will be back on the ship.
So do you book Shore Excursions or not?
So far every tour that I have taken while travelling onboard a cruise ship has been a shore excursion. With a rather mixed bag of experiences, from ok to great.
One of the best tours that I have taken was in Costa Rica to go Zip Lining. The tour was an eight-hour tour that maximised the time in port and cost $139.00. Included were the bus transfer to and from the ship to zip lines, a gondola ride, ten zip lines and lunch.
The Not Great
On the other hand, I booked a shore excursion when I was visiting Hilo in Hawaii. The tour was described as Waterfall Spectacular and suggested seeing three waterfalls. Technically the description was true, but the reality maybe slightly different. The first waterfall was great. The second waterfall I was the only one on the tour to see because the guide did not think most would cope with the walk. The third waterfall was supposed to be one of the most beautiful but because of a hydroelectric project, was barely a trickle. The tour cost $84 for just three hours, not such great value.
Look To The Positives
The choice ultimately lies with you on which tour option your choose, but I hope the above points have given you something to think about.
- Do take the time to read the description and understand what is included.
- When looking at the price consider if you feel that the tour seems valuable for what is offered.
- Consider if you are comfortable with the risks associated if you take a tour not provided by the cruise ship.
- Be prepared for something not being quite as described.
The only warning I may offer is that my experience has been with Holland America Line, shore excursions. When it comes to other cruise lines your experience may differ. Especially when it comes to the difference in price and value for money. Even though I have suggested above that a benefit of shore excursions can be no need to research. If you feel that something is a little expensive do a quick bit of research around tours in the port.