Shore excursions are a great way to see the local sights when you have only a few hours on land. All cruise companies offer them, but they sometimes seem quite expensive for what they are. So is it worth splashing all your cash for a shore excursion or are you better of organising tours on your own?
Let’s look at the pros first of why so many people book shore excursions through the cruise companies directly.
PROS FOR SHORE EXCURSIONS
The most obvious reason why people choose to book shore excursions is convenience. The shore excursions are packaged already and people do not have to worry about anything such as organising transportation, getting foreign currency or even getting back to the ship on time.
This leads us to the second reason stress and hassle free. All you need to do is select your desired excursion and pay for it. The rest is all organised by the cruise line and all you need to do is turn up for the excursion. No preparation or time consuming research required.
Another reason and this one is really important is health and safety. There are countries where it is not particularly safe to organise sightseeing trips on your own or at least I would not recommend it. I went to Belize a few years ago and wanted to see the Mayan Ruins. The sight was a few hours away from the cruise port close to the border of Guatemala and Belize is not the safest country. Therefore, I chose to visit the sight through the cruise line for safety reasons as well as peace of mind that the ship would wait for me if for some unforeseen circumstance the tour bus would be delayed. Remember that the ship will not wait for you if you are delayed on your own, even if it was out of your control. It will simply sail to the next port.
An additional reason to book shore excursions through the cruise line is the excursion itinerary and inclusions. Sometimes you have only a few hours to visit the sights and there will be destinations where it is either impossible or very complicated to see everything you want to see if you arrange it in advance yourself. Here, the cruise shore excursions can be very useful as most of them visit all the major sights.
Last but not least, private shore excursions. These are a great way to visit the sights that you want to see in a comfortable environment and exclusively tailored to your needs. You normally rent a vehicle with a private driver and then just tell the driver where you want to go.
But there are cons to shore excursions as well and therefore think twice if you want to book them or not.
CONS FOR SHORE EXCURSIONS
Sometimes shore excursions can be pricey for what they are. Depending on where you go and what you do, you might pay for a guided town walk up to 50 $ pp already. So you need to ask yourself if you want to pay that kind of money or if you can do a town walk for instance on your own. It is worth to look at shore excursions that the cruise lines offer and see if you can replicate these yourself at a lower cost.
Shore excursions are organised group tours and they operate to a strict timetable. Therefore, if you go on a shore excursion that visits multiple sights you have limited time per sight to fully take it. If you want to spend more time exploring a particular sight this would not be possible. Sometimes you may feel rushed and possibly annoyed that you do not have more time to have a look around.
Also, remember that depending on the sight, shore excursions can get very busy and vary in size. You can get small groups that are restricted in size, but you can also have really big groups where you will have several tour buses per excursion so the numbers can be in the hundreds. This does not happen too often, but I took part in an excursion where we were five tour buses each being able to take around 40 guests as the sight was the main attraction the city had to offer.
Sometimes shore excursions may not suit your needs exactly. For example, they may include 5 different sights to visit, but you are actually only interested in 3 of them. So what do you do with the other 2?
Furthermore, once an excursion is booked it cannot be easily changed or cancelled. So for example let’s say you want to go to a theme park and you buy an excursion that includes the transfers and park entrance. This is all good. But what happens when the weather is bad on that day and you actually no longer wish to go as it would not be fun at all or in the end you have simply changed your mind?
Shore excursions are great, but they are a bit pricey in my opinion. I prefer to organise sightseeing tours myself and customise them to my liking, time and budget. However, sometimes if you want to do certain activities, see particular sights or have limited time, shore excursions are the way to go and for those reasons, including health and safety, I have booked them myself in the past. I guess it all comes down to personal preference and how you want to spend your holiday.
What are your thoughts?