Hiking on a volcano, visiting ancient ruins, shopping at a local market...These activities are as much a part of your cruise vacation as sailing on the high seas. To enhance your cruise experience, cruise ships offer a variety of shore excursions to help you while away your day in port. But shore excursions can be pricey and turn that great deal you got on your sailing into one expensive trip. Follow these tips to save big on your cruise shore excursions.
The first step in saving big on shore excursions is to research each of your ports of call prior to sailing. Borrow a guidebook from your local library, visit your local bookstore, or visit the tourism bureau’s website for your destination. Explore the sights and activities available in each of your ports of call and make a list of what you’d like to see most.
Once your room is booked, you’ll receive a cruise packet or be able to log in to your cruise website. Take the time to read through the cruise packet. Get an idea of which shore excursions are offered through the cruise line and their prices. Pay attention to the excursion itineraries. You’ll have a better idea if you might like to book a tour or go it alone.
Comparison shop for other tour operators online that offer similar tours or activities. On our recent cruise to the Greek Isles, we really wanted to go horseback riding on Corfu. Our cruise ship offered a horseback riding shore excursion for $139.99 per person. We booked with Trailriders Corfu through their website directly for €60 per person (~$75 per person). Total savings = $130
If the idea of packing onto a bus with hundreds of other cruise passengers and shuffling in a line from sight to sight isn’t your cup of tea, consider an on-site car rental. Car rentals can be much cheaper than the shore excursion through your ship and give you the freedom to stop off at interesting places along the way.
Our ship offered an Oia Village shore excursion on Santorini, Greece for $69.99 per person. We rented a car from Spiridakos for €35 and tram tickets were €4 per person each way. We were free to stop off at some of the panoramic viewpoints on the drive from Fiera to Oia and explore at our own leisure. On our drive, we also spotted a restaurant clinging to the cliffside with spectacular views and had an incredible meal off the beaten tourist path.
Total savings = $88.
You don’t have to sprint off the cruise ship and onto a tour bus to be swept off to some faraway village. Sometimes the best way to experience a destination is to find the best local spots. Ask the cruise ship staff for recommendations. They often visit the same ports each week and know the best local beaches or restaurants. Spend some time just walking around or visit a beach near to the port. People-watch from a cafe and enjoy a leisurely lunch. You’ll feel relaxed instead of like you’re running a marathon from sight to sight.
Yes, spaces are limited, but the excursions aren’t likely to sell out immediately. Do your research and make an informed decision about whether or not to book through the ship or go it alone.
Tendering is when your cruise ship can’t pull into a port and instead, passengers disembark onto boats to take you ashore. Be sure to check if you’ll be tendering in certain ports. It can take up to an hour after your scheduled arrival in port to actually make it ashore. You’ll want to factor this into your planning for independent tour bookings.
The crew aboard your ship are great sources of information about where to go, what to see and even where to eat. After all, they probably visit the port weekly. So plan to be a bit spontaneous!
You don’t have to miss out on penguin watching or zip-lining just because that activity comes with a big price tag when booked through your cruise ship. Booking shore excursions independently takes more time and some planning, but in the end can literally save you hundreds of dollars.
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Photo Credits: Cruise ship © Quient - Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com