How to Organize Cruise Shore Excursions

Bunny image

Image of cruise ships

Bunny has an impressive number of cruises under her belt (1) so she feels confident about giving advice to travellers on how to organize those all-important cruise shore excursions. If you are anything like Bunny, the shore excursions are the very reason you take a cruise in the first place. You have got to get that part of the cruise right. Here's how to do it.

Image of Bunny paw prints

Rule 1: Do Not Go on the Shore Excursions Organised by the Cruise Ship. Ever.

Shore excursions organised by the ship are for people who enjoy large crowds, lots of noise, queuing, paying extra for nothing and walking around with a stupid sticker on their shirt. You can do better than that.

Rule 2: Think About Your Itinerary And the Activities You Would Enjoy During Each Stop In Advance.

After doing some advance thinking about what you’d like to do, then research online to find out what each port is known for. You can use the list of activities offered by the cruise ship as an indication of what is popular and doable in each stop. Pick your favorite excursions for each stop and make a plan that is diverse and interesting.

Image of Bunny snorkelling
Image of a sailboat
Image of beach Bunny

Rule 3: Use TripAdvisor (or Similar Site) to Research the Best-Rated Tour Companies.

Bunny is a big fan of TripAdvisor, but there are other websites you can also use. The point is to learn about which shore excursion companies have the best ratings for the activities you have chosen for each location. If possible, go for the small local operators that have good ratings as they often provide the best service. Check their independent websites and compare their offerings to your requirements and the ship's docking schedule. Pick the best excursion you can afford and leave a little budget for tipping if it is expected.

Rule 4: Carefully Check Cancellation and Refund Policies

Make sure to know the cancellation policy of your excursion before you book. At the very minimum, you want to be entitled to a full refund if the trip is cancelled due to weather or if your ship skips the port for some reason. Once you are confident about the cancellation and refund policies, paying in advance is often a wise choice, unless you want to carry a lot of cash around during your trip.

Rule 5: Opt for Private or Small Excursions Where Possible.

Otherwise you might just get the same crowded experience the cruise ship is offering, albeit often for a better price. Private excursions, be it just you or a small group of friends and family, allow you to tailor the excursion to your own specific requirements and preferences. Private excursions can also be surprisingly affordable, particularly if you are a small group instead of a couple.

Image of Cozumel
Image of a beach
Image of Cozumel

Cozumel, Mexico, is a popular port of call for cruise ships

Rule 6: Agree on a Meeting Point with the Tour Company.

Make sure you agree on a specific meeting spot with your guide or tour company in each port. The ports can be pretty chaotic when thousands of people disembark at the same time, swarming around with little clue of where to go and what to do. You will want to have clear instructions about your meeting point so that you can be whisked away from the madness by your guide as soon as possible. Be sure to have their correct contact details, such as mobile phone number, in case one of you goes astray for some reason.

Rule 7: The Most Popular Excursion Is Not Always the Best.

It is often wise to avoid the most popular spots unless you are ready to share them with the masses. For example, in Jamaica, Bunny might have missed the popular Riverdunes waterfalls but after seeing the busloads of people heading in that direction she thought it was not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, she opted for a lovely horse-riding excursion on the beach (and deep in the water) with just two other people joining her and Mr. Bunny for the day. She organized it independently with a locally-run company so she also paid less than the cruise ship people who appeared on the same beach for the same ‘official’ activity later in the day. Given the rumoured steep percentage the cruise ships take of the excursion bookings, Bunny also bets that the local business kept more in its own pocket even from her less-expensive outing.

Image of Bunny in the Bahamas
Image of horse-riding
Image of an empty beach
Image of Bunny in a bar

Rule 8: Time Your Excursions Right.

If you have selected a popular spot, it is worth the effort to be there the first or last on the day. In Cayman Islands, Bunny knew she just had to visit the stingray city but she wanted to make it special, not a Disney experience. So she chose a private sailing tour, made sure she was one of the first people (bunnies) out of the ship, headed straight to the destination and had the luxury of almost an hour of exclusive swimming time with dozens of wild stingrays in a gorgeous setting. Then the hordes in their Make-America-Great-Again baseball hats arrived and Bunny sailed away to another spot for some quiet snorkeling. That unspoiled and private experience with the sail boat was the highlight of her cruise.

Rule 9: Do Not Try to Cram too Many Activities in One Port.

Leave some flexibility for the unexpected changes that are common when cruising. The ship might arrive late, or skip a port altogether, the weather may play havoc with your plans, there might be some sort of delay onboard etc. If your ship is due to be docked from 9am to 6pm, leave some breathing room to make sure you can make it to your excursion and back on time. There's always something to do at the port, be it shopping, eating or downing cocktails, if you don't feel like returning to the ship too early.

Image of an empty beach
Image of Nassau
Image of Bunny on a cruise ship

Rule 10: Make Sure You Know Your Time Zones.

You do not want to be waving to your cruise ship from the pier having missed the deadline for the ship's departure because the time on your phone was wrong. The cruise ship time and the time zone at the destination do not always correspond with each other. You will usually have a newsletter slid under your door overnight which will mention time zone (and safety) information at the day’s destination. It is always a good idea to double-check the timings with a ship steward when disembarking.

Rule 11: You Do Not Have to Leave the Ship.

Too many people feel obliged to leave the ship at every port of call. Feel free to remain behind, explore within the ship and enjoy its many pleasures. If there is nothing that interests you in a particular port, staying onboard offers some great options as well. The facilities onboard are often uncrowded, if not completely empty, and you can have some serious discounts at the spa or shops during the port stop. Take advantage of these opportunities and relax. There's no reason to run around like a headless chicken even if all the others are doing just that.

Image of a drink
Image of a drink
Image of a drink
Image of a drink
Image of a drink
Image of a drink
Image of a drink
Image of a drink

A number of onboard entertainment options

Wrap-up to Organising Your Own Cruise Shore Excursions

With Bunny's cruise ship excursion tips above, you are guaranteed to make the most of your cruise. As a bonus, your friends will be amazed by the steady stream of cool pics and videos on your social media feeds from one amazing excursion experience after another.