How to Plan Your Own Shore Excursions on a Cruise.
So you’ve booked your cruise. The next step is to look in more detail at the ports your ship will be calling at and decide whether you will take the ship’s tours or plan your own excursions. The option is yours and will depend on a variety of factors.
Before you leave home your cruise ship will provide you with a detailed and comprehensive list of the shore excursions they offer at every port of call, including the duration of the tour and the price. It is well worth having a good look through these and deciding which tours appeal to you the most. You can then decide whether to book the ship’s tour or plan your own.
The main advantages and disadvantages of a cruise ship tour are:-
A). You are given priority on getting off the ship to take the tour. This is especially important if you are at a tender port as getting on and off the ship on tenders takes a lot of time.
B). If for any reason your tour group is delayed returning to the port at the specified departure time, the ship will wait for you. It won’t wait if you are doing your own thing and you will have to make your own arrangements to meet up with the ship at the next port! Always remember to take the ship’s contact phone number at each port in case of emergency.
The ships emphasize this fact in promoting their tours, but on the ten or so cruises we've been on, we've never heard of anyone being left behind for returning late after a cruise. Some of the larger private tour operators offer a guarantee to get you back on the ship in time or they will cover the expenses of getting you to the next port (ShoreTrips.com)
C). If the tourist site is quite a way from the port e.g. Rome, the ship’s tour will usually get you there quicker than public transport. If you want to spend the majority of your time at the actual destination rather than a lot of time traveling, a ship’s tour might be your best option.
D). Do book early for any trips that are extremely important to you, so you don’t miss out. You don’t want to have your heart set on a particular tour only to find that it’s booked out.
E). Usually, the ship’s tours are more expensive than doing them on your own, but remember you don’t have to do a thing! Everything is organized and taken care of for you. No hours on the internet doing research and planning. Just pack your water bottle, sun hat, and little backpack and off you go!
The ship will use only licensed and reputable tour operators. Recently cruise lines have started to offer some very unique and different tour experiences that may be difficult to duplicate on your own.
However, a lot of people prefer to organize their own excursions. The advantages and disadvantages of doing your own tours are:
1. Some people don’t want to be herded on a bus where one of the couple, the one in the aisle seat, will have a limited view out the bus window, have no control over where they go, and whom they go with.
2. Many tours include a stop for lunch and the Bag Carrier and I resent the time spent eating MORE food (last thing we need on a cruise!) instead of spending our precious time at a location we may never get the chance to see again. Or even worse, the tour may stop and spend time at souvenir shops! Be wary of this too if you're planning your own excursions. Check out the reviews.
3. Private tours with your own car and guide will let you decide where to go and how long to spend there and allows you to avoid the big groups on the ships tours and the frustrations associated with that.
4. If you are on a tight budget, planning your own tour is often much more economical, BUT will require you doing some research before you leave home.
Here's how to plan your own shore excursions.
Firstly, the things you will need to research are-
Where is the cruise port in relation to the city center or tour locations of interest?
Can you walk from the dock to the city?
Does the cruise or the port provide a shuttle bus and is it free or how much is it?
Where will it drop you?
Make a list, in order of priority, of the tourist spots you want to see? Can you walk to them from the port or will you need transport? If so, what transport is available, and can you access a timetable and price online. Would booking a local tour through a local tour operator be a more practical option?
A hop on / hop off bus is often a popular choice in the bigger cities, but check out how many ships will be in port on the day you will be there? If there are large numbers of tourists in port, the buses will usually be crowded. You may have to wait longer than expected at get-on and off points, and you do need to ensure that you will get back to the port in time to catch the ship! I still have vivid memories of the Bag Carrier and I racing through the streets of Barcelona to only just make it back to the ship on time. Very stressful!
Walking tours in large cities are also a popular option. Check to see where they leave from and return to in relation to the port, and how long they take. Walking tours are a favorite option of the Bag Carrier and myself in the big cities.
Would a rental car be a good option to get to your chosen location? If so, you will need to research what is available, driving conditions e.g, which side of the road will you be driving on and will you be comfortable if it not your usual side of the road and the cost. If you are a family group or traveling with another couple or have befriended others on board, this can be a good practical economical option. Just make sure you all have the same plans. We got caught out in Kusadasi. We shared a taxi to the amazing Ephesus Greek ruins with four other people off the ship but they decided to return to the ship after just an hour or so at the site. We wanted to spend as much time as possible there seeing all we could and decided to stay and had to make our own way back. A taxi for two was much more expensive than a taxi for six.
If you're going to be visiting any location where there might be huge queues to get entry, check to see if the tour group gets priority entry. Your time is very precious on port days and if you can avoid waiting for hours in queues that is a real plus.
Sometimes you may just feel like getting off the ship at the port and making decisions then and there, or wandering around at your leisure. Most ports of call will have some kind of tourist information available when you arrive on the wharf. There is usually a tourist information set up with maps and a kiosk selling tours on the spot. Often there will be freelance taxis or vans offering tours and you can negotiate a price.
There is a great deal of information online regarding independent tour operators and usually, you can track down reviews of them online too!
Here are some websites that can help you plan your own excursions:-
A good place to start to check out the most popular tours and attractions worldwide.
Promise to return you to the ship on time
A website offering a huge amount of tours and offering low price guarantees. (A Trip Advisor Company)
Connecting travelers with local guides worldwide
If you're traveling in Europe download - telegraph.co.uk/travelapp - gives guides to many European cities and a wide range of other locations and has GPS mapping.
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So Many Places! So Little Time!