How to book shore excursions for your cruise


So you've decided you deserve to pamper yourself. You book a cruise vacation and join the millions that savor luxury cruises each year!  After all, one of the advantages of a cruise is that once purchased, you've pretty much got your vacation paid for, right?  Not so fast!

There are a few all-inclusive cruise vacations, like Regent Cruises, that includes shore excursions and beverages onboard. For the most part, however, cruise guests will end up spending quite a bit on their cruise vacation, over and above the cost of the cruise itself. Some mainstream cruise lines make more money from onboard purchases than they do from what they charge guests to get onboard.

While some cruise lines include alcohol and beverages on board, most do not. Depending on your thirst levels, that can be a significant add-on. (Yes, you can buy bottles of liquor onboard duty-free to take home, but you'll pay competitive prices for consuming drinks onboard.) Then there are optional fitness classes, spa treatments, the gift shop and jewelry store. But the item that's often the biggest add-on to a cruise vacation is shore excursions -- those trips one takes when your luxury cruise ship is in port.

All cruise lines offer their own shore excursions, and they mark up the cost. That's not unreasonable, because they offer guests some benefits. First is the convenience of booking and charging it to your onboard account. Second is taking the responsibility for making sure the excursion is of a certain quality and provides a satisfaction to guests. This includes air conditioned and clean coaches and bona fide guides. Third is legal liability -- working with suppliers that have proper insurance. All of this can be worth a small premium.

Of course, you don't have to book the cruise lines' shore excursions. You can wing it on your own.  There are also other options to booking the cruise line's shore excursions.  You can, of course, go online and find what options are available in a port of call, and take your chances.  But what if the cruise ship has to cancel the port of call due to weather?  Or is delayed?  Will you get a refund? You're in port for several hours -- are you willing to risk booking what may be a poor experience to save a few bucks?

You can also ask our cruise travel agents about what private shore excursions we can book for you.  Many of the suppliers we work with worldwide offer shore excursions for cruise ship travelers.  These are reputable companies, and they may offer some advantages.

Unlike most cruise excursions that are operated on large motor coaches with 50 or so travelers onboard them, we can arrange excursions by private car or van for a couple or small group traveling together.  (We can also book alternative group shore excursions at lower cost.) The advantages are a more personal experience, a customized experience, and more efficient use of your limited time in port.  Typically a private car for two persons will cost more than two seats on a 50-seat motorcoach. But for a family or small group of 4, the cost may be less or competitive with what a cruise line charges for a comparable trip on which there can be 50 or more guests. If you vacation with children, you may also find the best family cruise is one on which shore excursions are pre-planned and pre-arranged.

Our cruise travel agency specializes in arranging customized excursions for our cruise guests.  In fact, we suggest you try to arrange at least one such private excursion on your next cruise vacation.  We think it might be the most memorable excursion you take.  Keep in mind on some luxury cruises like Silversea Cruises and Seabourn cruises, we already include a private car and driver in a port of call.

Let us know if you've experienced a private shore excursion, or what your best experiences ashore have been while on a cruise vacation.