What to know about cruise excursions

Wed, 08/01/2020 - 2:44pm
Read Time: 4.0 mins

One of the best parts of cruising is arriving at a new and exciting destination. But what do you need to consider when deciding how to make use of your limited time in port? We have some tips to help get the best out of shore excursions.

A big part of the joy of cruising is spending time in a ‘floating resort’, with movie theatres, spa facilities, pools, entertainment, restaurants and cafes just a few short steps from your cabin or lounger. It’s the ultimate break, where you don’t need to get into a car or pack up a million things in order to enjoy a variety of leisure activities. While this is lovely, an equally attractive part of cruising is discovering new destinations. So you may have to drag yourself away from the facials, cocktails, shows and films every so often to see what’s going on in port. Enter the shore excursion, a great way to help you get the most out of your cruise experience.

While some luxury ocean and river boat cruises include excursions – Regent Seven Seas has a huge selection of included ones, and Avalon River Cruises include a range of excursions every day at no extra cost – many cruise lines keep them as paid extras so people can be flexible with what they do. If you haven’t cruised before it can be a bit of an information overload so here are some tips to help you navigate and make the best decisions for your situation.

Sightseeing in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Getty Images

Research, research, research

If you have never been to a particular port before, do some serious online research beforehand. What are the must-sees? What takes your fancy in that area? What have your friends visited in the past and really enjoyed? How close is the actual port to the nearest tourist attractions or big city and is there regular public transport to and from? Auckland’s port is right in the centre of things but others, especially in Europe, can be an hour plus by bus from the nearest city. This is all good information to have before you even look at possible shore excursions provided by your cruise line, as it puts you in the picture of what tourists usually do when visiting that area.

A cruise ship arriving in Venice, Italy. Photo:Getty Images

Book in advance for anything you really want to do


Most cruise companies will give you the option to book shore excursions online weeks before you even set foot on the ship, so definitely do this if there is something you really have your heart set on. For anything else you might want to leave decisions till you get on board and get more of a feel for things. Everyone talks about the shore excursions and you can find out a lot from passengers who have visited those ports before. They will be able to tell you whether it’s one of those places where just getting off and having a walk around is enough, or whether you’re better to do a shore excursion to see as much as possible. Onboard staff are also a great source of information as they often get off in those ports regularly and understand the logistics of getting around.

Passengers returning to their ship in Ephesus, Turkey. Photo: Getty Images

Assess the port faster and fit more into your day

Every cruise – and every port – has its own charms, and its own challenges – if you're wanting to see all the main historic sites of Rome in a day, that’s quite different to a light lunch and a stroll around Mount Maunganui when your ship is docked at Tauranga. Some stops are easy to navigate independently with a good pair of walking shoes and the Uber app – in tiny Monte Carlo, for example, almost everything is a short (albeit hilly) walk from the ship. When it comes to other ports, however, you’ll find they’re much better explored on a shore excursion as you can pack a lot in and not have to worry about getting caught in traffic or losing your way. Shore excursions can also come into their own because you will often get priority disembarking the ship, which means you will get more time to explore than if you were doing your own thing. And not only will you be able to fit more into your day, but some shore excursion may also give you quicker access to busy places where you usually have to queue to get in, so it’s a win win!

Check out the detail

When booking on board, check out all the nitty gritty details of the excursion, for example how much time you will be walking around exploring versus how much time you will be spending on a coach. This can make a huge difference, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s also worth checking out online cruise forums to find first-hand experiences of various shore excursions.

Shore excursions are definitely worth doing, depending on the port and the country. If it’s a bucket list experience, or a port where languages and customs could really be a headache, don’t hesitate to splash out on one – it could save you a tonne of haggling and worrying if you’re being ripped off. But do your research first, and know that sometimes – especially in an “easy” port – you might be just as happy poking around by yourself, knowing the ship is simple to get back to before that all-important departure time.

Alexia Santamaria

Alexia Santamaria is a freelance writer for the NZ Herald, Metro, Next and others, focusing primarily on food and travel. Her past includes two years living in Narita, Japan, one year in London and another in Glasgow. She now calls Auckland home.