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PORTS OF CALL: Cruise Ship Excursions Versus Your Own Excursions

Updated on February 8, 2015
PORTS OF CALL Cruise Ship Excursions Versus Your Own Excursions
PORTS OF CALL Cruise Ship Excursions Versus Your Own Excursions | Source

Here's What I Think About Cruise Ship Excursions

Cruise Ship Excursions are definitely an important part of cruising for most people. However, taking the excursions offered by the ship is not the only way to see your ports of call.

If you are planning a cruise in the near future, I know you are trying to determine what to do. Will you take the cruise ship excursions offered by the ship or will you make your own arrangements for the ports of call?

My family enjoyed a beautiful northern Europe and Baltic cruise this summer and we mixed it up. That is, we booked some cruise excursions and we planned some of our own excursions. We visited nine ports of call, when you add the port we set sail in and the port we disembarked in. That meant we visited a total of nine ports. We took five excursions offered by Holland America and we visited four of the ports on our own.

Each method of seeing the ports has obvious pros and cons and I spent a considerable amount of time researching each and every port, what there was to do there and how hard or easy it was to do so on our own. With four of us travelling, it was immediately obvious that we could save a bundle if we could do our own tours. But would we have as great an experience if we did everything on our own?

The discussion on this page is about the pros and cons of taking shore excursions organized by the cruise lines. You will have the opportunity to voice your opinion on the subject. If you have had some good or some bad experiences, make sure to let us know and whatever you do, don't be shy about sharing your thoughts. They will help make this page better for future readers and future cruise ship travellers!

Click here to buy this vintage-style cruise ship poster from Amazon.

The Pros of Cruise Line Shore Excursions

  1. You have the opportunity to see and learn about the port city you are visiting. Even when en route to a specific location, the guide fills you in on the port's history and on the surroundings. We went to a Russian folklore presentation one evening, on the way we had a wonderful and unexpected guided tour of Russia!
  2. Food will often be arranged for you on longer tours. We had three excursions that included food. The food was of an acceptable standard and served at a relatively clean facility. In some countries, this may make your visit more comfortable.
  3. If something goes wrong while you are on your excursion, the cruise line will be responsible for making sure you get back to the ship. (Often by delaying the departure.) This provides peace of mind for many people.
  4. A cruise line's shore excursions will meet a standard of comfort and cleanliness. This means that tour buses will be fairly clean and comfortable although sometimes not quite up to North American standards. We were quite pleased with the buses our excursions offered although one return trip was a bit too warm. We had read that the air conditioning might be less than we expected and I would say that proved accurate in one instance. However, it was probably the only time air conditioning was needed on our European cruise.
  5. The companies a cruise line deals with are contracted to meet local regulations and to carry liability insurance.
  6. Tours are done by English speaking guides. Our guides all spoke English and most of them were pretty good. We had one guide whose we struggled to understand. It was her way of speaking that made listening to her difficult, especially once we were tired.
  7. Your tour will be planned according to the schedule of your ship.
  8. You may not have to do any research on your ports of call. (Although if you want to know about what you might be missing, you might want to do some research.)

The Cons of Cruise Line Shore Excursions

  • Cruise line shore excursions are expensive and the best ones are very expensive.
  • Cruise line shore excursions can cost more than the cost of doing the same itinerary on your own.
  • You will be travelling with a large group of people that you do not know of varying ages and abilities. Our 'limited-size' excursions had between about 25 and 50. The first size was not too bad but often two tour groups were put together and then it was uncomfortable and sometimes impossible for everyone to hear the guide.
  • Food, when included, will be of an acceptable nature. However, you will be served a planned meal with no choice. In accepting this limited option, you may miss the opportunity to visit some real local food spots. For lunches, with cruise excursions, we experienced salad or soup, a chicken dish and ice cream served with wine and water. However, when we did our private tour of Berlin, our guide took us to a wonderful local restaurant where the food was amazing and we were the only tourists. I don't think we will ever forget that meal.
  • You have no control over what you see and do or when you stop.
  • You must follow the schedule of the tour.

Frommer's Cruises and Ports of Call

Frommer's takes the knowledge of more than 175 travelers and puts it together in a single book which features 16 pages of color photos, a foldout map and lots of opinions, prices and itineraries. This guide will help you choose the cruise that is right for you. I love all of the Frommer's guides that I have had occasion to use. This one is no exception. This one covers cruises from U.S. ports to the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Bermuda, and Canada. You can read about dining, activities, children's activities, entertainment, service, overall enjoyment, and overall value and enjoy Frommer's rating system which ranges from poor to outstanding.

Amazon Customer Review

Amazon customer Andrea Payne buys this book each year to plan her cruise. She finds that it gives the best information on the ships and great recommendations for excursions. She makes a valid point when she says that she would rather pay the affordable price for this book than find out the hard way that an excursion is not particularly great.

Click here to order

Frommer's Cruises & Ports of Call

from Amazon.

Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships

Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2013
Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2013

This complete guide to cruising is divided into three parts. The first section shares text and pictures of the cruise experience, which is aimed at helping you decide on what type of cruise, what cruise line and the size of the ship you should choose. The second section includes reviews of every major cruise ship, large to small, luxury to budget. The last section gives basic information on booking, budgeting, etiquette and safety.

 

Things To Think About When Booking Shore Excursions

  1. Ask lots of questions before you book the tour and make sure to pay close attention to the physical ability needed to enjoy a tour.
  2. Make sure to book your excursions as soon as you can as some excursions do sell out quickly. We had one tour that we were interested in that did sell out so this does happen.
  3. If you decide to do some ports on your own and you book with a private company, make sure you learn about their cancellation and refund policies. Consider what will happen if the ship changes your plans. We were 15 minutes late for one private guide tour. That was not a big deal but it does mean that, although we had left enough time to get from the ship to the tour, it was not enough when the shipped docked 15 minutes late.
  4. Tour guides and drivers often are tipped although this is not mandatory.
  5. Make sure you get the most of your days ashore. They can be wonderful opportunities!

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What have your cruise excursion experiences been like? - Do you prefer cruise excursions or doing your own thing?

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    • TreasuresBrenda profile image
      Author

      Treasures By Brenda 4 years ago from Canada

      @anonymous: I agree with what you have said and it is a caution to consider but I also know that some ports lend themselves readily to exploration on your own, which can bring great rewards.We hired a reputable tour company in Germany for a private tour of Berlin, which focused on what we were interested in seeing and we ate lunch in a restaurant where the German people eat -- without a tourist in sight -- and once the cost was divided by the six passengers involved, we spent less per person than on a comparable cruise ship excursion.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      As an avid Royal Caribbean cruiser, I prefer their excursions, although they are a little pricey they are worth every penny and you have the peace of mind that the ship will never leave you behind. If you take your own tour make sure you get to port on time or you will say goodbye to your vacation!!!

    • profile image

      flipflopju 5 years ago

      I'm trying to decide right now which way I'll go.

    • profile image

      Lindrus 5 years ago

      Thanks for an interesting lens, making a good comparison.

    • profile image

      indiavacationplans 6 years ago

      I was enjoying your lens very much, very detailed and hard work. Place worth visiting :)

    • Amy Fricano profile image

      Amy Fricano 6 years ago from WNY

      dusted, kissed, just a yummy debate, blessed

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 6 years ago

      Nice debate here! Although I had to go with prepared excursions, I can see the benefit of doing your own thing. Dusted with a bit of AngelDust!

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 6 years ago from Scotland

      I just dont think a cruise is for me however my neighbour goeas every year, and just loves it all

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Just the word "cruise" is fun and exciting - like your lens :) If you know anyone that struggles with stress anxiety fears take a peek at phobiasfears My holiday cruise is fast approaching and even the fun stuff comes with a little anxiety. LOL

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      When I went on a Caribbean cruise, I did my own thing at each port. We only had a few hours, but it was enough time to have a great meal and walk around the city. As a rule, I enjoy structured tours, but on small islands, it was just fun to mingle with the locals. Blessed by a Squid Angel.

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 8 years ago from Lancaster PA

      How bout a Squidoo Learning Cruise??Sounds like fun!!!

    • profile image

      bdkz 8 years ago

      Great lens!

    • profile image

      Joan4 8 years ago

      I have not taken a cruise yet, but enjoyed your discussion of excursions. I will re-read this when I do plan a cruise - which we have talked about for years.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 8 years ago from USA

      Fun topic!

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 8 years ago

      I have never done a cruise yet, but I hear from others they are wonderful! Maybe one day I'll break down and give it a go.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I prefer a cruise excursion! Great lens :)

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      I have never been on a cruise so I can't offer an opinion on this. Someday I hope to take an Alaskan cruise. Sounds like your family had a wonderful time.

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 8 years ago

      Great info!