Excursions: Booking Through the Cruise Line or Independently?

Port excursions are a very important part of your cruise.   They are enriching and and can be the highlight of your holiday.  The thing is, the cruise line can only take you so far.  To get you to the land based destinations, (I.e. Think Glaciers in Alaska or the amazing Batu Caves in Malaysia) you’ll need to think about an excursion.

Considering you likely have only one, maybe two days in port, consider wisely.  Whatever you choose, research the destination first, and consider what you’d like to do.  If you like wine tasting for example, you might consider this type of excursion if you are in San Francisco, for example.

Whatever you do, you’ll be faced with the challenge of deciding who to book your excursions through.  Below, we will look at the differences between booking directly with the cruise line, vs booking separately.

Cruise Line Excursions

Pros:

  1. If you book an excursion directly with the cruise line it makes the process much easier. For example, they can offer you multiple choices and are usually knowledgable about each of the excursions.  This saves you time, vs doing it yourself, and it’s usually possible reserve your excursion way in advance via the cruise portal.
  2. The tours are usually provided by excellent operators that have been selected and vetted by the cruise lines. 
  3. You have a guarantee return – this is perhaps the most important.  If the excursion is late getting you back, the cruise line will be responsible to get you back on the ship! (Think about a bus or car breakdown, or traffic etc.
  4. It can be a great way to use on board credits.
  5. Refund policy is much easier – especially if the cruise line has to cancel for whatever reason (Think weather).  You might not be so lucky with an independent vendor.
  6. Excursion can usually be cancelled up to 48hours before, so it is worth to book them with the cruise line and cancel in case something better comes around.

Cons:

  1. They can be a bit more expensive than the ones booked independently. Some cruise lines, though, offer a best price guarantee. (Princess for example gives you 110% of the difference in form of onboard credits, I have done it several times and it works well).
  2. They can be a bit more crowded than the independent excursions.
  3. They also can be a little manufactured, sometimes the experience is not 100% authentic.  This is to ensure everyone is able to participate.
  4. And sometimes they include unnecessary stop to a gift shop or a local factory.  If this happens, and you’re not interested in the goods, make the best use of your time… Free washrooms and wifi are often provided 🙂
Paddle boarding in Southern California

Independent Excursions

Pros:

  1. They can be more customized. Some tour companies allow for a lot of customization.
  2. They can be less crowded or even private – as an example, you can even arrange a totally private tour.
  3. They often offer options that are not provided by the cruise line.
  4. It is possible to use local company that can offer a more authentic experience.

Cons:

  1. You’ll need to do your own research. Sometimes it is difficult to find a trusted guide especially in some areas of the world.
  2. English might be a challenge –  The cruise lines excursions have translators 🙂
  3. If the tour is late, the ship will leave without waiting for the missing passengers.
  4. They might not accept credit cards but cash only.

If the port of call is a big city, sometimes it is not necessary to book an excursion. You may be able to just walk off the ship, and in and around the city and explore.  Vancouver Canada is a perfect example of this.

Modern Cruise Ports also usually a representation from the tourism bureau and offer plenty of information on attractions and transportation.

In larger cities, we love to use the Hop On Hop Off bus  – have have used them in many ports of call (Barcelona, Singapore etc).

The Hop on Hop Off Bus is a great way to explore the major tourist attractions of a city, with narration, and get off anytime there’s a stop that peeks your interests. In almost every port of call, there is a Hop On Hop Off bus have a stop right by the cruise terminal. It’s possible to buy tickets on board, or in advance, online.

Hop On Hop Off Bus – Barcelona

The busses are double decker and they offer a great vantage point for photo taking.

If you are travelling to a beach destination like the Caribbean or Greek Islands and you just want to go to the beach, it’s usually not necessary to book an excursion.

Just jump on a taxi and ask the driver to take you to a good beach. Cruise lines offer beach excursions those are usually a little more upscale, most of the time in a nice beach resort and include lunch or snacks.

Grand Turk Cruise Port

Happy Cruising!

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