A cruise is quite possibly the most perfect of all vacations. Think of pampered relaxation, top-notch fun and entertainment and outstanding food. But don’t forget an equally important component that makes cruise vacations so memorable – shore excursions. The number and type of shore excursions are limited only by the cruise itinerary itself. But don’t let an overabundance of options paralyze you. Here are some tips to help you choose “a shore thing.”
You probably selected your cruise based on the itinerary, so you already have an idea of what you want to see and do. Surf your cruise line’s website to investigate the excursions offered on your sailing. Read through the details. Determine your budget. Decide which days you might like to simply relax – perhaps you’ve already been to a particular city and would rather take an opportunity to enjoy your ship’s comforts while the crowds are ashore.
A guiding light. Some cruise lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises for example, offer up to 23 free guided shore excursions in addition to the ones they charge for. Other ocean cruise lines – Oceania and Silversea to name two – charge extra. River cruise lines such as AMA Waterways, Avalon Waterways and Viking River Cruises generally offer free guided tours daily as well as some optional tours. Cruise line-sponsored shore excursions include transportation and are guaranteed to be led by knowledgeable, English-speaking guides. Choices run the gamut from inexpensive, such as walking around the port area or taking public transportation to a sightseeing landmark; to lower-cost options such as a guided tour of the major attractions; to costly adventures such as hiking, helicopter rides, ziplining, and even overnight off-ship experiences. Perhaps the most important benefit of a ship-sponsored tour is that the ship will wait for you if your group is delayed in returning from the outing. But be careful. Taking a guided tour at every port can raise your onboard bill very quickly.
Be safe and get smart. It’s perhaps not the best idea to roam around third world countries without a guide, or countries with a visible military presence. Areas in South America, especially the jungle, are almost impossible to navigate without a reliable guide. If you appear uncomfortable on trains and buses or in crowded cities, you may want to be on the lookout for pickpockets. Local guides are most helpful in countries where customs and language are wildly different from your own. In many cases, tour groups bypass the lines to enter museums and other attractions ahead of singles waiting to purchase entry. And of course, nothing beats a well-informed guide to help make each stop an opportunity to learn something
Walk or ride? Places like Berlin, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg are flat and walkable. Cobblestone streets in cities such as Venice are quaint but can hinder mobility, and places like Santorini or Cinque Terre can be more difficult for some travelers. Decide what you can physically handle and determine if a bus tour is a better alternative than trying to navigate a port city on your own. On Caribbean islands, it’s often a simple process to walk from the pier to local shopping, or hail a cab to the nearest beach for some fun in the sun. In Monte Carlo, the castle and casino are within walking distance of some ships, Oceania for example. In Stockholm, the cruise port is smack in the middle of downtown! As you disembark your ship, you might find bus stops close to the pier, taxis queued up and waiting, or kiosks with walking maps available. Even in larger cities like Barcelona or London, you can get around town and see the major sights with a hop-on/hop-off tour bus pass. But in some cities, Athens, Rome and Florence, for example, the “places to see” are farther from the port and could be difficult to get to using public transportation. In that case, the cost of a guided tour might outweigh the hassle of trying to find your way there and back.
It’s personal. Maybe what you want to see simply isn’t on the list of offered excursions. Maybe you’d rather mingle with locals than traipse with tourists. Personal preference should be a major motivator in your selection. Remember, it’s YOUR vacation.
Go native. An alternative to cruise tours is a local tour company. Many local outfits advertise on the Internet and can be reserved in advance. Most offer English-speaking guides, comfortable transportation and reasonable prices. This is a great option if you want the advantages of a group tour but want to customize your sightseeing; many local tour companies will help you create a made-to-order itinerary with as few travelers as… well, just the 2 of you! We at Key Traveler can help “guide” you to the best and most reputable tour companies for your wants and needs.
Do your own thing. You always have the option of foregoing a guided tour altogether and simply wandering around on your own. Many unexpected surprises can be found this way, and for sure, it’s a better way to soak up local color. Our well-traveled staff at Key Traveler can give you insights and advice to make the most of your time on shore.