Cruise lines offer various cruise shore excursions at all ports of call. This way passengers are able to explore new regions. However, before choosing a cruise shore excursion, vacationers should investigate the options and verify that the trip will be appropriate to their abilities and interests, as well that it is worth the added expense. If no particular shore excursion is appealing, guetsts are welcome to debark the vessel and explore the destination on their own, without guided expertise.

The following review is integrated with 39 Cruise Tips and Tricks for the Best Cruise Vacation.

Cruise Shore Excursions Types

Contemporary cruise vessels always offer a variety of cruise shore excursions for different interests and ability levels. Most lines feature similar, even identical shore trips, and similar excursions may be available at different call ports during the same voyage.

Sample cruise shore excursions include:

  • Local attractions: museums, resorts, wineries, botanical gardens, zoos, plantations (possibly with cultural performances/food sampling)
  • Guided historical tours in buses, or walking/biking
  • Adventure tours with jeeps, ATVs, jet skis
  • Sports experiences: hiking, golfing, kayaking, regatta sailing
  • Horseback riding on beaches/through wildlife preserves/historical ruins
  • Snorkeling and scuba diving with instructors
  • Jungle canopy tours featuring zip line or similar ropes course features
  • Glass-bottom boat/submarine tours to view shallow sunken wrecks or reefs
  • Wildlife encounters: swimming with dolphins; interacting with other marine life like stingrays or sea lions; whale watching
  • Helicopter tours of ruins, glaciers, or other isolated sites
  • Party tours: beach breaks, pub crawls, cruises
  • Shopping tours.

Cruise shore excursions vary depending on how long the ship will be docked at a particular port and its itinerary.

  • Time: Cruise shore excursions range in duration. Visits to single attractions close to port or short historical tours may only take an hour (or even less), while more adventurous trips may take several hours or even a whole day. If a scheduled cruise shore excursion runs behind schedule travelers do not need to fear about being left behind. The majority of shore trips are scheduled for specific times, either to accommodate multiple groups or take advantage of attractions' operational hours in the most efficient manner. Some are "at your leisure," meaning that guests can begin and end the cruise shore excursion at their convenience.
  • Activity Level: Cruise shore excursions are often rated by activity level. Guests with limited abilities should take these ratings into consideration when choosing trips. Ratings specify if there is a lot of walking and how strenuous the walk may be. Any particular experience may also be necessary (like scuba certification. This information will be available before passengers choose their tours in order informed decisions to be made.
  • Cost: The prices of cruise shore excursion range greatly depending on the tour's nature. Cultural or historical tours that involve a guide and air-conditioned vehicle may cost just US$30-40 per person, while wildlife encounters - well over US$100. The most expensive trips are also usually those that take the longest and include lengthy transportation away from port. For example, helicopter tours or Mayan ruin tours out of Cozumel, requiring transportation to mainland. These types of cruise shore excursions can cost US$150 or even more per person. All shore trip prices are in addition to cruise fare, and guests should budget accordingly if they want to experience multiple tours throughout their voyage. The cost of a cruise shore excursion is typically added to guests' onboard ship accounts, though some lines offer prepayment options for booking prior to sailing.

Cruise shore excursions

What is and what is not included in cruise shore excursions?

When cruisers purchase a shore excursion, its cost includes several items in addition to the activity. Transportation is provided to and from the excursion site (via a bus or boat). Guides will be available from gangway to offer directions. Specialized equipment like snorkeling gear may also be provided (the excursion description will note if it's not). Many cruise shore excursions provide free drinks and light refreshments and that will also be noted in the description. Photographs and souvenirs are not typically included in prices. Rentals like storage lockers may also not be included. "Extras" (pellets to feed fish while snorkeling) cost a minimal additional fee. Tips are not included in the prices of cruise shore excursions, but they are welcomed and even occasionally solicited. 

Cruise Shore Excursions Availability

Cruise shore excursions availability depends on several factors. The most popular tours are accessible by nearly all cruisers (mainstream attractions, cultural tours, etc.) and have multiple times for tours in order to accommodate many guests, though desirable times sell out quickly. Cruise shore excursions that take extraordinary lengths of time are often quite limited and sell out quickly. Larger lines feature pre-booking options on their websites, and savvy cruisers will research and book tours prior to sailing to avoid preferred choices being sold out.

How to Purchase a Cruise Shore Excursion

Different lines offer different ways for purchasing a cruise shore excursion. Modern ships offer online booking up to several days prior to departure - guests can examine various tour options at their leisure time several weeks before their sailing and decide which option is most appealing. In order to book a cruise shore excursion online, be sure to have all your relevant cruise information available: ship name, sailing date, reservation number, etc. If you cannot locate the needed information on your tickets, your cruise travel agent will provide it. 

Purchasing cruise shore excursions after boarding the ship is a more stressful situation. The shore excursion desk is ready to answer questions and reserve shore tours from the moment passengers start boarding - they can pick up a copy of available cruise shore excursions from that desk, but there is likely to be one in each stateroom. Excursion times and prices will be listed, and passengers have the option to choose preferred times or alternates. Once the reservation sheet is turned in to the ship's tour desk, the excursion specialists input the bookings and assign cruise shore tours. For the best selection it's recommended that cruisers reserve tours as quickly as possible. However, for longer cruises multiple tours often remain available throughout the sailing for later ports of call. 

After you reserve a cruise shore excursion, the tickets for it will be delivered to your cabin. Frequently this will happen within hours of reservation, though for later call ports the reservations desk may hold on until the evening before the trip.

What to Carry on Cruise Shore Excursions?

Knowing what you need to carry around on cruise shore excursions can help you plan a great vacation where you will not miss a minute of the excitement at different destinations. Also read our Cruise Packing Tips

Some passengers prefer to carry around very little, while others need to be prepared for more remote situations so nothing can potentially harm their trip. Whatever you wish to bring, being prepared will help you explore new cultures in a fun and exciting way.

What you have to do first is to understand what type of cruise shore excursion you will be taking. Before booking the tour, read the description and note the type of transportation, estimated exertion level, age/weight requirements, and other recommendations. Consult with the tour booking desk onboard or ask the shore tour expert if you have any questions about the appropriateness of the tours. 

Different cruise shore excursions have different requirements. Water-based trips, for example, may recommend that vacationers bring appropriate footwear or a beach towel, while a relaxed shopping tour may require just spending money.

Cruise Shore Excursions Essentials

Essential items that passengers have to bring no matter what cruise shore excursion they take include the following:

  • Tickets: Tour operators collect the tickets issued by the line. Passengers without a ticket won't be allowed to take part in the shore trip.
  • Cruise Ship ID Card: As a security precaution, every vacationer must bring his/her ID card when leaving the ship. The ID card will be required when reentering port area in order to return to ship.
  • Photo ID: A government issued ID, driver's license or passport are required to pass security in foreign countries and be allowed back into port area. Different countries require different forms of identification, so before traveling passengers should check current requirements.

Cruise Shore Excursions Extras

Though very little is required to have a good time during a shore excursion, most cruisers take along extra supplies like:

  • Don't forget bottled water to stay hydrated, especially on hot days or during sports excursions
  • Emergency contact information for the cruise line/cruise travel agent, family members
  • Sunscreen for longer cruise shore excursions or those spending most time in the sun
  • Sunglasses and a hat for eye and skin protection
  • Bug spray for visiting river areas or jungle
  • Camera with film, batteries and memory cards
  • Beach towels or dry clothes for water-based excursions
  • Cash for shopping, tour operators' tips or charges like renting lockers
  • Essential medications for health conditions/potential problems like headaches or nausea
  • Small snacks such as a piece of fruit or candy to stay refreshed
  • A foreign language dictionary/phrasebook suitable to the destination
  • Port maps which highlight tour meeting areas/recommended shopping locations
  • The daily cruise newsletter including information on re-embarkation requirements/ship departure times
  • Weather-appropriate attire like an umbrella for rainy days/a jacket for evening cruise shore excursions.

Consider a sturdy bag that can serve as a tote for your souvenirs in case you opt to take various supplies for the excursion. Backpacks or canvas bags are convenient and lightweight options.

What Not to Bring for Cruise Shore Excursions

  • Large Sums of Cash: Using cash for purchases onshore can be more convenient, but passengers who expect expensive bargains should use credit cards instead to guard their cash. Have in mind that small merchants may be unable to offer change for very large bills.
  • Weapons: For security reasons, no knives, firearms, or other weapons/potentially dangerous items may be taken on cruise shore excursions.
  • Alcohol: Many port authorities do not permit passengers to bring alcoholic drinks off the cruise ship.
  • Poor Attitude: All travelers should remember that while on a cruise shore excursion, they are simply guests in a foreign country. An attitude of disdain or superiority is unwelcome and can make the tour much less pleasant. Especially problematic vacationers may be removed from the cruise shore excursion without refunds.

Cruise Shore Excursion Safety

All cruise shore excursions endorsed by your cruise line and offered aboard the ship have been approved and fully inspected by the cruise company, but they are operated independently by local experts. For more adventurous tours like snorkeling, scuba diving, canopy adventures, etc., passengers may have to sign a liability waiver before proceeding on the tour. If passengers obey the guides' instructions and behave in responsible ways, risks are minimized. On any shore excursion, kids should be carefully monitored. Passengers should alert the guide if anything unexpected occurs.

Cruise shore excursions are an integral part of cruise experience and a great way to safely explore various ports of call. From golfing in Grand Cayman and historical bus rides to waterfall climbing in Jamaica and jungle canopy tours, cruise shore excursions range from relaxed to vigorous and every passenger will find the perfect trip to enhance their vacation.