Shore Excursions – To Book or Not to Book?

Posted May 15th, 2012

One of the most frequently asked question we get in store is whether you should book shore excursions with the cruise line, with an independent tour operator, or not at all.  Not an easily answered question, it all depends on the budget and travel preferences.  We have put together some advantages and disadvantages for booking with your cruise line compared to doing an independent tour.

Booking with the Cruise Line:


  • Quality of service -Peace of mind knowing that when you book with the cruise line the quality of service is assured. They follow protocol, and cover all the necessities such as insurance, compliance, licensed and reputable.
  • Creative & Unique - Some Cruise Lines will put in the effort of creating creative, hands-on shore excursions to provide you a taste of being a local.
  • Deadlines - If your excursion is booked with the Cruise Ship and you find yourself running late or lost, the cruise ship will wait for you before they depart.
  • Local Knowledge - If you don't speak the local language or understand the local culture and customs, Cruise Line shore excursions are perfect. You'll know exactly what you are getting for your money.
  • Convenience - If the excursion is a long way from the port, transport can be arranged (sometimes at an extra cost) for you to get you there and back at the end of the day.
  • Book in advance - Some excursions can sell out, arranging it in advance means you are secured a spot when you arrive & the pressure is off when you arrive at the dock.
  • Make friends - You get to meet and socialise with other people on the cruise ship through doing excursions.
  • First-time cruiser - Booking with the cruise line is perfect for first time cruisers, as you may not know what to expect and how things work.


  • Cost - Sometimes Cruise Lines charge more than non-cruise related operators.
  • Large tour groups- Booking with cruise lines often means large tour groups and not seeing things at the full capacity as you'd normally like to.


Booking independently:


  • Save money - You may be able to book the same (or similar) tour to the one that is offered by the cruise line for a cheaper price.
  • Personalised service - Booking with a private tour operator guarantees a more in-depth, personalised service (due to smaller groups).
  • Flexibility - You have more control over what you see and where you go as well as how long you spend there.


  • You may get left behind - If you are delayed, and the cruise ship doesn't know where you are, they will leave you behind if you are not back in time for departure.  You will have to pay for your own way to the next port to meet the ship.
  • Lots of Preparation - You will have to do a lot of research to find a trusted, reliable tour company that offers value for money. Consider check their insurance, safety policies and check whether they are properly accredited.
  • Cancellations - You will be required to pre-book and pay in advance for private tours. However, there is no guarantee that the ship will stop at the destination. Bad weather, epidemics, may mean the cruise ship will have to re-route.


Not booking at all:

  • Build your own "Private Tour"  - If you are travelling in a small group it might be cheaper for you hire your own tour guide, or even catch a taxi at port.  This way you can tailor the tour to your taste and spend as much as you wish at each sight.  Tip:  Negotiate a flat rate for the day
  • Rent a car - If the attractions are far away from the port, consider renting a car and driving to the places you want to see. This way you get a true feel for being a local. Tip: Plan ahead, make sure you have a map/GPS system.
  • Use public transportation - Visit an information centre grab yourself a map and see the city on bus, tram or train. Tip: Research online before you visit the city to make sure you know where everything is and what buses to catch to save time.
  • Stick around at the port - Get a feel for the local scene by exploring on your own. Walk the streets around the port - shop, dine or simply relax as you embrace the atmosphere.
  • Take a hop on hop off bus tour - Ride a hop on hop off bus to visit the major sites. They provide local knowledge and stops at all the major attractions, where you can get off for a closer look and climb aboard the next bus.
  • Tour Operators Scouting - Sometimes you will find tour operators scouting for customers on the dock just after your ship arrives. You might be able to grab yourself a great bargain, but be aware of hidden costs.
Looking for more information on Cheap Cruises or Cruise holidays? Call a cruise holiday expert at a Cruiseabout store nationwide on 0800 22 11 14.

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