7 Smart Ways to Book Cruise Excursions
So, you have a cruise coming up, and you have NO idea where to find trusted shore excursion providers. How do you book safe, reliable activities in port on your cruise? Should you book ONLY with the cruise line, OR are there fail-safe ways to book on your own?
These are some of the cruise excursion questions our subscribers ask time after time, for good reason! It’s HARD to find trusted, vetted shore day activities blindly. In this article, we’ll share 7 SMART ways to confidently book cruise excursions! Whether you’re visiting Alaska, the Caribbean, or destinations abroad, we’ve got you covered!
New here? Welcome!!!
I’m Sheri with cruiseTipstv.com, and I’ll answer these questions and more in this article! Through over 20 years of experience planning cruises and excursions, I help travelers with cruise planning, packing, and destination tips so YOU can create YOUR dream cruise!
Let’s Do This!
There are LOTS Of ways to book shore excursions, and there’s nothing wrong with booking directly with the cruise line. But sometimes, you may not find what you’re looking for, or you may be ready to find a less expensive and less crowded way to explore the ports you’re visiting. If that’s you, we’re going to help you out with 7 smart ways to book your own cruise excursions.
1. Research excursions sites
A good place to start getting an idea of what you’d like to do in port is to research sites like TripAdvisor and Viator. On these sites, you can see what types of activities are available, how much it costs, and what types of ratings each activity gets. You could book your excursions right on these sites, and many people do, but most experienced cruisers take it a few steps further to narrow down their shore excursion options. So let’s talk about how to do that.
2. Search YouTube
If you’re a visual person, a great way to research cruise excursions is to check out YouTube videos. For example, you can go to YouTube and type something as simple as “Cozumel excursions” into the search bar, or try search terms that use the word “port” or “activities” following the destination. Sometimes, the person who uploaded the video will tell you the name of the tour company or list it in the description of this video. This can be a great way to find current, trusted, shore excursion providers. Be sure to check the descriptions in these videos because many times you can find direct links to services mentioned in the video.
3. Join Facebook Groups
Once you book your cruise – if you have a Facebook account, you may be able to join a Facebook group that acts as a virtual roll call for your cruise. To find your group, navigate to groups, then type in your cruise ship name and sailing date. For example – you might type “Wonder of the Seas January 19”. Sometimes, more than one group will pop up, and that means there are multiple groups for your sailing. Join them all!
Once you’re accepted into the Facebook group (there are usually some screening questions), you’ll be able to interact with other people booked on your exact voyage. In these roll calls, people booked on your cruise will get to know one other before the cruise, share information about their plans in port and onboard, and ask questions.
This is a great, informal way to find out what others are up to and to vet shore excursion providers. You may even find that members of your Facebook group will book shared excursions to save money. We love this tactic for those looking for safety in numbers, and for solo and single travelers. It’s a great way to meet other people, and make new friends from all over the world. Some people have really good luck with finding shore excursion ideas in their Facebook groups, but for others, it requires more research.
4. Search Message Boards
For a deeper, and perhaps more anonymous look at what other excursions cruisers have booked and recommended, visit the “ports of call” areas on websites like cruiseline.com and CruiseCritic. There are two key things you’ll want to do once you’re on these websites. On cruise critic, head to the ports of call area and choose your cruise destination. Here, you’ll find hundreds of posts about port and activity ideas, including REAL, detailed reports, and reviews. Spend some time browsing the ports of call category and keep an open mind for new excursions and experience ideas.
If you have something specific you’re looking for, type it into the search bar and see what comes up. The search feature is great because it saves you time and allows you to narrow down what you’re looking for. For example, you might head to the Alaska ports of call category, then type “Ketchikan” to narrow your search.
On the cruiseline.com website, navigate to “explore”, then select “ports”. Here you’ll find port and excursion info. Here’s a secret tip… be sure to keep scrolling down in this area because this is where it gets good. Here you’ll find reviews on the port, and if you look closely, you’ll find honest, detailed information on what to do in each area- from real cruisers. This is a great place to skim for ideas in a quick manner and to look for those watch-outs and bad experiences you may want to avoid.
5. Join Roll Calls
The next thing you’ll want to do on CruiseCritic is join your cruise’s roll call. Similar to the Facebook groups we mentioned earlier, once you join the roll call, you can chat with other cruisers on your voyage about their plans. Sometimes in roll calls, you can organize group excursions too. For example, one member of the roll call can get a discounted quote from an excursion provider for a minimum number of people in the group.
If you do this, we suggest getting the excursion provider’s info and booking with them directly, rather than giving money to other roll call members. You can still join the group, but don’t give anyone but the excursion provider your money. Make sense? We’ve had good luck with this strategy and booked with others in our cruise critic roll call when we visited Vietnam a few years back. We saved a ton of money and felt super safe being in a group.
This was especially important because we were in a foreign country with a relatively long ride from where the ship docked to the inner city. The tour was smaller and more intimate than the ones booked through the cruise line, and we carefully vetted the excursion provider before the cruise.
6. Read the Fine Print
So, you’ve done your research and you’re ready to book your excursion. What should you do to ensure you’ll make it back to the ship on time and that you’re choosing the right shore excursion provider? Here are some best practices and “watch outs”.
First, carefully review the cancellation and refund policy. Under no circumstances should you book an excursion that doesn’t offer a full refund if your ship fails to dock, docks late, or has some other issue with getting you to the port on time.
7. Get it in Writing
Next, get something in writing confirming your meeting place, departure time, and emergency contact info for the tour provider in the event your ship is delayed. Then,
Confirm the excursion and meeting place 1- 2 days before the excursion by phone or email, just to be safe. This may mean investing in an internet package on your cruise, so be prepared to do that! It’s worth the peace of mind if something should change with your itinerary, and you need to contact your provider to communicate the change.
This next tip is SUPER critical! New cruisers often don’t understand they need to watch out for ship time vs. shore time discrepancies. Sometimes, the ship’s time does not match the shore time and this could cause you to be late for your excursion, or worse yet, miss your ship after the excursion ends. When in doubt, you can triple-check onboard vs shore time in your onboard newsletter, with the customer service team AND the shore excursion desk on board. As a rule of thumb, we like to ensure we are BACK to the ship, not one, but TWO hours before all aboard time.
Lastly, plan to get off the ship early so you can ensure you’ll be on time, pack some cash for gratuities, take your photo ID, and pay close attention to the tour description to confirm what you should bring with you.
Now you’re ready to book safe, trusted shore excursions like a pro! Looking for shore excursion inspo? Here’s a list of our favorite excursions of all time, from all over the world. ENJOY!!
Read more articles here.
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