Most people who go on cruises are there for one reason -- to see the sights, not spend time in port (or other places). With that being said, it's hard to escape the fact that many people want to take advantage of all the fun things offered by their vacation destination.
If you're looking at this question from the perspective of cost-effectiveness, how does cruising compare with land touring options? And what can you do to get more value out of your trip if you don't like the tours provided by the cruise lines or local operators? In this post, we'll explore some pros and cons associated with taking excursion trips while traveling aboard ships. We'll also offer tips for getting more value when planning your next cruise.
Note that most cruise companies provide onboard credit as part of their packages and discounts as well as free shore leave or reduced rates at certain ports where they have agreements in place. These deals may be good enough for those simply wanting to travel the world without much thought involved. For our purposes here, let's assume you've already booked a cruise through a major provider like Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Disney, etc., but would still like some advice on which types of excursions might suit your interests best.
Pros Of Cruise Ship Excursions
It is true that once you board a ship, the only way off is back down again. That means that unless you book ahead, you could end up spending hours waiting in line just to use facilities or purchase food. Onboard activities such as casinos, dancing shows, and comedy acts tend to run into the evening, leaving little opportunity to catch dinner before returning to your cabin.
The upside though is that the majority of cruise ships cater specifically to families, so there will usually be plenty of children's programs available during daylight hours. Many also include "family dining" meals, where everyone eats together. Some even include special kids' menus! Most importantly, however, is that, unlike land vacations, almost everything onboard a ship is included in the price. This includes gratuities, alcoholic beverages, souvenirs, taxes, service fees, airfare, guides, etc.
In addition, many ships have multiple restaurants offering different cuisines, making eating ashore far less desirable than choosing between several eateries on a big boat.
Cons Of Cruise Ship Excursions
This brings us to another point. While some ships do have great entertainment and educational opportunities onboard, depending upon your specific interests, sometimes the attractions are limited. It's really important to consider whether the location has been chosen based on personal preferences alone rather than actual demand. For example, the Bahamas islands are known worldwide for diving excursions, but oftentimes the dive shops aren't very large nor particularly clean. You wouldn't necessarily expect to find any quality shopping nearby either. If you prefer to stay dry, then perhaps snorkeling isn't right for you either due to poor visibility caused by coral damage, pollution, or both.
Also keep in mind that because ships generally head towards popular destinations, you won't always hit the highlights of a particular region when visiting smaller towns along the way. As mentioned above, although the prices are pretty decent, many ships charge extra fees for items like alcohol and souvenir purchases. Finally, remember that while onboard amenities are nice, there is nothing quite like walking around town after dark enjoying conversation with locals over drinks or dinner.
How Do You Save Money On Cruise Excursions?
The first thing to understand is that, unlike land excursions, you cannot negotiate better prices with tour providers or vendors on boats. The main option you have is to choose an itinerary carefully. Be aware that not every country offers similar experiences, so make sure you speak with someone knowledgeable about the areas you'd like to visit before committing yourself. If possible, try to plan your trip according to weather conditions and seasons. Although it may seem tempting, avoid scheduling your trip during peak season. This is especially true for busy locations like New York City or Las Vegas. There's no doubt that you get a lot for your money when going abroad, but it doesn't come cheap and it definitely takes work to maximize savings.
For instance, let's say you wanted to visit Paris. According to the U.S. Department of State website, you'd pay $250 per person each day on average for lodging. Assuming you were staying near Place de la Bastille (a central area), two nights at a top hotel would set you back close to $750. Even cheaper hotels in lesser neighborhoods would put you closer to $500 per night. One caveat regarding Paris - if you decide to skip having lunch every day, you'll probably only need 2 days instead of 3 to cover the same amount of ground. Additionally, if you happen to know French, you'd likely be able to order something delicious for a fraction of the restaurant bill.
However, if you're trying to fit a quick stopover in for business or pleasure reasons, the cheapest option might actually be to fly directly to France and rent a car for the duration of your stay. If you drive a rental vehicle, you can typically pick it up in Paris and drop it off anywhere within city limits.
As you can tell, figuring out exactly how long you intend to be away, how quickly you wish to move, and knowing roughly what costs you're willing to incur makes a huge difference in determining what type of itineraries to pursue. To give you an idea of pricing, check out Frugal Always Guide.
When Should I Buy Cruise Excursions?
There is one last tip to consider. If you're interested in saving on expenses, think about doing research online prior to purchasing tickets. Online reviews written by fellow travelers are extremely helpful in giving insight on what was enjoyed and disliked about various excursions. Make sure you read comments related to safety issues, transportation, comfort levels, and overall satisfaction. Just as with any product review site, please exercise caution and common sense when using the information found online.
Also, if you haven't done so already, sign up for email updates from sites that sell cruise tickets. They normally send reminders about sales and promotions as well as new routes and sailings. Once you realize that you're ready to begin researching potential voyages, bookmark cruise websites such as Cruise Junkie, Shipfree or Vacations Unlimited.
Can I Do My Own Excursions On A Cruise?
Of course! But bear in mind that since you're paying for accommodations and services anyway, these activities will likely add additional expense. Unless you've got years of sailing experience under your belt, the safest bet would be to rely on experts to help you navigate unfamiliar waters. A few examples include chartering private yachts, hiring captains or skippers, or renting cars in advance.
A final note: if you're considering participating in a guided excursion, ask questions about the details beforehand. Ask about cancellation policies, emergency procedures, medical evacuation coverage, hidden charges and surcharges, group size limitations, minimum age requirements, maximum weight restrictions, luggage allowances, accessibility needs, and the number of stops made en route. Don't forget to inquire about pre-paid vs. cash fares, insurance, refunds, meal credits, and the availability of non-alcoholic beverage refills.
Now that you've gotten the inside scoop on cruise ship excursions, why not share your thoughts and ideas with others? Feel free to share your feedback in the comment section below. Or if you've got a topic you'd like covered, feel free to contact me personally via email. Happy travels!