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Shore Excursions: To Book Or Not To Book?

Posted October 3rd, 2011

Last week we took a look at shore excursions and gave you some helpful tips on what to expect, planning in advance and how to get the most out of your time in port.

But, we also promised you more information on the pros and cons of booking your shore excursions with the cruise line, independently, or not booking at all. So, as promised ... To book, or not to book?

The big question here is whether it is better to book your shore excursions offered by the cruise line, or if you should save some money and book them independently. There are quite a few advantages and disadvantages to each, so we thought we would take a look at some of them.

Take some time out on the beach during your cruise (Image: Getty)

Booking With The Cruise Line


  • If you are a first-time cruiser, there are loads of advantages to booking your shore excursions through the cruise line, the main one being that with cruising, you have a real deadline to meet and if you don’t know your way around the port city or run late at all, your ship will leave without you. However, if you are on a ship-organised tour, they will wait for you to get back should there be any delays.
  • Cruise lines hold their tour operators responsible for the quality of their services, and make sure that all the necessities like insurance and compliance, are fully completed. This gives you more peace-of-mind than trying to book independently.
  • Many cruise lines put a lot of effort into creating unusual, active and hands-on shore excursions, and you often wouldn’t be able to put together the same tour on your own – so it really can be an experience of a lifetime.
  • If you don’t speak the language and don’t understand the culture, it definitely helps to book with the cruise line, as you will know exactly what you are getting for your money.
  • If the port is a long ride from the main attraction, you can be sure you will get there and back without being left behind at the end of the day.
  • You have the added comfort of knowing that the cruise line will have vetted the tour operator, and that their shore excursions may be safer than independently booked ones because of this


  • For the most part, cruise lines do charge more than non-cruise related operators, for just about the same tour, as shore excursions are their profit centre
  • Booking with the cruise line often means large tour groups, and not seeing the things you want to see

Snorkelling is one activity many cruisers enjoy while on holiday (Image: Getty)

More cruise holiday tips

Cruise Holiday Guide For First-Timers

How I Got In Shape While Cruising

Booking Independently


  • You will in likelihood be able to save money by booking independently, and you may even be able to book the same (or a similar) tour to the one the cruise line offers, as they will also use local tour operators.
  • If the port is located near to the main attractions you want to see, you will save loads of money booking your own tour, such as a hop-on-hop-off bus tour
  • If you book with a private tour operator, you can often see so much more and get a much more in-depth and personalised service than you would in a large group tour.
  • If you are travelling in a pack you may save money by hiring a tour guide or taking a taxi tour, just because of sheer numbers
  • By booking your own independent tour, you have more control over what you see and where you go, as well as what time of the day you go at (so you can maybe have a lie in)


  • Obviously the main one is that if anything goes wrong with your own tour, the ship doesn’t know where you are and will leave you behind if you aren’t back in time. It will then cost you money out of your own pocket to meet the ship at the next destination.
  • There is lots of homework involved in finding legitimate tour companies that offer value for money, are properly accredited and offer insurance/safety guarantees. The onus is on you to find all of this out and book everything yourself.

Cruises allow you to see many exotic and brilliant cities (Image: Getty)

Not Booking At All

You obviously don’t have to book any shore excursions, and you can just spend the day exploring on your own if you want. If the port is located near to the cruise terminal, you will easily be able to get around via a short walk or taxi ride.

Or, if all you want is a simple beach break, getting a taxi or public transport to the beach will be more cost-effective than booking a beach “tour”.

If you want to spend the day shopping, we suggest doing some homework and mapping out the types of shops that interest you so you can find them easily and then just set off on the day. Because, even if you are just shopping or lazing on the beach, you want to make sure you get back to the ship on time!

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