Cruise Line Excursions: Pros and Cons

Written by Joel
Posted in: Cruise | Tips & Advice
With tag(s)

Taking a cruise is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to see the world. Cruising is a great value and being on a ship is a vacation in itself. Cruising also gives people the opportunity to discover if a destination is worth revisiting for a longer period of time. For guests who choose to get off the ship, cruise lines make it very easy to book excursions directly but are cruise line excursions the best way to experience a destination?

Cruise line excursion: Great Bay Beach
Cruise line excursion: Great Bay Beach – St Maarten

Depending on the cruise line and the itinerary, excursions may be included in the cost of the cruise so that is, by default, the way to experience a port city. For most, however, excursions are an extra cost and passengers choose activities they’re interested in doing. Depending on the port, cruise line excursions can be cultural, culinary, high energy, adventure, or based on a special interest and the cost varies widely based on the activity and location.

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Benefits of Booking Excursions Through Royal Caribbean

  • Book excursions before or after boarding the ship
  • Wide variety of choices based on interests
  • Excursions will end in time to board the ship (and the ship will wait if there’s an issue)
  • Vendors meet cruise line standards for safety and reliability
  • Meet people from your ship who share your interests
  • If the excursion is canceled the cruise line handles the refund

There is great comfort in knowing the cruise line has qualified and vetted the vendors and will intervene in the event of any issue. When you book a cruise line excursion you know the vendor has the proper certifications, protocols, and meets regulations for your health and safety.

In nearly every port, as the “gangway up” time approaches there is someone running down the pier hoping to get onboard before the ship sails away. Purchasing a cruise line excursion will ensure an on-time return to the pier; of course, if you get distracted shopping or stopping for food after being dropped off by the tour operator, you’re on your own — but you’ll be back at the pier in time to catch the ship!

Last, but certainly not least, I have met lots of fun people on excursions I purchased directly through the cruise line. By default people on the excursion share an interest — or in the case of one person in your travel party not wanting to be there, new friends to bond with over being on an excursion against your will (there’s always at least one other person who didn’t want to buy this excursion).

Negatives of Booking Cruise Line Excursions

  • Lots of people doing the same activity
  • There’s almost always shopping involved — even if it’s not a shopping excursion
  • You’ll wait in lines and might start late
  • That annoying person who asks dumb questions
  • Cost — The cruise line has to make a profit, too!

On a recent Royal Caribbean cruise patience was being tested before we even began the excursion. Based on our ticket we were supposed to be at the meeting location at 9:45 to begin the excursion at 10:00. By the time everyone assembled and we began walking toward the water taxi it was 10:10. There were more people than could fit in one shuttle so some of us had to wait for the next one. By the time we got to the actual destination it was nearly 10:40. You should have heard people complaining!

Once we arrived at the destination, the beach pictured above, it was apparent that our excursion was popular. The beach was small and hundreds of people from two ships were there. It was a nice day at the beach, but with that many people and that much noise, it wasn’t a quiet day at the beach and kids had no place to play in the sand because every square foot was covered by chairs.

Is there an alternative to booking excursions directly from the cruise line? Almost always. I’ve never gotten off a cruise ship and had a difficult time finding an activity or taxi. That cuts out the lines and waiting and while there is a slight risk, I’ve never had a bad experience. The tour operators are all in business and all represent their country or island well because most rely on tourism as their main driver of the economy.

Another option is to search for the type of activity you want before you go. Search for the best beach in each destination if that’s your idea of a great vacation. Prefer more adventure? You’ll find a tour operator that offers exactly what you’re looking for. This is the best way to find what I call “off the beaten path” or “wow!” excursions that few others on the ship will have done.

Joel - Partner at JJ Travel Associates

About The Author

Joel is a co-owner of JJ Travel Associates (a Dream Vacations franchise) and a history geek fascinated by world cultures and what we can learn from each. His specialty is planning vacations that combine history, culture, and fun.

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