Today’s cruise ships are amazing resorts at sea. They have stunning staterooms, delectable dining, extraordinary entertainment and an abundance of amenities. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what each ship has to offer that we forget that these floating cities actually dock in foreign lands!
Yes, eventually these ships pull into port, quite often a different port every day. And how you choose to spend your time on shore is entirely up to you. Every traveler has a different comfort level when it comes to exploring an unfamiliar island or city. Here is what you need to know about choosing a shore excursion.
Group Shore Excursions: You can book an excursion as part of a group by booking with the cruise line or with an independent shore excursion company. There are benefits to booking ship-sponsored day trips. They are a great comfort to those that get nervous in foreign lands. Plus, you are guaranteed that the tour provider is licensed and insured. But the biggest reason people cite as why they book excursions through the cruise line is the comfort in knowing that the ship won't depart without them! Of course you may have to contend with being a part of a large group if you book directly with the cruise line, (although some lines are now offering options that limit the number of participants). Not to mention how frustrating it can be waiting for the dawdlers in a large group…and believe me, there are ALWAYS dawdlers! Cruise line shore excursions can be expensive too.
For those willing to do a bit more research, there are many 3rd party shore excursion groups that offer tours in every cruise port. There are bus tours, walking tours, large groups and small groups. Most go to the same sites the cruise line tours go to! The price is usually cheaper than going through the cruise line and it’s definitely worth looking into this option. However, if you are considering one of these companies take special note of where you meet up with the group. It may not be as close to the ship as you’d like.
Private Shore Excursions: What I love about researching and booking a private tour guide is that my wish is their command! Yes, they are expensive, even more so if you’re a party of only two, but how nice to go only where you want to go and do what you want to do! Maybe you want extra time in a museum or are you looking to skip the cheesy souvenir shops. Maybe you want extra time at that iconic landmark. This option may be for you. I particularly prefer a private tour guide in European ports where it is important to maximize time off the ship. However, it’s your responsibility to read reviews of these guides and vet carefully. The last thing you want is to miss the ship and have to find your way to the next port!
Taxi Tours: Many people opt for hiring one of the many a taxi cabs that line up outside the port, especially in Caribbean ports. These drivers may or may not be a licensed tour guide. If you only want a ride to the beach or a restaurant then this is not an issue. If you’re looking for a driver that willalso be a tour guide then it’s worth researching how to identify licensed drivers before you leave on your cruise. In either case, when hiring a taxi, be sure to negotiate a rate BEFORE getting into the
Car Rental: I did this once in Rhodes and it worked out well. I’ll share with you what I was told when looking into this. It's always best to reserve a car before you leave home as rates may be better the earlier you reserve and you know the agency won't be sold out. Be sure to check with the rental company to find out whether you'll need an International Driving Permit (available through AAA) or if your driver's license will suffice, and of course check if insurance is provided. Many worldwide car rental agencies now offer navigation units which can be quite helpful. Lastly, take the time before you leave home to review the rules of the road foreign street signs.