10 Reasons Why It Makes Sense to Book Shore Excursions

Experienced cruisers are used to seeing a list of shore excursions presented to them onboard, or via the cruise line website or pre-cruise messaging. There is usually a talk onboard promoting shore excursions for the next port. This is another profit center for cruise lines. Some cruise lines organize their own excursions, led by onboard staff. Sometimes these might be included in your cruise fare and presented as a benefit of all-inclusive pricing along with “free drinks” and inclusive tipping, but is usually an exception to the rule.

Most cruise lines book shore excursions via third party providers. The price onboard includes the percentage the cruise line collects, but you are in the hands of the third-party provider once you step off the ship and onto the tour bus. Your cruise line likely has personnel on the tour as points of contact. This is fine because the cruise line and other sellers of shore excursions vet the third-party tour operators before sending them business. Repeat business is very important.

The third-party operator of the shore excursion is usually not exclusive to the cruise line. A dozen ships from different lines might stop in port each week. Each cruise line needs to provide shore excursions and has outsourced the function. These tour operators often deal directly with travel agents and individuals. Put another way, by “cutting out the middleman” you may be able to get a better price for the same tour.


CruiseCompete is one of several providers providing this service. Through their website link Shore Excursions – higher quality cruise shore excursions at substantially lower prices (cruisecompete.com) you can locate your cruise line, ship and specific voyage, then look at the tours available in different ports you will be visiting and the pricing available. The shore excursions provider in this case states, “Be confident in your choice with 24/7 support for travelers, a full refund if you miss your shore excursion due to itinerary changes or weather, and guaranteed return to your cruise ship!”


For years, I used to avoid booking shore excursions and figured out all this stuff ahead of time, but as the years progressed, I have gradually learned to rely on the experts. It is tough being a tourist.

Here Are 10 Reasons Why It Makes Sense to Book Shore Excursions

  1. Avoiding the touts. While on our Swan Hellenic Greek Islands cruise, we decided to skip the shore excursion included with our cruise in Rhodes. Why? Because each tour was graded on a three-point scale. The difficulty of this one was rated #3, Challenging. When we walked the length of the pier (one or two city blocks!) and left the secure area, we were descended up on English speaking taxi drivers, offering us a one-hour tour of the sights for 100 euro. They followed you down the street! Had we taken the shore excursion, we would have boarded a bus alongside the ship and driven by the touts.
  2. Is the Hop on, Hop off bus reliable? We opted for this as the logical way to get an overview of the sights. Unfortunately, there did not appear to be a tourism office at the pier. We knew the stop for the Hop on, Hop off bus was somewhere on the road into the city. We eventually found it! The good news is the stop was clearly marked and included a posted schedule. The bad news is the bus (when it eventually arrived) was at least 30 minutes behind schedule. On the return trip we discovered there was a Hop on, Hop off bus stop at the pier, but it was unmarked. Shore excursions operate on a strict schedule.
  3. Seating on the bus. Anyone who has visited NYC knows about this problem: Your Hop on, Hop off bus ticket allows you to literally hop off and hop on. Will the bus have any seats or standing room, or will it be packed? Your shore excursion will have enough seats because they only sell a limited number of tickets.
  4. Language is not an issue. When we visited the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, it took us an hour from the time we left the covered building until we found a street with taxis. The bazaar covers about 61 city blocks. We would ask shopkeepers for directions, but they spoke little or no English. On a shore excursion tour, language should not be an issue.
  5. Will you see the key sights? In this case, the ship’s shore excursions and the hop on, hop off bus rank equally. If you walk around the city on your own, you may not have enough time to visit all the sights. If you are on a tour, you know they will be showing you the highlights, which are listed in the description provided beforehand.
  6. Will you understand what you are seeing? When we visited an ancient Greek Lyceum (outdoor concert space) the tour guide stood at the stage and spoke in a very soft the voice. The acoustical design of the space allowed her to be heard up towards the top row, as well as side to side. When you have a professional guide, you gain a better understanding of what you are seeing.
  7. Will there be time for shopping and exploring? We enjoy shopping. I have often thought organized tours cut into shopping and wandering time. Most shore excursions give you time in the center of the village to wander, shop or simply sit in a sidewalk café, enjoying a drink. When our Swan Hellenic tour brought us to Santorini, we had enough time to fight the crowds and absorb the atmosphere before we needed to get back onto the bus. It appears the old days of “my brother has a store. He will give you a special price” are gone.
  8. They are not too expensive. Years ago, shore excursions were expensive. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but they are more reasonable today. We sailed to Bordeaux with Azamara, where we had an overnight stop. They had an attractive tour to a couple of high-profile wine chateaus. It was sold out (small tour) but we organized one ourselves. The taxi fare out and back was about equivalent to what we would have spent on the tour! They are good value, although you should expect to spend a bit more while on vacation.
  9. You are less organized than you think. You might plan out the sights to see. You buy a good map in advance and plot out your route. This is always good in theory, but remember the saying: “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” We have discovered we cannot fit in everything we think we can accomplish. An organized tour is set up to show you the highlights and keep you moving.
  10. Will you miss the ship? We have some adventurous friends. When they are in the Caribbean, they take a taxi into the countryside, find a town, get dropped off and have lunch. Then they figure out how they will find another taxi and get back to the ship before it sails. That would not work for us. You want a shore excursion that guarantees you’ll get back to the ship on time.

CruiseCompete is one of several providers providing this service. Through their website link Shore Excursions – higher quality cruise shore excursions at substantially lower prices (cruisecompete.com) you can locate your cruise line, ship and specific voyage, then look at the tours available in different ports you will be visiting and the pricing available. The shore excursions provider in this case states, “Be confident in your choice with 24/7 support for travelers, a full refund if you miss your shore excursion due to itinerary changes or weather, and guaranteed return to your cruise ship!”


Unless we have been to the city many times before (London) or think we can thoroughly research the city effectively, we have come around to thinking taking a shore excursion is the better option.


Cover photo: Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, Alsace, France ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews

For cruises, Browse Cruise Ships and Cruise Lines

Shore Excursions – Ports, Day & Weekend Trips

Ed. Notes: CruiseCompete and its member travel advisors provide many curated cruise and land deals, offers and amenities on over 50 cruise lines with over 500 cruise ships sailing all around the world.

Sea Tales 2023 Family Cruise Travel Planner

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Trusted by over 1.5 million cruisers since 2003.
Get FREE access to members-only pricing.
There is a highly acclaimed way to receive multiple quotes from a site called CruiseCompete, where cruise specialists compete to offer you the best deal. The media sums it up for CruiseCompete:
Score Luxury Cruises at Bargain Prices” (The Street)
Best site for cruise deals” (The Wall Street Journal)
28 Best Travel Sites” (Kiplinger's) Multiple annual mentions
36 Web Addresses You Should Know” (The Washington Post)