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10 Tips for Booking Worry-Free Shore Excursions

Updated: May 4


As a seasoned cruiser and travel advisor, I've planned many client vacations. Shore excursions are often the highlight of a cruise, offering a chance to dive into the local culture and sights of various destinations. However, I've also seen how a poorly planned tour can derail an otherwise perfect getaway.


My journey to becoming a seasoned cruiser and travel advisor was not without its challenges. One such challenge was a personal experience that nearly left a family member stranded during an independent tour in the Bahamas. This incident, which I've shared in detail here, Excursion Meltdown: Why I'll Never Trust a Third-Party Provider Again, was a turning point for me. It's what led me to compile these ten expert tips on booking excursions that will leave you stress-free and filled with awe-inspiring memories instead of regret.


1.     Book Through the Cruise Line

 

Book excursions through the cruise line whenever possible. While sometimes more costly, doing so alleviates having to vet third-party providers yourself and is the most secure and convenient way to book excursions.  This is always my recommendation. You'll have peace of mind knowing your ship will disembark once all passengers are accounted for. The cruise line can also assist if any last-minute tour changes occur.

 

Keep checking back if you don’t see what you want or if it's sold out. More excursion choices are sometimes added, and people cancel, opening up more spots over time leading up to sailing dates!


2.     Vetting Independent Excursion Providers

 

While booking through the cruise line is the safest option, some may prefer the flexibility and potentially lower costs of independent providers or cannot find the experience they want with the cruise line. In such cases, it's crucial to vet these companies thoroughly. Take the time to validate their licensure, insurance coverage, safety procedures, contingency planning, and visitor satisfaction through reviews and testimonials. This step is not just important; it's essential for your safety and satisfaction.

 

Confirm any return-time guarantees and the company's plan to get you back to your ship punctually if delays occur. Ask detailed questions before purchasing an excursion to determine if a provider meets your standards.


3.     Stay Time-Savvy

 

Stay prepared and organized by carefully validating return time to ship and transportation plans in writing. When booking, clarify the time and whether the tour ends at the pier or requires further transportation. Email to reconfirm return time with your guide or driver a few days before touring. And don't forget to sync your watch to ship time so you can track progress.


4. Plan for the Unexpected

 

Insist on a substantial buffer between the tour conclusion and the ship's departure. Unexpected delays happen—vehicles break down, sites get crowded, weather interferes, etc. When reviewing excursion options, I recommend allowing at least a 3-hour buffer between the scheduled tour end time and your ship's departure whenever possible. An abundance of caution goes a long way!

 

5.  Stay Connected


Bring communication devices and prepare contact information. While leaving your cell phone behind is tempting, having it with you lets you stay in touch with travel companions, guides, transport companies, and the cruise line. Ensure roaming capabilities are enabled if traveling internationally. Program key contacts into devices.

 

Waterproof cases allow you to safely carry phones on water-based excursions and have the device on hand for the tour, providing vital peace of mind in case issues arise.


6.  Get Contact Information


Secure business cards and capture identifying details for your tour company. Before heading out, snap photos of transport vehicles, including their license plate if visible. Obtain business cards or email/phone contact info for your guide and their management team. Should you get separated from your guide, having this information readily available allows you to reach the company's leadership to remedy issues.


7.  Share Your Plans


Share detailed plans if independently exploring ports. For extra precaution, if anyone in your travel party will split off on their own during a port call, share specifics like tour locations, scheduled meet-up times, return time to ship, and contingency meeting spots if plans go awry. Sync up devices so you can reach each other if needed.


8.     Keep Your Tour on Track


Stay aware of the time while touring to ensure a timely ship return. Throughout your excursion, periodically check the time to keep a constant sense of your pace and progress. Proactively notify guides early and often if you have doubts about returning by the designated time, not just as your deadline nears. Speak up about concerns so solutions can be explored. Don't let the fear of being demanding put your cruise vacation in peril.


9.     Prepare for Delays


Have backup funds available for alternate transport. In the unlikely event your tour runs severely behind schedule, you may need to arrange private transfers back to the port. Confirm in advance if your guide could assist with alternate transportation or if you'd need to secure this independently. Have at least $100-200 set aside strictly for this purpose. Better yet, choose excursions ending close enough to walk or take a taxi if needed.

 

10.     Understand Cruise Protocols


Let’s hope this never happens, but know policies for guests left behind and rejoining the ship. Every cruise line has established contingency protocols should passengers fail to return before departure. Understand in advance if you need to join the ship at the next port (on your dime) or head home early. This knowledge allows you to make level-headed decisions if faced with transportation delays rather than panicking.

 

 

By selecting reputable tour partners, allowing plenty of time buffers, preparing contingency plans, and staying aware while adventuring ashore, you can feel confident embracing the magic of ports-of-call, knowing safety and punctuality are accounted for.


Partner with a savvy travel advisor like me to optimize your cruise selection and shore excursion arrangements. Feel empowered to comfortably immerse yourself in exotic shores, knowing you have backup guidance and support should any hiccups arise! Let us handle logistics so you can freely soak up lifelong memories.


Let’s start chatting about that cruise!



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