Port in Phu My Vietnam atnight

Tips for planning cruise excursions from a pro

In theory, it’s simple: you book a cruise, and they give you lots of excursion options for each destination. However, if you don’t want to follow a lollipop sign or find the tours on offer too boring, you can always plan something yourself. I plan a lot of my own trips and excursions because I don’t like those “sit in a bus city tours”. That is why I consider myself a “pro” … In this blog I will share with you all the tips and tricks that I have found out while planning the excursions for the last twenty cruises…

Good to know for cruising beginners: it is not always as easy to organise excursions as it seems. If you have ever landed in a cargo port with few options for getting around, or on a public holiday in a beautiful port where everything is closed, you will understand… I had to find out the hard way 😉

Topics in this bog:

Seven mile beach Cayman Islands

Basics on how to plan a cruise excursion

The decision is often not easily made, therefore I first check a couple of things until I decide. You will find my points for a decision later in the text.

1) Check the excursions offered by the cruise line

This will give you a good idea of what to expect in the port you are visiting. But be aware: Most of the time, they will only sell tours offered by local tour operators that are suitable for cruisers. For example, I once went to St Kitts, where the wonderful Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is located. However, the cruise line did not offer an excursion to the site – probably because the way up is not suitable for too many guests – only small bus taxis could make the way, one by one. My conclusion: check out the excursions first to get a general idea. You might find something that suits you.

2) Find out where your ship will dock

Is it in a port in or near a city? Or is it further away? You can find out the exact location of a port on sites such as the following: Cruisemapper (English) or Kreuzfahrtipps (German). However, I always check it on another site and on Google to make sure it is correct.

https://www.cruisemapper.com/ports

https://www.kreuzfahrertipps.de/ (if you speak German)

3) How to get around

Most of the time there are several ways to get around unless you are in a remote port:

  • City centre shuttle organised by the port / cruise line: that is always the case, when you are near a city, but not within walking distance
  • Taxis
  • Tourist buses which stop on the most important tourist places in a city or nearby (you might book a round-tour and get in and out as often as you want): Hop on hop off, Big Bus or similar
  • Public transportation: if you speak the language and/or do not mind checking details how to get from A to B
  • Private tours, e.g., tours by locals or similar, you will book a full tour with a local guide
  • https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/
  • https://www.bigbustours.com/
  • https://www.toursbylocals.com/

How do you find out what is available in the port you will go to? Check, if somebody wrote a review e.g., on Cruisecritics or similar. Check on Google Maps, if there is no village or town in the wider area around the port, taxis may not be available. It was the case, when I went to Namibia’s ports of Lüderitz and Walvis Bay, where the best option was to book a cruise line tour anyway. The same issue in Vietnam, where the big ships cannot dock in Ho Chi Minh City but must stay far away at the cargo port of Phu My, which is 1 ½ h drive away.

What to do on a cruise excursion?

Seven mile beach Cayman Islands
Tortelloni in Italy

After checking the cruise line’s excursions, I always do a bit of Google research. Using keywords such as “best things to do in ((insert name of port, nearby town))” will give you lots of ideas. Furthermore, I always check Tripadvisor because you can find almost any destination and option there. I often check CN Traveller or Lonely Planet as well, depending on how much I already found.

  • Visit sightseeing attractions or museums
  • Visit UNESCO world heritage sites
  • Book a private tour guide*
  • Walk around a nice park or a botanical garden
  • Book an adventure excursion such as kayaking, a bike tour or similar
  • Do walking tours in the city and drink a coffee in a nice restaurant
  • Do food tours, e.g. in Italy (you will find tipps on tripadvisor)
  • Go shopping
  • Enjoy a day on the beach

https://www.cntraveller.com/topic/destinations

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/

*If you’ve seen the instagram reel with the scottish bagpipe player: that was the private tourguide Andrew from https://www.highlandhistorian.com/ . We booked a private tour during a visit in Greenock, Scotland. And went to visit a historic castle and the battlefield of culloden, because we like the book & series “Outlander”…

The perfect beach day

Do you love lying on the beach and miss it during cruises? You will never miss it again if you are in a warm, sunny region, I promise. This was one of the hardest things to deal with when I first started cruising. I was not aware of all the possibilities…

In most places where a cruise ship docks and there is a beach nearby, the cruise line will offer a beach break excursion. I often booked these, sometimes they were really good, sometimes not. I once went to the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui and the beach break included just a chair to sit on the sand. Not a beach chair and no parasol! In Maui! I then decided that was enough…

Long story, short explanation: there are beach clubs and day passes! If you live in a country by the sea, you may be aware of this, but I was not. However, these are two perfect options for cruise passengers.

Costa costa beach Kefalonia Greece
the sea at Costa costa beach Kefalonia Greece

Beach clubs:

When there is a beach in a city or near a city, there is almost always a beach club anywhere in the area. This is the cause in the ports around the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean, in ports such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi etc. Just google for “beach club” and check the reviews and the website of the club. (Be aware, that some clubs closed after the problems in the pandemic, and check, if the club is still there). Furthermore, check prices. There are affordable ones, but very expensive ones on famous tourist places such as Ibiza…

Most of the time a reservation makes sense because other guests will go there too. Considering that a ship has thousands of passengers, there might be some other passengers with the same idea!

Beach clubs I love:

  • Greece, Mykonos: https://www.superparadise.com.gr/
    • Take the shuttle from pier to the old town and catch a taxi there (located outside the old town). It might take long to fetch a taxi; therefore, you can book a transfer ahead if you do not like to wait)
  • Greece, Kefalonia: https://costacostabeach.gr/
    • Take the taxi at port, the drive will be around 15 min to the beach. At the beach club, I was somehow not able to reserve a chair/umbrella in advance. However, they made an update on the website after my visit, it seems to be easier now. The beach was really nice, see photos

Pictures from costa costa beach:

Day passes (hotel pools…)

Some hotels offer day passes. Those include a day on the beach / pool with access to restaurant etc. The offers vary by hotel and location. There are lots of options in the Caribbean and the US. I have booked at Resortpass or at the hotel itself. However, availability depends on when you travel, during public holidays, it is a good idea to book in advance. Furthermore, you should check, what is included in the day pass, it varies by hotel. You might not want to get there and there is no beach chair available…

These day passes are useful too, when you leave the ship and must wait for hours until your flight. I sometimes do that when leaving a ship in Miami and my flight back to Europe is always in the evening.

What I can recommend:

  • Miami: Grand Beach Hotel (via Resortpass)

https://www.resortpass.com/

Book with the cruise line or on your own?

There is always the decision to made, weather to book an excursion from the cruise line or on your own. Here are some topics to consider:

Book an excursion with the cruise line:

  • If you want to avoid the stress of planning yourself
  • If it is difficult to get around or organise transport (see tips below) or your ship will dock in a remote area
  • If you are afraid to do it yourself (e.g., in an exotic country)
  • If you want to visit something like a museum or similar, where you can expect long queues: a group tour often gives you easier access.
  • If you want to meet other passengers
  • If you want to make the most of your time in port and expect to come back late: the ship would wait if tours booked through the cruise line return late, but not if you have gone out on your own.

Book by yourself:

  • If you want a bit more adventure and fun
  • If you like to get around on your own
  • If you like to make your own schedule
  • If you have seen “everything” in this port and want to do something new
  • If you are a bigger group (e.g., if you book a tour for 4-6 people, it might be cheaper per person as if you are only a couple of two)
  • If you want a cheaper option (excursions from cruise lines are often expensive…)

However, there are some tours from cruise lines I really loved:

  • USA, Miami: debarkation tour to Everglades National Park (crocodiles, airboat)
  • USA, Alaska, Juneau: Helicopter flight to the Mendenhall glacier and salmon barbecue
  • New Zealand, Bay of Islands: kayak tour (Waitangi Inlet to the Haruru Waterfall)
  • Namibia, Walvis Bay: Living Dessert tour (you will see small desert animals)
  • Italy, La Spezia: Carrara Marble tour (jeep tour, you must not be afraid of height)

Just Some places I visited on my own:

  • Cities:
    • Ports near the city, easy to get around by taxi or walk: e.g. Barcelona (Spain), Cannes (France), Portofino, Italy (via tender boat), San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco (USA)
    • Ports with easy access by public transport: Stockholm
  • Beach clubs and hotel beach breaks: Mykonos, Ibiza, Mallorca, Miami
  • Tourist buses (hop on hop off, big bus) in Valetta, Malta and Muscat, Oman: in both places the tourist bus drives outside of the cities for sightseeing

What is your experience with excursions during cruises?

Greetings

Yvonne

Want to know a bit more, how I plan my journeys on my own in general?

Read more

Or find out more about me: about Yve

2 responses to “Tips for planning cruise excursions from a pro”

  1. Yvonne avatar
    Yvonne

    What do you think about my blog, did you find the information you expected?

  2. yvonnegredig_a1641qw1 avatar
    yvonnegredig_a1641qw1

    I would love to hear from you. Just leave a reply here.

    Greetings Yvonne

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