5 Things to Consider Before Arranging Your Own Shore Excursion

Not loving anything on the shore excursions list? Hire a guide to take you to the Colosseum, and anywhere else. - Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

The cruise lines offer some great shore excursion options, but sometimes it makes sense to ditch the group and go off on your own — for example, when the line doesn’t offer exactly what you’re looking for, or when you want to spend more time in, say, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery rather than just seeing the highlights.

In addition, you get flexibility when you tour on your own — you can plan to leave the ship whenever you feel like it — and it’s almost always cheaper than booking a tour through the line. Here are five tips to consider before deciding if you should skip the ship’s shore excursions and book an independent tour:


Do your research.

While many ports in Europe and the Caribbean are ideal for independent exploring because attractions are close to the ship and locals are used to tourists, it’s a big challenge to venture off on your own in other places. If you’ve never been to the port before and don’t speak the local language, think twice about touring on your own in, say, China, Vietnam, and the Middle East, where communication could be a problem.

If you determine that you do want to book independently, figure out what you would like to see in port. Check the cruise line website to see what it offers. If several of the line’s tours include stops at a museum or historical sight, it’s probably worth researching. But the beauty of arranging your own tour is that you can customize it — combining two museums with a stop at a great restaurant you’d never get to on a bus trip, for example.


Book through a specialist.

Several companies — including Shore Excursions Group, Viator, ShoreTrips, CruisingExcursions.com, and MyExcursions.com — specialize in small group and private shore excursions similar to what the cruise lines offer. Their tours are usually cheaper than the cruise lines’ offerings: A good rule of thumb is that the larger the group, the cheaper the price. So if you’re traveling with an extended family or a bunch of friends, the discount can be very attractive. These companies can also arrange private, customized tours for a higher fee.


Hire guides directly.

Surf the websites of local tourism boards for lists of tour operators, and check out Cruiseline.com and Trip Advisor to see how travelers review the ones on your list. Some small companies and individual guides are mentioned frequently and come highly recommended, and using them might be cheaper than the larger shore excursion companies above because you may be able to negotiate a price.


Carry local currency.

Even if you prepay for an independent excursion by credit card, it’s a good idea to carry local currency for snacks, shopping, and museum and attraction entrance fees, as well as to tip your guide. (Exceptions include places like the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, and Vietnam, where U.S. dollars are preferred.) Plan to exchange some currency at home, or hit the first ATM you see.


Memorize your ship’s departure time.

While the ship will wait for travelers on its official shore excursions, it won’t wait for passengers who book independently. Pay close attention to the exact time the ship is departing for the next port, make sure your watch is in sync with the ship’s clocks, and jot down the local port agent’s contact information listed on the ship’s daily planner.

If you’re not back in time and the ship has left without you, it will be up to you to figure out how to meet up with the ship at the next port, and you’ll also have to pay your own expenses. 

Join the discussion

What's your best advice for booking independently?


Posted by thisiscozumel

Thanks, very wise tips! We'd just like to point out that big websites that deal with lots of ports aren't the only option for booking tours independently. There are also some excellent local websites that offer tours and, since they are local, they know the destination inside-out and are better placed to give advice. They can beat the big websites on price too, for example, we guarantee the lowest price for all the tours we offer in Cozumel and will beat any other website's price by 10%! :) You can check smaller website's reputations by reading their reviews or checking them out on Trip Advisor, Facebook and Google+, the best ones will have a significant social following and good tour reviews. One thing is for sure, whoever you book with independently it is almost always going to save you a lot compared with the cruise line's own tour prices.

Posted by kazu101

I really dislike tip number3.. Viator and a number of the ones. You mention are noting more than middlemen. You might as well book through the cruise ship. If you want flexbility, do your. Research and book directly with a tour. Operator who is well rated and will answer you questions. And program an itinerary to suit you and your friends..

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