The Different Ways to Book a Shore Excursion

shore excursion princess cruise port ship
There's more than one way to book a shore excursion! - Photo by Princess Cruises

Congratulations, you’ve booked your cruise! You’ve settled on a ship and itinerary, but don’t sit back just yet. If you want to do activities in port like a historical tour of the city or snorkeling from a catamaran, you’ve got excursions to choose. You probably already know that each cruise line offers their own tours and activities, but there are other options, too. Keep reading to learn about the different ways to book a shore excursion. 

1. Through the Cruise Line

norwegian cruise line shore excursions beach
Photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

The most popular and obvious avenue for purchasing a shore excursion is through the cruise line itself. You can either book ahead of time on the lines’ website or over the phone, or  onboard the ship at the shore excursions desk.


If something happens and your tour group arrives back to the pier late, the ship will not leave without you. Cruise ships do not leave guests behind who were on an excursion booked through the ship. Travelers on a tour with an independent operator can and will be left behind if a problem prevents their excursion from returning to the ship prior to the announced “all aboard” time. It’s also extremely simple to book an excursion through the cruise line: if you didn’t book anything before the cruise, just walk up to the shore excursions desk for an immediate confirmation. 


Excursions booked through the line tend to be much more expensive, since the line builds a substantial commission into the price. Ship-bought excursions also come with very large groups, which can make touring some sites slow and cumbersome. Plus, lines are well aware that their own excursions are an easy, convenient option for cruisers and have the “ship-won’t-leave” guarantee, so they have little incentive to price them competitively or offer a superior experience.

Best For: 

  • Those who need the peace of mind that they will make it back to the ship no matter what
  • Those who don’t have the time/resources to look into third-party excursions
  • Type A planners who don’t want anything left to chance when they step off the ship 


2. Through an Independent Company in Advance

royal caribbean skagway alaska cruise excursion
Photo by Royal Caribbean

There are plenty of independent companies that specialize in selling shore excursions to cruisers, like Shore Excursions Group and Resort for a Day.  Rather than searching multiple sites for the perfect tour, we make it easy to find, compare and book tours through these trusted independent providers through our Shipmate app or on our excursions page.


Excursions booked through an independent company are often less expensive than those through the cruise line, and while it depends on the company and excursion, the groups tend to be smaller and more personal, offering a better value.


There is no guarantee that the ship won’t leave without you if something happens and you’re late getting back, though most reputable independent sellers will offer their own “return to the ship” guarantee, even going so far as to fly cruisers - at the company’s expense - to the next port to catch up with the ship. It's important to note that these guarantees rarely need to be invoked, but they do offer peace of mind.  (Sometimes a ship will wait a short amount of time especially if an entire group is missing, but this is not a guarantee.) Also, unless you bought internet on the ship or are on a line where it’s free, you won’t be able to book independent excursions after the ship sets sail and you’re at sea.

Best For: 

  • Those who are looking to save a little bit of money
  • Those who potentially want a more authentic and local experience with a smaller group
  • Those who can take an earlier excursion in the day and aren’t concerned about arriving late back to the ship


3. When You Step Onto the Pier in Port

cruise pier princess ship shore excursions
Photo by Princess Cruises

The last (and riskiest) way to book a shore excursion is when you actually walk off the ship in the port you’re looking to find a tour in. There will be lots of tours and various activities that locals will be trying to get cruise passengers to sign up for, and plenty of cruisers do take advantage of these offers. 


Tours booked with local companies day-of are often less expensive than shore excursions arranged ahead of time, especially those through the cruise line as mentioned. These last-minute excursions are also great when your previously booked excursion is canceled for some reason, or you planned to just do your own thing in port but realized at the last minute that you’d like to do something through a tour company.

It can be hectic and overwhelming stepping onto the cruise pier and suddenly getting swarmed by vendors trying to sell their tours or activities. If time is precious and you don’t want to have to decide day-of what to do, having something planned ahead of time will most likely work out better. Plus, if you haven’t done your research on a company ahead of time, you can’t be sure of  the quality of their vehicles, itineraries, or tour guides. Also, you won’t know how reliable or safe they are, though choosing a company with a booth or representative inside the secure area of the port — if there is one — is usually a better option, as companies operating in this area are usually vetted by port authorities.

Best For:

  • Those who realize last-minute they’d like to do a tour or their previously arranged tour was canceled
  • Those who want to save a little bit of money and can probably find a good deal in port
  • Those who aren’t worried about researching the excursions they take ahead of time

Join the discussion

Which way do you prefer to book your shore excursions?


Posted by hnybns

This is our second cruise. We are considering booking. Excursions through a independent company. This company has a 5 star rating with Trop Advisory. What’s everyone’s thoughts on booking indecently?

Posted by andrealouise

I wouldn't book a shore excursion with ShoreFox for any reason, even though you recommended them now and at the time we booked our cruise. My partner got sick on the cruise, was quarantined by the ship's doctor with documentation, needed my support, and both of us couldn't do the excursions. ShoreFox refused to refund either one of us for the excursions we were unable to attend due to the quarantine. We had booked a sail with an outside company not recommended by cruiseline during the same time period. I sent them an email, and they joyfully refunded us. So, even though you recommend companies, there's no guarantee they will do the right thing by their customers. Like I said, ShoreFox is a rip off.

Posted by hnybns

I guess i should proof read. I meant independently. The ompany is Know Jamaican Tours.

Posted by kel400

i would only book through the cruise ship if you are looking for excursions that take you far away from the port like scuba diving or snorkeling or some sort of destination that would be difficult to get back to. you really take a chance going with an outside company if you get waylaid and can't make it back to the ship. the only time i think its fine to do is if you just want to get a driver and have them take you around town to see sights. i did that once in belize and not only was it an affordable blast but we got to see sights off the beaten trail that we never would have otherwise.

Posted by CruiselineMich

I use Ship Mate to book all my excursions

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