The 7 Worst Shore Excursions

If you visit the State Hermitage Museum during tourist season, expect to navigate through crowds like this. - Photo by withGod / Shutterstock

Happiness on a shore excursion can be a bit of a crapshoot. Occasionally, the outing can be a total bust, for reasons that may vary from bad planning to poor weather, a deficient guide, crowds, or even just a deathly dullsville destination. Here are seven of the biggest disappointments:

1 Magens Bay Beach

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

The Magens Bay Beach getaway can be a delight or akin to Coney IsIand on the Fourth of July, depending on the day of the week. The setting is gorgeous and the sand powdery soft, but if several big cruise ships are in port, expect a major hassle for securing a nice spot, beach chairs, and an umbrella, with long queues for food and drinks.

Tip: If you are a beach lover, then find out how many other ships will be in portIf there are three or more big ships, it would be best to choose something else.

2 Sitka National Historical Park

Sitka, Alaska

At the entrance to Alaska’s Sitka National Historical Park, we were dropped off without any guidance as to where to go, and on-site information revealed little about the splendid totems positioned deep in the forest. Mostly, we worried about getting lost and missing our ride. Then passing the keynote site of St. Michael’s Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church, we were told it was closed (on a Sunday?) and later learned it wasn’t. Left off at the remains of a fort, the guide drove away and came back a half hour later for the transfer to the ship. We did enjoy seeing two bald eagles sitting atop the church’s weather vane with snowy coastal mountains as a backdrop. 

Tip: Take a shuttle to the center of Sitka and walk to the major attractions, or inquire on board if the tour includes a guided interpretation (not just a drop off) at the totem park, St. Michael’s and the historic port. 

3 St. Andrews by-the-Sea

Saint John, New Brunswick

From the port of Saint John, the coastal drive to lovely St. Andrews by-the-Sea consumed half of the six-hour excursion. The advertised high tea at the venerable late 19th-century Algonquin Resort was served in a separate cavernous function room used for tour groups. I fled without eating to explore the hotel itself. At a drop-off along the prettified Main Street, bus loads flooded shops selling tourist trinkets. 

Tip: Pick the all-day tour that takes you to lots of sites (yes moderately-long drives) such as the Bay of Fundy, Reversing Falls, sea caves, covered bridges, beautiful residential  homes and fishing villages. Doing lunch on your own will lower the cost even more.

4 Cadillac Mountain

Bar Harbor, Maine

Anchoring way off Bar Harbor, a very long tender ride brought us to an overcrowded dock, where we boarded a convoy of buses that stopped at a rocky coastal beauty spot to ogle the pounding surf, but the ocean was a millpond. The top of Cadillac Mountain was enshrouded in clouds obscuring the otherwise stunning view, and I threw in the towel at a tourist trap stop at Jordan Pond. 

Tip: Wait until you know what the weather will bring. If it's sunny, you can book at the last minute or take the shuttle service offered by the Bar Harbor Tourist Board. 

5 Pineapple Farm and Fire Lake

pineapple farm

A pineapple farm is about as exciting as it sounds.
Photo by Anton Zelenov / Thinkstock

Ponta Delgada, Azores

In the mid-Atlantic, our ship called at Ponta Delgada, a pretty town that we should have never left. The excursion’s first stop, with six buses converging, was a small hot house pineapple farm where people milled about wondering why they were there. Low clouds marred the second stop at Fire Lake, blocking the view from the rim. Instead, we saw what we missed in a photo mural, so I snapped a picture of that and nearly fooled my friends at home. Lastly, we were dropped at a coastal town with little to see. 

Tip:  Simply spend the day in Ponta Delgada, a lovely town for snacking on seafood treats, shopping for local crafts, and visiting churches and museums. 

6 The State Hermitage Museum

St. Petersburg, Russia

One of the world’s great cultural cities becomes an utterly maddening place in summer when too many people congregate to see the same things at the same time. My first visit to the Hermitage and the cathedral where the czars are buried was a nightmare as guides shouted over each other to be heard. With audio headsets, guides still clash simply trying to carve out floor space for their groups. At the end of the day, all of the tour buses arrived back at the ship simultaneously, resulting in a frustratingly long wait to get back onboard.

 Tip:  Again, use a cruise schedule siteScroll first to the date(s) your ship will be here, and you will see the list of other ships. If you are staying, two days, pick the one that has the fewest ships for visiting the major attractions and choose something outside the city for the busier date.  

7 Alesund

Sunnmore, Norway

The lamest commentary of all time came during a nearly two-hour drive from Geiranger to Alesund. It went like this, “There’s a typical Norwegian marina” (two boats at a tiny dock). “Look, here’s a beautiful church to visit inside” (as we sped by without even slowing down). “That hill ahead is to be blasted away for an Ikea shop, and look at the water standing on the ground because the ground is frozen.” As the bus approached a ferry: “Once there were 80 factories and now almost zero, so people can work for the buses and ferries.” Passing an old farmhouse: “That’s 400 years old, and now the owners are adding an inside toilet and shower.”

Tip: Skip the drive altogether as it is no more scenic than enjoying the view from the rim at your own pace.

Join the discussion

What’s the worst shore excursion you’ve ever taken?


Posted by noname111

Even though this article has been public for over a year, it is important to say this again.... The article is clickbait and irresponsible. The writer who prepared the list does not cite the cruise line(s) nor the tour operator(s) for each of these supposedly worst excursions. There is no mention as to the size of the group either. Good versus Bad are highly subjective, so take this with a grain of salt and decide for yourself. There is just not enough meat on these bones.

Posted by KSceyiser

Two shore excursions: ATV in Denali - listed as a back country exploration. Ended being on a large Atc/dirt bike route. Nothing but dust and loud noise. At the end, you are hosed off with an air hose. Stil had to launder everything. #2: "the best of at irks and Caicos". If this was the best, then not sure why cruise ships even stop there. I understand the diving and beaches at great - that is the wy to go.

Posted by BlueRCruise

An excellent shore excursion for Sitka is the whales and otters tour. You will also see ptarmigans, starfish and eagles. It might be nippy outside so dress warmly. Don't forget your camera or camcorder. For worst shore excursion candidate, I'd nominate ANY at Ensenada. Save your money and use it to buy something you'd like in the many shops there.

Posted by chatoh

We took a cruise to Grand Turks in the Caribbean. There was a tour of the island advertised as hop on and off as desired. The bus did not have working air conditioning. The driver did not stop anywhere until we got to a lighthouse where he said that he would wait only 5 minutes because he was not allowed to wait. So he left and all there was there to see was a plain lighthouse and some donkeys. The next tour bus 30 minutes later at least had working air conditioning. The cruise was fantastic, the destination was not.

Posted by nessa

We've had varied experiences ourselves on ship's sponsored excursions. You need to start with the understanding that if you are taking a ship excursion, you will likely be one of 40-50 people on a coach bus, there may be anywhere from 5-20 bus-loads from your ship alone and that all the buses follow pretty much the same schedule. So you will likely be in a crowed tourist spot. Also, most all of the ship's excursions include a stop to shop. The ship and/or the excursion firm make money off of these stops. These tours can be cost-effective ways of a good overview of a port. Research them and ask questions before you commit to make certain that the excursion meets your needs. If you want a more personalized experience: investigate private excursions, research and do DIYs tours, or organize small group excursions with others on your trip. It might be a bit pricier and/or more work, but you can get what you want.

Posted by RickyHanson

I have been to Cadillac Mountain several times and it was beautiful. One person has a bad visit and this article says it's in the top worst shore excursions, that's sort of silly. Millions of people have visited Cadillac Mountain, and very few complain about the picturesque views. Guess what, there is a thing called weather, and sometimes there is a thing called fog that happens, it can happen, and does, but that doesn't make it the worst place to go. Sometimes when I go to the beach it rains, that doesn't mean I never go to the beach again.

Posted by northsouth

Cruise lines should have undercover couples who actually experience their cruises and shore excursions and report back to the cruise lines. My friend and I complained about two shore excursions on different Celebrity ships. it would be nice to know our problems weren't met by the next cruisers.

Posted by DisplayName

What is dull to one person can be quite interesting to others. What a worthless article.

Posted by leonardofAN

I LIKED the Punta Delgada tour (for some reason we only docked there for 4 hours on Sunday morning, so it was that or nothing, but I'm glad I went) The pineapple greenhouse was interesting!

Posted by Sarahcruiser

Without specific cruise lines, you can't expect to have issues addressed. I am about the cruise to Canada and Eastern U.S. We will be stopping in Bar Harbor and every description of the excursions to Acadia indicate that the views of Cadillac Mountain may be obscured by fog. And, on the review of St. Andrews by the Sea. Possibly the descriptions of an excursion could be worded in a clearer tone to indicate the length of time it will take to get from the port to the destination. When unsure, travelers should do a little more research to get a better indication of the time it will take to reach their destination. And, lastly on the State Hermitage Museum. The same can be written of so many other locations when a traveler is visiting at the height of tourist season. Timing is everything. My first view of the Mona Lisa, the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the Crown Jewels and the Book of Kells -- all were crowded and hard to see, but worth the effort.

Posted by 49ergal1967

I totally agree with @jheretired... this article is worthless without specifics.

Posted by EatSleepCruise

Our worst experience was in St. Thomas, which did include a stop at Magen's Bay Beach and some of the "great houses". But, even that wasn't so bad as we got some decent photos . Plus we were outside in some fabulous Caribbean weather. For a January cruise, it could have been worse. We review excursions from our last cruise on RCI's Independence of the Seas earlier this year on our blog ( complete with photo galleries.

Posted by Jheretired

This article is virtually worthless. Without specifics (like who was the operator), all it does is state that some excursion operators provided poor service. Were these excursions vetted by the cruise company or privately booked by the cruiser? How can you make a blanket statement as to these being THE seven worst shore excursions, when the problem is, obviously, the operator?

Posted by GW3

One of our worst excursions was to Coco Beach Florida on RCL. They took us there, told us to arrange our own transport back and it took us 2 hours to find transportation back to the ship in the middle of the summer. They must have had a deal with Ron Jon's Surf Shop, its the only thing there.

Posted by nconnaly

the absolute worst excursion I have ever had was last year in Tunisia.15 cruises and this took me by bus (no problem)there were snipers on rooftops then drop you off in a place crawling with militia and all vendors want a fortune for their junk.

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