When I’m not booking cruises and shore excursions for my clients, I’m actually designing shore excursions for some of the top luxury cruise companies. As an insider, I can tell you, not all shore excursions are created equal.
How do you find the right shore excursion for you? First and foremost it comes down to knowing “how” you like to travel. Some people feel comfortable and safe in large groups, while others are looking for a unique experience to give them bragging rights when they get home. Some like to wander on their own and see what unfolds.
All PostsMany of the luxury river, lake and ocean cruise lines include shore excursions in their overall price. This makes it much simpler to just choose what interests you most. However if you are looking at “optional” excursions here are some things you need to know:
- Generally, the more expensive the excursion, the smaller the group (perhaps 8 or less guests) and/or the more authentic and exclusive the experience. For example, an after-hours dinner with the curator of a world renowned museum, or a behind the scenes look at a famous theatre with introductions to the actors will command a greater price tag but also be a once-in-a-life-time experience. A $65 tour for river rafting will have you lining up with the rest of the ship for your 20 min float down the river…. fun as it may be, you can bet there will be a gift shop at the end. I suggest you put aside part of your budget for at least one amazing experience in one port. You won’t regret the splurge!
- Now in saying this, buyer beware: I’ve seen clients charged $400 for the same experience as a walk in tourist paying $80 so know who is selling you the tour. Luxury cruise lines stand behind their products, whereas the main stream cruise lines subcontract out to third parties and you are left to your own devices. If you don’t like the options offered by a cruise line your travel agent can assist you with exclusive and even private tours as they have contacts with licensed and reputable suppliers. I’ve often used companies such as Shoretrips.com because they offer small groups and always stand behind their product.
- Choose shore excursions which excite you – something you’ve never done. This may mean leaving the port area (some can look pretty intimidating) and getting up into the hills, such as in Tuscany (outside the port of Livorno) where the most beautiful scenery awaits you. Cooking classes may be in town or at a chef’s private villa and may involve a trip to the market or out into the vineyard. Very authentic! Personally, I love the hands on experiences where I get to try something new. Museum tours can be crowded and boring unless the guide is knowledgeable and can tell a good story, and have a sense of humour. Believe me you will never remember a list of treaties and dates at the end of the cruise. Not all guides are created equal.
- Be careful not to overload your schedule with excursions every day. It’s ok to stay on board and chill, while everyone else goes ashore. Some people don’t want to miss a thing, believing they may never get back to a destination. That’s ok. Believe it or not, on my first trip to Paris, I did not go up the Eiffel Tower, visit the Louvre or the Palace of Versailles, but I did have lunch with a Count in his Chateaux after a fox and hound presentation on New Years’ Day and a dinner in the Musée D’Orsay after hours with a private viewing of the Impressionists while sipping champagne. These memories will last me a lifetime! Oh, and we all sang Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris” while driving past Eiffel Tower all lit up one evening. Magical! You can see why more cruise ships are doing overnights in some ports. Take advantage of going ashore with fewer tourists and get a real feel for the destination.
At the end of your vacation, you want to be able to say “WOW, that was an amazing trip, I feel so refreshed and I didn’t want it to end”. Let your shore excursions be a part of your memories.