The cruise ship industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors involving tourism today. From fresh college graduates to retirees, families and newlyweds – there’s a trip for everybody. In fact, about 20 percent of the U.S. population has already taken at least ONE cruise, and more are slowly joining the trend.
Cruise trips are fun not just because of the sumptuous margaritas and spa on board. What usually makes these trips unforgettable are the various shore excursions that come with the holiday package. A shore excursion is basically a land-based trip that comes with each port visit. Depending on the cruise company and destination of your choice, there are an almost unlimited number of activities to suit every taste and individual.
There are Caribbean shore excursions for those longing for some sand, sea, and sun during their honeymoon. For active folks who want to explore the Last Frontier, Alaska shore excursions will take you to Anchorage, Denali, and Girdwood with no problem. These trips also cater to exotic locations such as Southeast Asia, Europe, and all else in between.
But hopping onboard your first cruise can feel daunting. What if the trip was NOT what you expected? Is there a chance that you’ll get left behind during sightseeing?
Although cruises come with their own setbacks, there’s no great adventure without a little risk. For the first-time traveler, here are a few basic tips to enjoy your first cruise and shore excursion:
1. Decide on a number of destinations beforehand.
This is where it all begins. If you don’t have a Bucket List yet, it’s never too late to make one. Look at a map and pinpoint specific locations that you want to visit. In what continents are they located? Which specific cities are you most interested in? What attractions would you prioritize? You can use traditional pen and paper to jot down notes OR use online discovery tools such as Pinterest to collect ideas.
2. List what you want to do.
What type of activities can you imagine yourself enjoying?
In general, there are two types of shore excursions: active and sightseeing. Active shore excursions feature all kinds of activities: from snorkeling and diving to ziplining, kayaking, and snowboarding. Sightseeing shore excursions, on the other hand, are more leisurely and focus on seeing the main attractions of each destination. Do consider these before booking. You don’t want to end up paying for a zipline trip when all you want to do is shop.
3. Do your homework.
It’s a good idea to take your time researching the type of cruise trip and shore excursion you want. Look at different websites and find out about discounts BEFORE jumping into anything. Ask friends and family members for recommendations. Read related articles, guidebooks, travel websites, and even call tourism bureaus if you must.Bookmark sites that have special offers and/or discounts.
Take advantage of customer care hotlines for any questions you may have.
4. Narrow down your options.
Choosing a cruise line and accompanying excursion is easy if you’re traveling alone – but this becomes somewhat challenging if you’re taking friends or family members along. Be sure you all agree on the final plan BEFORE purchasing! This prevents arguments that might arise during the trip. If you’ll be with children and/or seniors, don’t forget to account for their needs when narrowing down your options for a holiday cruise.
5. Manage your finances (and other necessities) carefully.
Even if you already paid for the shore excursion package, don’t be caught without emergency cash on hand. Prepare about $50 (more, if you can afford it) in bills for unexpected instances. Buy anything that you might need beforehand, such as medicines. Ask your bank about using a credit card in your chosen destinations. Don’t forget health insurance and international roaming (when applicable).
Download the apps you’ll be using for the duration of your trip as well.
6. Consider advanced bookings/reservations.
When booking your cruise, you’ll encounter an option to either pre-book shore excursions (pay in advance) OR wait until you’re onboard. There are perks to reserving your slots ahead of time. The first is that you’re sure to get first dibs on must-do tours (like dolphin-watching or SUV off-road adventures in the Caribbean), because these usually tend to sell out days before the actual trip.
But if you’re still undecided or the cruise line offers different excursions that you might want to participate in, then waiting might be your best bet.
7. Familiarize yourself with policies and inclusions.
If you did book your shore excursion beforehand BUT it got cancelled at the last minute, you should know how to protect yourself. Be sure to familiarize yourself with tour policies and cancellations. ALWAYS read the fine print! How will your money be refunded for such cases? Will they put you in a different tour with the same value? What items or extras are included in your cruise trip?
If you’re not sure, get in touch with customer care and ask LOTS of questions.
8. Prepare for emergencies.
One thing that deters most folks from trying cruise holidays is that they hear plenty of people say that the tours don’t go as expected. However, if you plan for them ahead of time – and account for emergencies – you’ll get more out of what you paid for. For example: if you’re going on a dolphin-watching adventure and it says that the only thing included in the tour would be bottled water, ask if you can bring snacks. If you have kids or seniors with you, you’ll be glad you took the extra precaution.
Know your limits for active shore excursions. Don’t take adventures that your body might not handle well.
9. Remember meet-up times.
Most shore excursions these days feature independent travel. That means the transportation will simply drop you off at the main attraction or city, then it’s up to you to explore at your own pace. What’s important here is to remember your meet-up time. Secure tickets and other important documents while on the trip. If you can get the mobile number of a responsible cruise staff, then do so. This is particularly helpful for solo travelers.
It’s better to arrive early at meet-up points than risk getting left behind. Although cruise-backed shore excursions do NOT leave without all buses or passengers accounted for, you don’t want to delay the schedule for everybody else.
10. Be ready to negotiate.
The skill of negotiation will come in handy at certain points during your trip. You may need to bargain with local tour guides or cab drivers while in port to get the best rates. Or your original shore excursion might get cancelled and so you need to discuss other options with the ship’s activities coordinator. Either way, be ready for such situations. This is something you need to anticipate so you won’t be surprised later on.
With more than 20 million passengers enjoying a cruise holiday each year, you don’t want to be left behind in completing your Bucket List. Visit amazing places like Beijing, Jerusalem, Trinidad, Vienna, and Johannesburg with various cruises and shore excursions available today.
Once you’re familiar with port protocols and basic cruise etiquette, you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy cruise holidays. In fact, you may even wonder why you didn’t take one sooner!
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