Exploring your ports of call is a big part of cruising and with that in mind, it’s important that you get the most out of your time in port on each day of your itinerary. If you’re a seasoned traveller or familiar with a particular destination, you may want to explore on your own but if you’re new to a particular port and want to sample the best of what it offers, then you really need to book a shore excursion.

What’s a shore excursion?

It may seem obvious but it’s worth explaining exactly what an excursion entails if you’re new to cruising. Think of your excursions as day trips to the ports and cities on your itinerary. If your port is the main attraction itself, for example Venice or Barcelona, then it will be the subject of the vast majority of excursions that day. However, some ports serve a major city, such as Civitavecchia for Rome or Piraeus for Athens, so though you’re free to stay and explore the port itself, you’re more likely to make your way into the city to take in a world famous attraction or three. Shore excursions typically involve coach transfers from your port to the point of excursion and usually a tour guide will accompany you for the duration of your visit.

Different types of shore excursions

The most popular shore excursion the world over is the guided city tour. You’ll typically begin your transfer from the ship in the morning, spend the afternoon exploring your destination and be home in time for dinner. Such excursions are a must for busy, landmark-packed cities like Rome, Barcelona and Istanbul, as with the help of your knowledgeable guide, you’ll see far more of a city in a relatively short space of time than you ever would on your own. They know the cities they visit well as well as the quickest routes from one landmark to the next. They’re also very clued up when it comes to finding a good place to eat lunch and will often recommend a reasonably priced venue which is authentic and just far enough off the most well-trodden parts of the tourist trail.

Family enjoying a desert safari

Then there’s the specialist or themed shore excursion. This is the perfect choice if you have a keen interest in a particular area or are calling at a port or city on your itinerary that you’ve perhaps visited before and know well. Often, if you’re docking in or visiting a large city, tours are available which explore one of its particular districts in depth, while common themed cruises involve wine-tasting or culinary experiences in or around the port. Another good choice if you don’t want to explore the port or city itself is an excursion to a nearby area of natural beauty such as a national park, forest or mountain range, or area of big historical interest like a castle or palace.

Choosing your excursions

Take a look at your itinerary and think about each port of call and what you’d most like to do there. If there’s a port on there you know really well, then you could perhaps make your own way ashore. If it’s a city you’re visiting for the first time that you’ve always wanted to see, then a sightseeing tour would be ideal. Shore excursions come in a variety of forms and often you can choose a full or half day experience depending on how you feel. If you want to enjoy multiple excursions during your cruise, deals are often available which offer a number of excursions at a discounted rate, not only saving you money but taking care of all your daily cruise plans in one go.

Booking your excursions

It’s always a good idea to plan ahead when it comes to excursions. Yes, you can book them with your cruise line from on-board your ship, but you'll likely pay a premium for this, and may be limited by availability. Likewise, you could just get off the ship and see what's available from the port, but this is unreliable and the quality of these unofficial tours can be hit and miss.

To get the best price, choice and guaranteed quality, we'd recommend booking your excursions in advance with a reliable company such as CruisingExcursions.com.

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