A shore excursion during your cruise is an opportunity to experience new cultures, tastes, experiences and scenery while having a break from being on board. It’s also a chance to avoid the crowds while taking a curated tour of your choice. 

Whether it is an ocean or river cruise, brief on-shore breaks at port destinations can give you an insight into different cultures. Whether it’s food, a local dance performance, a history tour, artworks or an amazing natural phenomenon. It is also the chance to choose an activity that best suits you. You could go wine or whiskey tasting, do a cooking class, weave a basket, climb a mountain. Or you can even navigate a kayak through icebergs while keeping an eye out for seals and penguins. 

There is also a limit to the number of people taken on tours or activities. That cap usually means booking your tour early in the piece. But it also means you will enjoy a more intimate group outing, rather than fighting for space with the masses. With cruising and port excursions become increasingly popular, it’s worth the extra cost. 

Some cruise lines even have exclusive arrangements with operators that enable them to take on-shore groups behind the scenes. You could marvel at grand homes and castles or access galleries or museums after hours. And this means you will get special treatment.  

Take it to the river 

On-shore river excursions often start in the centre of a city. Simply walk up the gangplank and start your tour by taking a walk, jumping on a bicycle or boarding a bus. They can be hosted by onboard excursion experts. Or the line might also engage a local to get you the best insights into your on-shore destination.  

New experiences to consider include Tauck’s 2024 portfolio of European river cruises with six new on-shore offers. This includes several exclusive dining experiences. Highlights include dinner in an elegant Viennese palace, a Dutch castle, on an island or an Italian Renaissance-style mansion in northern France.

shore excursions tauck
Explore Monet’s Giverny Gardens with

Special access tours include “pre-opening” admission to the home, gardens and studio of Impressionist painter Claude Monet in Giverny, France; an excursion into the rock-cut tunnels beneath Nüremberg; or walking over a high-altitude suspension bridge in Switzerland with stunning views of the Matterhorn, Mont-Blanc and Jungfrau. 

Oceania’s on-shore excursions in Europe, aboard Vista and Sirena, include mediaeval cities and fortresses lining the Baltic; the striking architecture and modern design of Scandinavia; famous castles in Scotland; legendary landscapes in Ireland, and the historical and iconic attractions of England.  

In the Mediterranean, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has launched 128 culinary-focused experiences across France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Turkey. Immersive epicurean experiences include a farm-to-table shore excursion on an organic farm in Scala, Amalfi. And this is for as little as US$119 per person. 

In contrast, all Uniworld on-shore excursions are included in the river cruise fare. These may include visiting a local village, walking, hiking, cycling or kayaking tours or even a round of golf. While Uniworld’s India tours take in historic sites such as the Taj Mahal, its Make Travel Matter Experiences also support local communities such as the NGO Calcutta Rescue. This helps underprivileged children in Kolkata and West Bengal.  

When it comes to ocean cruising, Hurtigruten offers on-shore experiences from pole to pole. In the far Southern Hemisphere, you can sleep in a tent close to thousands of penguins in Antarctica. Or you can head up to the opposite end of the world to see the Northern Lights on a dog-sledding trip or take an excursion into the Arctic on a snowmobile. 

In Alaska, Princess also offers dog-sledding, heli-tours, totem-pole tours, salmon fishing and nature hiking. And, they’ve included a Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show followed by an all-you-can-eat Crab Feast. 

Naturalist Josh Coates explains Swift Bay rock art sites for Ponant guests.

Closer to home, Ponant is now including excursions on all voyages starting with Australasia’s 2024-25 summer season. That might be snorkelling with whale sharks in Papua New Guinea, walking among thousands of penguins in Antarctica. Or you can take a Zodiac ride along Australia’s Kimberley coast. Daily excursions are also included in other destinations such as the Mediterranean, North America’s Great Lakes and the Caribbean.    

With passengers looking for authentic and out-of-the-ordinary experiences, other Australian coastline destinations are being considered for a raft of new shore excursions. 

With its Mediterranean climate and long coastline, Western Australia could become a new hotspot for on-shore excursions. This includes the Houtman Abrolhos Islands and Kalbarri National Park. The WA Government aims to expand and enhance destinations for shore excursions as part of its 10-year plan for the cruise industry and the state’s 11 ports. 

In the Pacific, Oceania Cruises is offering a traditional Polynesian Culinary Experience escorted by a chef around Nuku Hiva, on a Papeete round-trip departing January 30. The tour explores the staple foods of taro and manioc on local plantations. Plus the many uses of the breadfruit tree and a visit to a honey farm. Guests also have the chance to see the opening of the Ahi Ma’a – a traditional underground oven where hot volcanic stones cook popular dishes.  

In Timaru, New Zealand, Oceania also features a full-day shore excursion to Te Kiteroa. This is a 100-year-old lodge where participants will see a venison cooking demonstration before settling in for a magnificent meal. Matched with local wines, of course. 

Ponant shore excursions
Experience dog sledding in the Arctic with Ponant.

Dumplings to see 

On Regent Seven Seas Cruises, get a true taste of Asia with the Beyond the Great Wall tour, which starts in Hong Kong on February 21. Passengers first head to the dazzling architecture of Shanghai, which offers a universe of dining options and buzzing streetscapes. That includes tucking into Shanghai’s fabled street food, from crab-shell pies to paper-thin soup dumplings. In cooler climes, RSSC’s Flavours of Juneau tour takes in the flavours of this Alaskan capital during a tasting tour and cooking demonstration. That includes a visit to the Alaskan Brewing Company to discover local beers, then to a local restaurant offering authentic Alaskan dishes. 

Below the surface, Aussie-owned Scenic Eclipse II and its state-of-the-art submersible  Scenic Neptune II, will be the first cruise company to offer underwater explorations in the Great Barrier Reef for 2024. The submarine fits eight guests and a pilot and can dive up to 200 metres. With its crystal-clear acrylic sphere, it allows unrestricted views of the surrounding ocean. But don’t expect to catch any fish for dinner.  

Scenic Eclipse II shore excursions
Scenic Neptune is an eight-passenger submarine now on Scenic Eclipse II.