Cruisers love to get caught up researching all the fun to be had on board between eateries, entertainment and activities. But what about a cruise shore excursion?

And it’s easy to forget that some of the best moments of a cruise happen off the boat. 

Whether cruising the shores of Australia or around the world, some of the most special moments of cruising come down to exploring the beautiful ports you stop at along the way. Often the best way to immerse in these destinations for the day is via shore excursions. 

If you’re newer to cruising it might be a bit overwhelming trying to decide how to spend the limited time you get at these ports, but here are all the basics to know about shore excursions and how to get the best value and personal satisfaction out of them.

What is a shore excursion?

A shore excursion is a tour or activity that you’ll do during the time your ship is at a port on your cruise. They could be anything from strolling through a museum to skydiving from 10,000 feet.

Essentially, shore excursions offer you the chance to personalise your cruise and if you plan ahead, you’ll be able to pick the activity best suited for you to enjoy your time in whichever port you’re discovering for the day. 

You don’t have to take shore excursions, you are also free to just explore the city or town in your own time, so it’ll simply depend on personal preference. 

A happy cruiser on their island shore excursion.
Shore excursions immerse you in the destination.

Are shore excursions included in your price?

While some luxury cruise lines or expedition-focused itineraries might include some or all of your shore excursions in the price, generally your shore excursions won’t be included. 

For example, with the more mainstream cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean or Carnival Cruises you’ll generally have to pay extra for shore excursions. 

Do you need to book shore excursions through the cruise line?

You do not need to book shore excursions through your cruise line, you are completely free to organise your own tours. Some of the advantages of booking your own shore excursions include being able to search through a greater range of options, finding better prices and being able to personalise your tour. 

However, there are also advantages to booking through the cruise line. The most significant is probably convenience, as you can pay for the shore excursion with the rest of your booking, your tour will start and end at the ship, and there’s no risk of the ship leaving without you and the rest of your tour party. Furthermore, you can be confident the tour will be run by trusted operators.

Essentially, tours booked through the cruise line will be more expensive but also more convenient and secure, meaning it’s up to the individual to make a judgement on the trade-off. 

In certain ports, you may also not be allowed to organise individual tours, but this is a rarity. 

Types of shore excursions 

There are also plenty of considerations about what type of excursion you want to spend your day enjoying.

The first consideration is the nature of the activity itself. In many destinations, you’ll have a choice between more active excursions, such as hiking, zipline or snorkelling, and other more relaxed activities such as culinary tastings or museum tours. 

You can also generally choose between a full- or half-day tour. A full-day tour will probably squeeze more activities into your total port time but choosing a half-day tour will give you some insight into the destination and also leave you with some free time to relax, shop and explore. 

It’s also good to keep an eye out for more exclusive, boutique tours that might be offered, by the cruise line or otherwise. This could be more intimate experiences such as cooking classes or visits to local communities that are tightly capped on numbers. If these catch your eye, you’ll want to book well ahead of time. 

River cruisers exploring Vienna.
Cruisers getting out into Vienna.


As far as how to get the most out of your shore excursions, a little research and reading will go a long way. Closely read the shore excursion descriptions before you snap up the tours and decide if it’s the best way to spend your time.

For example, some activities might look really appealing but really most of the day will be spent driving around, or the activities will be strenuous beyond your capabilities. 

Furthermore, research your own interests for your best chance at finding the perfect excursion for you. For example, if you’re a snorkeller or scuba diver, look into the options at local dive shops in the area.

If you have nothing booked, quite often there will be operators selling tours at the port, so if something jumps out at you, you’ll probably still be able to get out for the day. 

Depending on the number of people in your travel party, hiring private transport that’ll take you around could be significantly cheaper than the cruise line’s excursion, so it’s worth looking into your options. 

Most importantly, if you don’t book through the cruise line, keep a close eye on the time! Don’t expect the ship to wait for you and it’s not a nice process trying to resurrect your holiday if the ship leaves without you. 

Covid concerns 

While luckily cruises’ stringent health protocols are keeping cruise passengers from having to worry too much on board, it’s good to have a level of awareness as you enter other communities. 

Make sure you respect the mask and social-distancing policies of the communities you enter and if you’re visiting remote areas keep in mind that they may not have had exposure to Covid or be protected from it, so it’s best to be particularly cautious.