Are you planning a cruise and wondering if it's cheaper to book tours in advance? Many operators offer discounts of up to 30% for booking ahead of time, giving you the freedom to search for the best flight deals. But there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as destinations with complex visa requirements. In this article, an expert traveler explains the basics of cruise trips and how to get the most out of your shore excursions, no matter your budget. When it comes to booking tours, many operators offer prices between 10% and 30% cheaper than the highest price they will reach in the weeks leading up to the start of the tour. This is great news for travelers who want to save money and have the freedom to decide when to book their flights.
It's also a good idea to book your hotel or hostel in advance once you know the dates. But if you leave most of the rest up in the air, you'll generally be much better off. I have done shore excursions all over the world, both boat-managed and independent, and have spent many days in the port wandering on my own. Let me explain the basics of cruise trips so you can learn how to have the most fun no matter your budget. A shore excursion can be a sightseeing bus tour, a guided tour of a museum or historic site, a sporting activity (such as a walk, bike ride, or snorkel excursion), a day at the beach, or a cooking or dancing class. Shore excursions usually highlight the main attractions or the culture of the destination you're visiting. Sometimes, an excursion will take you to places that are a short distance from your cruise; other times, they can take you on a day trip to a nearby city.
Some shore excursions are aimed at families or can easily accommodate children. Some can accommodate passengers with mobility problems or other disabilities. Others may require a minimum level of fitness and aren't right for everyone. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Certain destinations have complex visa requirements that make it difficult for cruise ships to explore on their own.
St. Petersburg (Russia), for example, requires a visa for all cruise passengers who arrive on the coast but decide not to take an organized tour. If you want to explore on your own, you'll have to do the paperwork and pay the fee to get a visa before your trip. Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean do not allow unvaccinated passengers (mainly children under 12) to disembark at many ports, unless they are taking a specific shore excursion sponsored by a ship that is considered a “bubble trip”. These are special routes where additional precautions are taken to protect unvaccinated travelers from the local population, and vice versa. I use many factors to decide whether to take a boat tour, a stand-alone excursion, or simply explore on my own in port.
However, if you're a novice traveler, you might want to book boat trips exclusively because it's the simplest, easiest, and most convenient option. The advantages of cruise line shore excursions are that they leave and return to the ship; you don't need to figure out where to meet a guide in a port you've never visited before. Better yet, if an unexpected problem occurs (traffic, medical emergency), the ship will not leave the port until all of your tours have returned. Finally, some ports are simply wonderful for strolling around, visiting local shops and restaurants or bars, going wherever you want. I skipped visiting places like Key West, Florida; Tallinn, Estonia; Monaco; Nassau, Bahamas; Skagway, Alaska; Geiranger, Norway; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. A map and guide took me where I wanted to go. Some cruise lines, such as Viking and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, include the cost of basic shore excursions in their cruise fares.
If you don't want to take any specialized tours, you may be able to enjoy all their port activities for free. Other lines, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, offer free or discounted tours as part of limited-time booking promotions. Whether you're taking a shore excursion sponsored by a cruise line or an independent excursion, it's good practice to tip your tour guides at the end of the tour. The exceptions are if tips are included in the price or if you're visiting a country where tips aren't given - offering cash might be uncomfortable. The key to getting the most out of your coastal cruise excursion is knowing what you want and making sure that the description of the tour matches your expectations. It seems that as I sail more often I do fewer shore excursions sponsored by ships because they don't offer exactly what I want. For example: if you're thinking about taking a bus tour make sure you understand how much time you'll be sitting on the bus and how long you'll be at each destination or attraction; if you'll visit all main attractions; if there will be free time for exploration; what fitness level is required; and if there is any uneven terrain that could pose mobility problems. Personally I think organized tours are better when: it's an activity I can't do on my own (such as kayaking or zip lining); there are long distances and I don't want to bother with public transport or renting a car for one day; or when culture is foreign enough that independent exploration is difficult.
Sometimes an expert guide is necessary too - like in Pompeii - so that visitors know what they're seeing. Just yesterday I read a hotel review from someone who bought a “daily deal” on Groupon for a boat tour of Phuket - so there are plenty of ways to save money when booking tours!The bottom line is that booking tours in advance can save money - but make sure that what's offered matches your expectations before committing!.