5 large cruise ships lined up at port in the Bahamas

Plan Your Own Cruise Excursions: 5 Top Tips for Success

Cruise vacations offer a wonderful way to explore the world, but shore excursions can be a mixed bag. Sometimes those pre-packaged tours feel rushed or overly crowded. Want to break free, see a port city at your own pace, and tailor the adventure to your specific interests? Independent shore excursions let you call the shots, promising greater flexibility and often significant cost savings!

As an avid cruiser, I’ve found a mix of independent exploring and organized tours offers the best of both worlds. Some ports lend themselves perfectly to going solo; you can take your time at must-see attractions without feeling like you’re on a schedule. In this blog post, I’ll share the tips and strategies I use for planning successful and stress-free independent shore excursions.

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1. Know Your Destination

Woman sitting on her bed, with laptop and notebook, researching
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova

The treasure hunt begins the second I book a cruise! Diving into blogs and destination guides to uncover hidden gems and must-see experiences โ€“ that’s half the fun. Do some research on each port. Don’t just rely on the cruise line’s brief overviews! Dig into travel blogs, destination websites, and even social media to get a true sense of what the port city has to offer. I find that surfing travel blogs gives me an authentic view of the city, and it’s often how I decide whether or not to book that cruise itinerary to begin with!

If you’ve read one of my DIY port guides, I give each port a DIY shore excursion rating, which rates how hard or easy it is to explore that port independently without joining a group tour.

Accessibility is Everything: Once I know what excites me about a destination, I map it out. Can must-see sights be reached on foot? Is public transport a breeze? If logistics look complicated, that’s a good indicator that a structured tour might be the most efficient way to make the most of my time ashore.

Understanding Difficulty: Experienced travellers know every destination has its quirks. Some ports are compact and walkable, allowing for relaxed exploration. Others require more planning to avoid wasting precious time figuring out where to go. Check out my DIY Sweat Index for each attraction in my DIY port guides.

2. Time Management is Crucial

Black man at NY subway stop checking his watch
Photo by Ono Kosuki

Independent shore excursions mean you’re in charge โ€“ but … with freedom comes responsibility! Shore time is precious, so make your time count with smart planning.

  • Know Your Limits: Don’t try to pack too much into the day. Prioritize your “must-sees”, and leave time for enjoying the atmosphere without feeling rushed.
  • Build in Buffers: Unexpected delays happen โ€“ traffic, misreading a map, or simply falling in love with a spot and enjoying it longer than planned. Leave wiggle room in your itinerary to safeguard against missing the ship. Also, factor in queuing times for popular attractions. Pre-booking entry tickets with timed slots can save you hours, just be aware that missed ports do happen, and that could complicate your ticket situation.
  • The Port Agent is Your Ally: Your daily cruise newsletter holds a gem: the port agent’s contact info. Snap a photo or tear out that section to carry with you. While you’ll likely never need it, having their number provides peace of mind should you encounter unexpected delays.

3. Embrace Tech-Savvy Navigation

Map on Android Phone with Google Maps, navigating walking directions
Photo by Ingo Joseph

In today’s digital world, your smartphone is your most powerful navigation tool. But to be a savvy explorer, a little preparation goes a long way:

  • Power Up: Make sure your phone is fully charged before leaving the ship, and carry a backup battery. Nothing ruins a day like a dead phone when you need directions the most.
  • App-y Exploring: Research the best local transport apps beforehand. It’s one reason I mention this in those “port essentials” sections in my DIY guides! Knowing which app locals rely on makes getting around a breeze, especially for working out transport times & connections.
  • Offline is Golden: Download offline maps (Google Maps offers this feature) for seamless navigation even with spotty data coverage. Having the area available offline avoids any surprise roaming charges too!
  • Have a Rough Plan: Jot down a loose itinerary of your must-see sights on your phone’s notes app. This keeps you focused and helps you make quick navigation decisions on the go.

4. Get Around Like a Local

Woman on Metro Platform with Train going past her
Photo by Life Of Pix

Stepping off the ship, you have optionsโ€”and choosing wisely can make or break your shore excursion. Public transport isn’t just about saving money; in bustling cities, it’s often the fastest way to reach your sights, bypassing potential traffic jams. That’s why my DIY guides always focus on local transport options!

  • Public Transport Pros: Authentic experiences, cost-effective, and time-saving in urban areas. Do some research beforehand to know which bus, train, or metro lines to use.
  • Taxi Tips: Pre-negotiate rates where there’s no meter, have your destination written down for clarity, and invest some time in learning about taxi scams common in the port you’re visiting. Stick to reputable taxi companies or well-known ride-sharing apps for safety and reliability.

5. A Little Culture Goes a Long Way

Even a few basic phrases in the local language can go a long way. “Hello”, “please”, “thank you”, and knowing how to ask for directions open doors and often leave locals charmed. Translation apps like Google Translate are your lifeline in moments of confusion.

Additional Tips

  • Embrace Serendipity: Leave room in your itinerary for those unexpected discoveries! Wander down a side street, try a local cafe, or strike up a conversation with a friendly shop owner. Often, these unplanned moments become the highlights of a trip.
  • Stay Safe: Trust your instincts about situations or areas that feel unsafe. Be mindful of your belongings in crowded areas and research common scams in the port city beforehand.
  • Blend In: Dress respectfully, considering local customs, and avoid flashy displays of valuables. This helps you get off the tourist radar, and experience the port like a visitor, not just a target.

Planning a successful independent shore excursion takes a bit of preparation, but the freedom and adventure make it all worthwhile! If this blog post has helped make your DIY excursions easier, please share it with fellow cruisers. Let’s build a community of confident, independent explorers!

Featured Image by Fernando Jorge

2 thoughts on “Plan Your Own Cruise Excursions: 5 Top Tips for Success”

  1. Tamsulosin Actavis

    Everything is very open with a very clear description of the issues.
    It was really informative. Your website is extremely helpful.

    Thanks for sharing!

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