You’ve booked your cruise! You should now start thinking about what you will do during your trip to make it the absolute best vacation. You should think specifically about your ports of call, and booking excursions. If you’re traveling with kids, check out Cruising with Young Kids.
Excursions are planned group activities at your ports of call. Excursions can be anything from sight-seeing buses, to group scuba diving, to snorkeling over coral reefs, to touring mysterious Mayan ruins. They range in price, physical activity level, and length of time. Before booking a tour, consider who you are traveling with. Grandparents don’t do well zip lining through Belize or running the American Race through Puerto Rico. Check out your cruise lines excursion list for age requirements and physical activity warnings.
I’m often asked- should I book excursions before we set sail? My answer is usually No, UNLESS there is something you absolutely cannot miss. For instance, if your dream is to swim with dolphins in the Bahamas, just go ahead and book that ahead of time. While I’ve seen many excursions fill up quickly or sell out, this doesn’t usually happen until last minute on board. But why risk it? I recommend planning 1 big excursion for first time cruisers (such as swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with stingrays, jet skiing in Cabo) and booking that through the cruise line. Although it is more expensive, you’re guaranteed not to miss out on the opportunity and the excursion is insured.
You don’t HAVE to book excursions through the ship. In fact, you don’t have to book or plan excursions at ALL. If you are wanting to shop or sight see an island by private car or bus, I usually recommend hopping off the ship and finding someone who will take you or renting a car.
This is MUCH more affordable, though you will have to keep an eye on the time. While the ship will wait for excursions that you book through them, they will not wait for you if you do your own thing (or get a flat tire, or have an emergency, or lose your child, etc.).
One of our favorite things to do while leaving a port is watching the ship pull out (really, it’s phenomenal that those things can float and maneuver like they do) AND watch the people that are late running after the ship and miss it. Don’t let this be you. The ship will not wait for you and you will have to pay to fly to the next port. Again, don’t let this be you. Vacation. Ruined.