Looking for a guide to lead you through the tricky task of choosing your shore excursion and ultimately your cruise destination? With the variety of choices in cruise lines and itineraries, it is difficult to find the perfect one for you. Luckily, shore excursions are a great way to narrow your field of vacation destinations.
Numerous variables can affect your decision on your cruise choice, which ports you are visiting should be high on the list. Sometimes your choice is made by your embarkation port, limiting your options. So it might not be the port of call you made plans to visit when you saw Pirates of the Caribbean, but with a little knowledge under your belt and a sense of adventure in your heart… this can be the trip of a lifetime!
Trying to go it alone
On a recent cruise to Progresso, my fellow fitness trainer / favorite travel buddy and I planned to navigate the streets of Mexico by ourselves for some cultural exploring. As others from our group loaded onto busses for prearranged shore excursions, we hit the local open-air market to do some shopping. Being women’s fitness club trainers, which translates to we are Super Women, there was no doubt in our minds we could handle anything Mexico could throw at us. Let’s face it; we handle sweaty, sometimes cranky women trying to lose weight… what could be more challenging or terrifying?
Our first clue that we should have made other plans was at the checkpoint our bus passed. It’s not every day you see M-16 toting men waving at you. The open-air market greeted us with a barrage of peddlers selling jewelry, crocheted dresses and your standard tourist fare. Being a little more adventurous than the average bear, we headed down the street to the beach. We ducked; we dodged and still were accosted by the locals we thought we wanted to experience. Anything from massages to tequila was offered to us for free but the coup de gras was free coochie coochie. We high tailed it back to the ship and vowed never ever again to visit Progresso.
This is a mistake made by many travelers. You get excited about traveling abroad and heading to exotic locales without realizing the cultural norms you are so familiar with, do not apply. While some ports are perfectly fine and more interesting when exploring on your own, others are a definite no-no. With some research, you can prevent experiences like ours.
Research, research, research before you leave home
If you use a travel agent to book your cruise, start with their office for information. At the very least, a book from your cruise line with shore excursion descriptions is available. Your next stop in your pursuit of knowledge is the internet. With so many sites chock full of information on your port of call, you can find anything from the average temperature to what time the hermit crabs invade the beach.
Make sure you are checking the tourism site for your port of call. While tourism sites more than likely aren’t going to publish negative articles, they are going to be filled with a wealth of information. For instance, tourbymexico.com stated;
“Today you will find Progresso to be a bustling town of some 25,000 people. Fancy restaurants are springing up along the seaside promenade ‘El Malecon’, facades are being painted quaint colors, and the people are trying hard to improve their services.”
What they are not telling you is the port is probably not what you are accustomed to seeing with definite room for improvement. It’s all about semantics. If they aren’t mentioning the nightlife in the area you are interested in visiting, it either doesn’t exist or you need to move on before the sun goes down. What they leave out could be as telling as what they say.
Check into the shore excursions offered by your cruise line
Check your cruise line information about the port and available excursions. My pal and I knew we were scuba diving months in advance. What could be better than swimming with the fishes without the cement shoes? Doing our research before we left home made the difference between booking the excursion we wanted and waiting in line with everyone else picking from the leftovers. Once you are on the ship, the coolest, neatest, niftiest, excursions sell out quickly!
Visit your cruise line’s website, find your cruise and click on the “Book shore excursions now” button. A list of shore excursions and their descriptions are listed in an easily navigated format. On some sites, I have found it necessary to proceed to checkout to find the actual pricing for the excursions. Don’t worry; you can always back out of the checkout process with no problems.
Find the ones you are interested in and start your research again
The forum on your cruise line site would be my first stop. You’ll find reviews from actual travelers with up-to-date opinions. People either love to tell about the great time they had on vacation or they love to complain about the lousy time they had. Make sure you are reading all of the reviews. A couple of negative reviews aren’t enough to scare me off from an excursion I am really interested in going on; a bunch of negatives will make me reconsider. Also make sure you’re reading current posts, two years ago is too old. What might have been a great excursion before the hurricane might be horrible after and vice versa.
Tours outside of your cruise line
Couldn’t find anything on the official list that excited you? Most of the ports you will visit are major tourist areas, meaning, there are tours upon tours to choose from hosted by different businesses outside of your cruise line. Here is where you have to be extra cautious. Check the times of your excursion against your debarkation time. Remember, at a certain time, the ship is going to leave with or without you. Common sense dictates if your ship disembarks at 5 p.m. a shore excursion ending at the same time isn’t going to work.
With the negatives out of the way, the good news is most of the time the excursions are less crowded and cheaper booking through an outside company. With very few of your fellow passengers feeling comfortable enough to book outside the cruise line, it opens up a variety of companies vying for your business. A cursory search of the St. Thomas shore excursions available online found anything and everything from deep sea fishing to walking tours and excursions for the disabled. One thing I always check before even considering using an outside company is the Better Business Bureau logo on their site. It’s not a guarantee, but you at least have a mediation process in place if the excursion is misrepresented.
Don’t overestimate yourself
“Ten minutes and you are under the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean enjoying the vibrant fish of the reef.” We were so excited about Scuba diving. I could picture myself under the water with tropical fish surrounding me floating in a world of turquoise.
What I failed to take into consideration is claustrophobia. Yep, I am claustrophobic! Imagine your first time with a mask on, the water hitting your face and think of breathing in the one place you are always told you can’t. This is not going to be a pleasant situation.
Just because you are on vacation it doesn’t mean reality will cease to exist. If you don’t like being in water, you probably won’t have fun on “The Ultimate Undersea Adventure;” no matter how cool it sounds. How about a nice zip line adventure instead? Claustrophobic? Submarines are not for you! Try a dune buggy trip for a more enjoying time.
Bottom line; the more information you have, the better armed you will be to make your choices. The better choices you make, the more fun it will be to come home and tell all your friends!
About the author:
Lisa Legere is the German Sheppard bather, Siamese cat tamer, mother of three teenagers, wife of a police officer. The thought that gives her hope on a daily basis, is a beach in the warm sun all to herself! The vision of getting kicked out of Paula Dean’s restaurant with her wonderfully crazy mom is one of Lisa’s favorite daydreams. Traveling is her passion second only to writing.