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Make The Most Of Your Shore Excursions

Apr 29, 2008
A cruise vacation is a great way to see a lot of destinations in a short period of time, but you have to make the most of your shore excursions. If you think the usual shopping and sightseeing excursions sound uninspiring, there are plenty of other options. How about scuba diving, snorkeling, dog-sledding, or kayaking? Or maybe biking, tubing, golfing, or fishing? How about taking a helicopter tour or swimming with stingrays? Excursions like these are now routinely offered by cruise lines all over the world.

Whatever you decide, you need to be 'shore-savvy'. Here is some basic advice.

Cruise line tours

Shore excursions arranged by the cruise line are great for people who want the security of a guided tour or are first time visitors with limited time to experience a port's many highlights. These excursions usually cost more than setting out on your own, but they offer peace of mind because the tour operator has been inspected by the cruise line for safety and the tour is specially designed to appeal to the cruise traveler. More importantly, these tours greatly reduce the risk of missing the ship's departure.

Tour information, as well as pricing, typically arrives with your cruise documents. Determine which tours interest you and purchase tickets as early as possible, as the popular tours, particularly on an Alaska cruise, sell out quickly. The good news is most cruise lines allow you to book your shore excursions on their Web sites, so you can nail down your tour in advance. If you can't book online, reserve your excursions as soon as possible after boarding the ship.

If you are elderly or have a handicap or are using strollers to transport small children, think carefully about which excursions you choose. The cities you visit may be ancient, with narrow streets and stairs, or they may be isolated or have rugged tropical terrain. Check with the cruise line to see if it's safe for you to go ashore, and whether you will need special accommodation.

Do-it-yourself touring

Experienced or adventurous travelers may prefer to arrange their own shore excursions. It isn't difficult to do; in fact, most countries have tourist-office Web sites with listings of popular activities and tour companies. But there are some important things to keep in mind when setting out on your own.

When hiring a cab, negotiate the price before you get in the cab. Also, if you expect the driver to serve as a tour guide, visit with him long enough to be sure there won't be a language barrier. When booking an independent tour, make sure you are dealing with a well-established company that has safe transportation and equipment. Don't hesitate to ask tough questions of independent tour operators. Ask how long the company has been in business; ask about the company's accident record; and ask whether they carry insurance. If the tour operator does not answer your questions willingly, move on to another operator.

Lastly, if you explore on your own, make sure you return to the cruise ship no later than 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, which is listed in the ship's daily activity bulletin and posted at the gangway. If you miss the launch, you'll have to meet the ship at the next port -- at your own expense.

All ashore!

When traveling abroad, you may find that the way of life is different from what you're accustomed to back home, or even on the ship. Here are some things to think about before you step ashore.

*Dress appropriately for your port of call. Skimpy attire is almost always inappropriate in public, even if you're only going to the beach; wear clothing over your swimsuit so as not to offend the locals.

*Leave expensive jewelry, excess cash and credit cards in the ship's safe.

*Wear a "fanny pack" or a money belt when you go ashore. It leaves your hands free and protects your money and credit cards much better than a purse.

*Check with the ship's shore excursions staff about where to eat on shore. Some food items and beverages, especially water, may be off limits.

*Always carry identification on a shore excursion, including the name of your ship and its docked location. Take a photocopy of your passport with you, as well.

*Keep alert. Your guides may give you a badge to wear for identification. This may help keep the group together, but it also allows shopkeepers and thieves to target you.

*Use common sense when walking to and from the ship. Avoid shortcuts through deserted side streets or alleys, and keep an eye out for unexpected things in your path (cows, chickens, scooters, beggars, pickpockets. You never know what will turn up near the docks).

*Make sure your watch corresponds to local time; if you don't, your ship may sail without you!

It goes without saying doing a little research can greatly increase your enjoyment in port. Clearly, the best planned shore excursions will be remembered long after you've returned home.
About the Author
Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita is a weekly travel columnist for http://MSNBC.com and Tripso, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2007".
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