Shore Tours – To Do or Not to Do?

The Journey or the Destination?

Your guide to making the most informed decisions 

Cruise Shore ToursWe all love cruising and we know the journey and the ship are intrinsic elements of a memorable holiday afloat but of course, the ports you visit make a cruise even more sensational. Some die-hard cruisers love nothing more than endless days at sea and don’t even get off in port but for many, the destinations a ship takes you are the main reasons for selecting a particular cruise, so choosing the right cruise shore tours are essential.

So what’s the plan when your ship drops anchor or docks at a port? Should you buy one of the line’s organised cruise shore tours or head ashore to explore on your own?


Long before your cruise read about the places you will visit on your itinerary via guidebooks, brochures, and tourism websites.

That way you can learn what are the must-do sights and experiences. Also be sure to ask your well-travelled Cruise Express Consultant about their suggestions of what to see and do as they may know special, ‘secret’ places off the beaten tourist trail. Armed with this knowledge, you can decide what shore tour to buy, if any, or if you can or should seek out those places on your own.

Shore Tours – Rip off or Money Well Spent?

Booking an organised shore excursion through the ship can come with a hefty price tag, but it’s hassle-free and you know the tour will be professionally run by reputable operators. The ship will also wait for its own shore tour guests to return at the end of the day, even if their tours are running late. Groups on tours usually gain express VIP entry into major attractions. Solo passengers and others may also appreciate the opportunity to see a place with other cruise passengers and the chance to make new friends.

Travelling in more remote or third world destinations may make you feel uncomfortable. Where English is rare or safety and security are issues, then an organised shore tour also makes good sense. If a port visit or tour is cancelled, you’ll also receive a refund from the cruise line.

On the flip side, organised shore tours can involve a bit of waiting and you need to follow the leader and stick with the group which can frustrate budding explorers. Seeing a destination blur through the windows of a coach can also be restrictive for some who may see something they want to see up close.

Cruise Shore ToursCruise Express Shore Tour Packages

Trying to select the right shore tour can be confusing so to make it easy on the many tours Cruise Express hosts around the world, we often offer our groups shore tour packages with a tour in each port. These packages are often cheaper than if you buy them individually through the ship and they comprise of our own Cruise Express guests so you’ll be among friends. There are no booking hassles either, with our team looking after all the details so these packages are well worth considering on our group trips.

Tips for Shore Tours

If you have decided to buy a cruise shore tour, it’s a good idea to book in advance from home. You don’t want to board your Alaska-bound cruise ship only to discover that all the glacier helicopter trips and bear-spotting tours you wanted to do are all sold out. Exciting and unique adventures like these sell quickly so don’t miss out.

Opt for a half-day shore tour, leaving you with time to explore on your own for the rest of the day. You can often also ask your tour driver or guide to drop you off in the centre of town at the end of the tour rather than back at the ship so you can do some exploration and shopping on your own. Shuttles back to the ship can often be free for shore tour passengers doing this.

Whether you’re on a tour or on your own, it’s always a wonderful experience to dine in a restaurant where you can feast on the local cuisine. Some passengers make a point of returning to the ship for lunch because it’s included but occasionally just pull up a chair in a romantic trattoria where the view, sanctuary, and food are what the real memories are made of.

Independent Sightseeing – The Pros and Cons

If you’re willing and able, seeing a port on your own can be freeing, exhilarating and rewarding. By catching local buses, trains or ferries you get to experience a destination as a local. You’ll also meet locals and have time to enjoy places that interest you while grabbing a coffee in a cafe anywhere you want.

In many cities such as Venice, New York, Vancouver, San Francisco, Monaco, Santorini, and Dubrovnik, it’s relatively easy, and a pleasure to walk ashore and explore the city by foot. You don’t need an expensive shore excursion to savour the magic of Venice’s maze of canals and pathways.

But when you’re on your own, you’re on your own, with no help from tour guides and hosts or the cruise line if something goes wrong or you get lost. The ship won’t wait for you if you miss the sailing time either.

There are lots of YouTube videos showing passengers running and screaming in vain down the pier while their ship slips away. Funny yes – unless it’s you! Also, if you’ve organised and paid for your own private tour in advance and the ship doesn’t end up visiting that port, maybe because of rough weather, you may lose your money.

Tips for independent touring ashore

cruise shore tours

After checking a ship’s list of cruise tours you can often see that it’s relatively easy and much cheaper to do the activities on your own. For instance in Juneau, Alaska, you can buy a cruise tour from the ship that takes you up the spectacular Mt Roberts tramway high above the city or you can just walk the short distance from the ship to the bottom cable car terminal and buy a ticket yourself, cutting out the middleman.

When touring on your own, yes, plan ahead certainly, with a rough idea of what you want to see and do but don’t over-plan or over-schedule everything to the last minute. Allow for delays and for unexpected sights that will take your interest. When you’re on holiday it’s easy to forget that locals are not, so be aware that morning and evening rush hours can be busy and may slow down your touring plans.

Use local transport to get around – e.g. ferries, trams or subways and consider bikes as a wonderful way to see a local destination. Taxis, when shared by two or more passengers, can also be an economical way of getting around a destination. If you’re heading to a destination further afield in a cab, be sure to set a flat fare at the start of the trip to avoid being taken for a ride! Hop-on, hop-off tourist buses in many popular destinations are also an ideal way of seeing a city.

If your ship docks some distance from the city, e.g. in Rome, see if a shuttle is available for purchase so you can get to the city and then explore on your own rather than on a group tour. Of course, the big tip when sightseeing on your own is to check the time you need to be back onboard before you go ashore for the day and then keep an eye on the time through the day, leaving plenty of time up your sleeve. It’s always a good idea to be back onboard at least 30 minutes before the recommended time to ensure you are not stressing about missing the boat!

The world’s a beautiful place with lots of amazing destinations to visit so whether you explore them on a tour or on your own, we hope each experience enriches your holiday and your understanding of the many colourful cultures and spectacular places that lie over the horizon.

For your personalised travel specialist, call us today on 1300 766 537.

Bon Voyage from Cruise Express!

Cruise Shore Tours

Canadian Rockies and Alaska – A Winning Combination

A Review on One of the World’s Most Desired Destinations

Canadian Rockies & Alaska

I was recently on a cruise tour of the Canadian Rockies and Alaska – and it still rates for me as the second best holiday ever – after my honeymoon!

So when we’re asked at Cruise Express about our favourite cruise destinations, the answer for me is always easy – the Canadian Rockies and Alaska. Why? Just look at any brochure for a combination cruise tour to the Canadian Rockies and Alaska and it’s obvious.

Nature drank a lot of coffee when she designed these two epic destinations. Twice as big as Texas, Alaska is a pristine paradise overflowing with grand glaciers, mighty mountains, fir forests that stretch forever and wondrous wildlife – plus near 24-hour daylight in the northern summer to see it in all its glory.

Whenever stressed, I close my eyes and imagine I am back in Alaska on the deck of a liner, gazing at the wilderness and drinking it all in. For me, Alaska and its unspoiled beauty evoke emotions that make me want to go back. Add a dose of ‘Rocky Mountain High’ vaccine to your Alaska cruise and you have a prescription for one truly breathtaking holiday.

I’ve cruised in Alaska three times and on one of those trips, I had the fortune of preceding my cruise with a rail and coach tour from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies. Wow – what an experience!

We started in Vancouver, one of the world’s prettiest harbour cities, and took the bucket-list Rocky Mountaineer train to Jasper following a picture postcard route snaking through towering peaks. We enjoyed the view from domed glass ceilings on two-storey carriages affording stunning views in all directions. Just don’t drink too much water. Pity the traveller on the Rocky Mountaineer who goes to the restroom and comes back to hear fellow passengers spotted a whole family of brown bears waving at the train! Or so they’ll tell you!

Both the grand Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, with its steaming hot outdoor pool, and the beautiful Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise with those awesome views, have to be seen to be believed. Many travellers to the Rockies just take pictures of these famous hotels but Cruise Express staff can help you to actually stay there in premium, view rooms.

The best thing about combining the Canadian Rockies and Alaska in the one holiday is that after you return from the Rockies to Vancouver, the adventure is only half over as a luxury, week-long cruise to Alaska is still ahead of you.

Canadian Rockies and Alaska

It’s hard to find a week-long cruise as perfect as one to Alaska, with an idyllic mix of ports, scenic cruising past glaciers and relaxed days at sea. I love the three main Alaskan ports of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway with their gold rush saloons, frontier spirit, colourful, indigenous Tlingit culture and the majesty of the mountains just a few streets away. The highlight, of course is Glacier Bay where massive glaciers thunder into the fjord. What a thrill! You won’t want to be inside playing bingo on that day!

For a more detailed review of cruising in Alaska click here for another blog post.

Combining the Canadian Rockies and Alaska is a real feast for the senses and having done it myself, I can only say: do yourself a favour and treat yourself to one of the best holidays ever. You’ll be escorted by friendly tour hosts, almost everything is included and everything is looked after from start to finish. You don’t even have to carry your bags between hotels, trains, ships and airports.

Click here for information or call Cruise Express today on 1300 766 537 and speak to one of our travel specialists to find out how you can begin planning your dream trip of a lifetime.

River Cruising Around The World

More Australians than ever are holidaying on the world’s great inland waterways.

The appeal of river cruising is obvious. Unpack your bags once, sit back and your deluxe floating hotel will take you on an enthralling journey through the heart of a destination.

There’s no rushing, no big crowds, no stress and no day where there’s nothing to see. The ever-changing scenery is entrancing – from romantic vineyards, enchanting castles and quaint villages to rugged gorges, ancient ruins, and wild jungle.

Shore tours and drinks are often complimentary, there’s no seasickness and you arrive in the centre of each town or city, immediately immersing you in the local culture.

It’s a perfect and top-value way to travel!

Overwhelming, the majority of Australians who go river cruising head to the M1 motorway of river journeys – the popular route from Amsterdam to Budapest along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. It’s a beautiful cruise but if you’re looking to expand your horizons to other river cruising destinations, almost 200 river ships sail along 30 inland waterways around the world. Here’s a quick overview of river journeys away from the Amsterdam to Budapest river highway.

River Cruise


The Danube – Beyond Budapest to the Black Sea. Rivers were the trade routes of yesterday so it’s logical that Europe boasts more river cruise options than any other continent. Did you know, though, that you can cruise beyond Budapest all the way to the Black Sea through intriguing countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Croatia?

Holland and Belgium – The maze of the Rhine Delta can be traced on cruises past tulip fields sprinkled with windmills and charming, medieval towns filled with lace and chocolate shops.

The Moselle – Paris to Amsterdam. Another of Europe’s grand rivers can be sailed from France to Holland via Luxembourg through lands of storybook castles and rolling vineyards.

France – The Loire, Seine, Rhone, Saone, Dordogne and Garonne Rivers. From north to south and east to west, France boasts six major rivers you can enjoy a cruise on. Alluringly destinations like Provence, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Normandy are filled with captivating scenery including grand chateaux and castles, rustic wineries, picturesque hamlets and the sanctuaries of great artists like Monet.

Germany – The Elbe, Havel and Oder Rivers. From Dresden to Hamburg, the Elbe River passes through the verdant vineyards of Saxony and the beautiful Saxon Alps. The Havel and Oder Rivers can be traced from the vibrant city of Berlin north to the Baltic near the Polish border.

Russia – The Volga River. Russia’s two great centres, Moscow and St Petersburg, with their breathtaking palaces, museums, and onion-domed churches, can be seen by cruising along the Volga canal system.

Barge cruising in the UK and France. This is river cruising at its most intimate – quaint and cosy barges carrying less than 10 passengers meandering through the canals and rivers of old-world England and medieval France, through picture-postcard scenery and past castles and impossibly cute hamlets.

Portugal and Spain – The Douro River. Threading its way through Portugal’s romantic, castle-speckled scenery is the Douro, which meanders past vineyards and bewitching villages.

Italy – The Po River and Venice Lagoon. Immerse yourself in Italian Renaissance culture as you cruise the fascinating Venetian lagoon and the reflective waters of the Po to the beautiful city of Mantua.

River Cruise


Egypt – The Nile. One of the oldest river cruise routes in the world is the Nile – the world’s longest river – with its many ancient ruins and of course the great pyramids in Cairo.

Botswana and Namibia – The Chobe River. Take a river safari on the tranquil Chobe as you search for hippos, elephants and other wildlife close to the iconic Victoria Falls.


Vietnam & Cambodia – The Mekong. The mighty Mekong has become very popular with Australians on exotic river journeys between Vietnam and Cambodia, with rickshaw rides to local markets and villages.

Myanmar (Burma) – The Irrawaddy River. Immerse yourself in the mysterious, once hidden land of Burma as the Irrawaddy takes you deep into lands frozen in time with gilded pagodas, ornate monasteries and villages where friendly locals still follow a traditional way of life centred on farming.

India – The Ganges, Hugli and Brahmaputra Rivers. These holy rivers can be traced on exotic cruises that unveil scenery filled with temples, tea gardens, palaces, bustling bazaars and national parks that protect Indian rhinos. You’ll also see Indians flock to the shores of these mythical waterways to perform rituals performed for eons.

China – The Yangtze River. See China’s heartland from its most famous river and cruise through the jaw-droppingly dramatic Three Gorges with their sheer cliffs.

River Cruising

South America

Peru, Ecuador or Brazil – The Amazon. A true adventure into wild jungles inhabited by isolated tribal villages where little has changed for centuries.

Call your river cruise travel specialists today at Cruise Express on 1300 766 537.