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