The Pros and Cons of Booking Shore Excursions with Cruise Lines

The Pros and Cons of Booking Shore Excursions with Cruise Lines

The vast majority of Key Traveler clients book their cruises based on the itinerary. What ports will I be visiting? And even more importantly… what is there to do and see in the ports?

That’s where shore excursions come in.

For the purposes of this article, I’m talking about shore excursions on ocean cruises. Most of the shore excursions on river cruises are included with your booking. In the case of Tauck River Cruises, all land excursions are included without exception.

Viking Ocean Cruises includes many land excursions on their itineraries.

Regent Seven Seas includes up to 64 Free excursions on all their cruises.

Oceania Cruises new ”OLife” program started with bookings on July 7, 2015, for Category B Balcony and above on 2016 Europe, Alaska and Canada and New England cruises. Qualified bookings can earn up to 10 free shore excursions.

Silversea Cruises is offering a limited land excursion program.

Celebrity Cruises new “Go Big. Go Better. Go Best” promotion includes a program for onboard spending that can be used towards their excursions.

Most lines offer a nice variety of excursions in each port, depending on the size of the city or town. Choices of activities run from the most basic – a ride into town to spend time as you please, then a ride back to the ship – to the most comprehensive – think of helicopter rides over northern glaciers. Travelers choose excursions based on their own physical abilities, time limitations and, of course, their interests. Are you a museum-goer, or would you rather take an afternoon walk through a local park preserve? Would you rather immerse yourself in a bit of local culture, or are you happy with a city highlights bus tour?

Cruisers will relish the ship’s own marina, where they can enjoy complimentary water sports such as water skiing, wakeboarding and kayaking, scuba snorkeling and fishing. A 2-person submersible offers a unique optional adventure. For a true extravagance, passengers can spend an afternoon on Crystal Esprit’s own private yacht!

The next question is usually: Do I book shore excursions with the cruise line, or do I find a way to see the sights independently?

Travelers who are comfortable exploring new places on their own may opt to forego the tightly-structured – and sometimes tightly packed — cruise line excursions. Others may choose the safety and reliability of sticking with the cruise line.

There are many pros and cons of booking escorted tours for ocean cruises with the cruise line direct.

Here are some points to consider:


Guaranteed Return. Each cruise line guarantees you will return to the ship before departure from each port. The ship will not leave without you.

Peace of mind. You will be traveling with other passengers from your cruise ship.

Change of mind. You may decide to cancel an excursion with the cruise line and receive a refund within the terms and conditions of your booking.

Shipboard Credits. These can be used toward excursions, but be warned: You can only use these after you board. The risk is that your choice may be sold out before your cruise starts.


Price. Often, you can find a selection of tour operators that offer better deals.

Selection. Depending on what country and specific city, you can compare the options that various tour companies offer.

Customization. Many escorted tour companies will offer you more choices. Customization may cost a bit more but you get what works best for you.

The Bottom Line

Every traveler has his or her own priorities. Sometimes the choice isn’t as easy as it may seem. Talk to our Key Traveler advisors about what you want, and we will help you find what works best for you.