The day has arrived for that shore excursion you've been eagerly anticipating on your cruise. You can finally check zip-lining through the rainforest or a day on a truly private beach off your bucket list. Whether you've booked a Royal Caribbean shore excursion or want to explore Alaska, Cozumel or Aruba, there are a few things you should -- or shouldn't -- do to ensure maximum fun and minimum facepalms.
Most shore tour prep can be done before your cruise. From packing the right shoes to reading the fine print -- including a line’s COVID-19 shore excursion policy -- you can eliminate your chances of unwanted surprises. After all, whether it's your first time cruising or your thousandth, everyone makes mistakes.
Instead of sharing cruise shore excursion tips to help you prevent those mistakes, we've put together a list of 13 things not to do. Avoid committing these don'ts and you can enjoy a worry -- and embarrassment-free -- day on shore.
In today’s COVID era, shore excursions can no longer be booked ad libitum; cruise line policies necessitate more methodical planning. Many require passengers to book tours directly through them (as opposed to independent operators) if, for example, someone is unvaccinated, or if a port’s government has tighter restrictions.
Plan a family snorkeling excursion with a local guide, only to find out you’re unable to go because your 10-year-old couldn’t get the jab, and you’ll lose that money and possibly your chance to get off the ship. Wondering, “Should I book my shore excursions through the cruise line?” Look up their COVID-19 requirements once you’re ready to lock in a tour, as policies continue to evolve.
Note: The average cost of shore excursions offered by cruise lines are generally higher than those of independent operators, but the peace of mind you’ll have is priceless.
"No shoes, no shirt, no problems" is a fine mantra to live by if you're on the ship's pool deck or spending a day at the beach. However, shore excursions require a little more effort when it comes to dressing appropriately. What you wear not only depends on the weather, but also the activity and the local culture.
Opt for sneakers instead of sandals on a tour that involves a lot of walking, or bring something to cover your knees and shoulders if you'll be visiting churches and mosques. Additionally, remove any valuable jewelry before heading into port. We've heard horror stories of cruisers damaging their bling or -- even worse -- losing it.
You'll be away from the ship for several hours during your excursion, so the last thing you want is to be without sunscreen or sunglasses on some private island miles away from any convenience stores. Pack a small bag of essentials (sunscreen, bug spray, medications) to hold you for the day. Also, think ahead: Prone to blisters? Bring some antibiotic ointment and bandages.
Your cruise line will remind you to bring your face mask and vaccination card ashore, if it’s mandated by the local government. In many places, masks aren’t required for outdoor shore excursions or even if you’re exploring on your own outside. You’ll still want to have it handy, for any indoor restaurants and other public attractions where it’s necessary.
Do you have to do shore excursions on a cruise, if you’re not comfortable with wearing a mask? Certainly not, but if you wish to see another country -- and want to avoid getting stuck in a legal pickle -- you need to follow their rules. Otherwise, stay onboard the ship.
Should you take your passport with you on shore excursions? No, you shouldn't bring your passport, unless your tour requires it. We recommend bringing your driver's license as a form of ID instead. You don't want to risk losing your passport ashore. In the event of an injury or other unexpected event that forces you to stay in port, the cruise line will bring all your stuff (documents included) to you so you're not left stranded.
Regardless of the shore excursion you're taking, it's always smart to have a little cash on you for emergencies, tips and shopping. But there's no need to bring a roll of hundreds unless you plan to purchase an entire market stall. Bring some cash (we find $50 or so usually suffices) and a credit card. If you're in a country that requires you to exchange currency, bring a debit card. ATMs offer better exchange rates than banks and currency-conversion centers.
Do your research before you step ashore. You should have a good grasp on your whereabouts and feel comfortable getting around on your own in each port. Familiarize yourself with the country's culture, be aware of any dress codes and find out what language the locals speak. If it's not your native tongue, go the extra mile and learn a few common words or phrases, such as "Hello," "Thank you" and "One round of shots, please!"
While some cruise lines administer free COVID-19 tests onboard for countries that require additional testing, others put this responsibility in the passengers’ hands. If a negative PCR test result is necessary for you to enter a destination, it’s up to you to obtain that before you go. Typically, the cruise line will allow you to upload these results into a portal before embarkation day to streamline the process.
Failing to take a separate test required for a specific port of call won’t prohibit you from boarding the ship. You will, however, lose out on that shore excursion and the chance to wander about on your own.
Guides are required to give safety briefings at the beginning of any shore excursions that could result in injury if rules are not followed (think: scuba diving and ATV riding). Ignore them, and you could end up hurting yourself or someone else, without even realizing you were doing anything wrong in the first place. Their main goal is to prevent both minor and catastrophic injuries, but there are a number of other reasons you should listen closely. This is also the time to get insider tips on how to make the most out of your activity.
We get it: You paid for your shore excursion and want to get the most out of the experience. But that does not entitle you to return to your group whenever you're ready (or, to put it another way, late).
If your guide only gives you one hour to roam around town, make sure you wrap up shopping, picture-taking or whatever you're doing several minutes before you're supposed to be back. It's rude to keep your fellow cruisers waiting, and it's not fair to your guide, whose job is to make sure all passengers arrive back to the ship safely and on time.
Related: How Not to Be Rude on a Cruise
Shore excursions aren't the time for your "Rocky" moment. If you feel tired or the activity is more strenuous than you anticipated, don't feel pressured to continue. Pushing yourself over the limit can cause injury and put a damper on the rest of your cruise.
It's five o'clock somewhere, but you're still swigging back tequila sunrises at the all-inclusive resort while your ship sails off into the sunset. If your shore excursion includes free time afterward, make sure you keep a close eye on your watch -- and alcohol intake. Missing your ship is the worst-case scenario, but you also don't want to be the last one onboard.
Bear in mind: If you arrived to the port via tender boat, you'll need to head back to the ship even earlier. Also, be mindful that the local time in port may differ from your ship's clock if the port is in a different time zone.
You shouldn't be surprised to learn lunch is not included on your excursion, so don't be stuck without grub (or at least money to buy some in port) after you've worked up an appetite. At the end of all the sales ingo that persuaded you to book the excursion in the first place, there's usually a line that says something like "Approximately eight hours" or "Lunch not included" or some other stipulation you need to know. It's important not to skip over these details.
The fine print is where you’ll also be reminded of any COVID-related requirements, which – on cruise-sponsored shore excursions -- your line will inform you of upon booking.
Know the caveats ahead of time so you can plan your day accordingly. A tour spanning eight hours might mean you only have 30 minutes to get ready for dinner, in which case you should consider bumping up your dining time or making a new reservation.
Updated December 23, 2021