Having fun in port doesn't mean you have to shell out a ton of money on shore excursions or private tours. Depending on where you cruise, there are a number of activities that allow you to relax, explore or get a taste of the culture free of charge. Swim at a hidden cove, visit an old church or sample local delicacies at the markets. Whether you're a couple, family, group of friends or solo traveler looking for a wallet-friendly way to experience the exciting new destinations on your itinerary, we've got you covered. Here are nine free activities to do in port.
Tip: Although the following activities are free, you should still keep a little cash on hand for meals, transportation, shopping and emergencies.
Hit the Beach
Tropical itineraries are sprinkled with beaches that make for literally priceless activities. Spread out your towels and soak up some vitamin D, walk along the beach looking for seashells or cool off in the crystal-clear waters. Many beautiful beaches are within walking distance or just a free shuttle ride from your cruise port. Pina coladas and lunch won't be included, but at least you'll have money to spare if you work up an appetite. For inspiration, check out pictures of our favorite beaches in the Eastern, Western and Southern Caribbean.
Explore the Outdoors
Although many terminal areas might not evoke an outdoorsy vibe, you'd be surprised by what you can find beyond the city limits. Hiking trails abound in a number of ports, and can range from easy paths to more challenging inclines. We recommend doing a bit of research beforehand, or using an app like AllTrails, which lists nearby hiking trails for any given location. Popular itineraries with opportunities for adventure include Alaska, Hawaii and Australia and New Zealand.
Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock.com
Tour the City
Why pay for a tour of the city's landmarks when you can see them for free? If you're comfortable getting around on your own, make it a point to visit some of the port city's most prominent sights. From statues and street art to places of worship and sacred monuments, you can give yourself a mini-history lesson by doing a bit of your own research and chatting with locals. Wing it, or follow a self-guided tour that's already mapped out for you, such as those offered by tourism offices or on apps, such as City Walks or Google's Field Trip. Europe bound? Rick Steves' guides offer great walking tours (both written and audio) for those sailing Mediterranean, Baltic Sea, British Isles and European river itineraries.
Photo: Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock.com
Browse the Markets
Shopping won't spare your bank account, but browsing the markets is free. While local markets vary depending on where you cruise, you most likely will see handmade crafts, local art and food -- some of which you might even be able to sample. Markets are also great places for photographs, a free souvenir of your trip. If there's a chance you'll make a purchase, make sure you have local currency on hand.
Photo: IR Stone/Shutterstock.com
Catch Live Music
From steel drum bands in St. Maarten to accordion players on the streets of Venice, public performances are a great way to enjoy free entertainment in port. (Tipping is encouraged if you stick around.) Live music can be found anywhere from local bars to street corners. If you stumble upon an act that starts to draw a crowd, don't be afraid to sing, dance or clap along. Just be aware of your surroundings; pickpocket thieves love crowds of happy-go-lucky tourists.
Photo: Alexandre Zveiger/Shutterstock.com
Go for a Run
Fitness junkies aren't confined to onboard gyms and jogging tracks when it comes to getting in a good workout. Cruises are a great way for runners to combine exercise with sightseeing in various ports. Just don't expect to find a suitable starting line as soon as you step foot ashore. Ask your ship's guest services desk if they know of any local trails, tracks or quiet roads (so you don't end up on a busy highway). Bringing along your phone? MapMyRun is a great tool for runners abroad, as it allows you to search and follow user-generated routes.
There's no denying it: Cruises are the perfect places for people-watching and speculating about the story behind the interactions you observe. When in port, it's another way to learn about a country's culture and environment -- plus, it's free. If you feel like kicking back and surveying the crowd, head to a public park or a bench outside a major attraction. Just don't make it awkward.
Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock.com
Geocaching is pretty much modern-day treasure hunting. Roughly two million containers (geocaches) are hidden worldwide, and each contains assorted trinkets and a logbook. Participants use a GPS to hide and seek containers -- signing the logbooks and trading the items inside along the way. It's fun, free and especially great for groups. A number of cruise destinations are home to geocaches. Bermuda has more than 280 on the island, while other popular ports include San Juan and Juneau.
Attend a Local Festival
Attending a festival, or even celebrating your favorite holiday abroad (think: attending an Easter mass or watching a New Year's Eve fireworks show), is one of the most immersive free activities you can do on a cruise. While you'll need to plan your cruise around specific dates, like Carnaval or Oktoberfest (which offer free events and can be accessed by cruise ship), smaller-scale events are more prevalent year-round. Check out the events calendars for your cruise ports to see what will be buzzing while you're there.
--By Gina Kramer, Associate Editor
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It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.
Free. Money. Are there two more beautiful words in the English language? While money doesn't grow on trees, increasingly it can be found somewhere else -- on the high seas. Call it an incentive, call it a bonus; whatever you want to call it, onboard credit lets you spend more freely with less guilt. You've paid your cruise fare, and now you can splurge on those enticing extras -- Swedish massage, specialty restaurant, an excursion to snorkel among shipwrecks -- without busting your budget. Not many need convincing as to why onboard credit -- money automatically deposited into your onboard account-- rocks, but finding out exactly how to get it and where you can spend it is a bit trickier. We found eight ways to hit the OBC jackpot and offer even more suggestions on how to burn through it, although you probably have your own ideas already.
The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalized service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your vacation style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive vacation experience, while Oceania draws travelers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.
Like any vacation, cruising can come with good and bad surprises. Finding out your favorite specialty restaurant is bargain-priced for lunch or that spa treatments are discounted on port days might make you feel like you've discovered buried treasure. On the flipside, realizing you have to pay a $15 corkage fee to drink the wine you brought onboard or that the room service you ordered is saddled with a surcharge can be a real letdown. Despite the "all inclusive" lingo commonly used to describe cruises, all lines have "hidden" cruise fees. Additionally, each cruise line has its own policy when it comes to tipping, room service and more. Ordering bacon and eggs from your cabin might be free on one cruise line, but cost you on another. If you're under the impression something is included, having to pay can put a damper on your worry-free vacation mood and potentially leave your budget in a bind. So how do you prepare for fees that aren't as obvious? Here are 13 cruise fees that might take you by surprise.
You might expect loud noises, close quarters and crazy maneuvers in the dance club onboard your cruise ship -- but not in your cabin. Even if you don't plan to spend much time there, it should be a restful and private place so you can maintain that much-needed vacation stamina. To help you do so, we've compiled a list of cabins you'll want to avoid booking if closet-like dimensions or scraping chair sounds overhead aren't appealing to you. Heed our advice, and you might be feeling a bit less claustrophobic and a tad more refreshed come disembarkation.