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Woman in orange helmet ziplining through a lush forest in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Ziplining (Photo: aounphoto/

12 Things Not to Do on Cruise Shore Excursions

Woman in orange helmet ziplining through a lush forest in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Ziplining (Photo: aounphoto/
Gina Kramer

Last updated
Oct 3, 2022

Read time
7 min read

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.

1. Booking a Tour You Can’t Take

Shore excursion with MSC Virtuosa
Shore excursion with MSC Virtuosa (Photo: Adam Coulter/Cruise Critic)

Shore excursions can have specific age, weight and even height restrictions that can complicate group bookings. The Bike and Brew tour might sound great until you realize only adults are able to participate; ditto for a family looking to participate in a day tour, only to discover that kids under the age of 4 can't participate.

It always pays to read the fine print before booking any shore excursion, either through the cruise line or independently.

Related: Figuring Out Your Cruise Shore Excursions in a COVID World

2. Dressing Inappropriately on Your Shore Excursion

Woman swimming with several nurse sharks in the crystal blue water in Nassau
Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas (Photo: Zoe Esteban/

"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.

Related: What to Pack for a Cruise: A Beginner's Guide

3. Forgetting Your Shore-Excursion Essentials

Half Moon Cay (Photo:Holland America Line)
Half Moon Cay (Photo:Holland America Line)

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.

Related: Must-Have Items for Every Shore Excursion

4. Neglecting to Bring Your Face Mask or Vaccination Card

Close-up shot of a woman filling out The COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine form
The COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine form (Photo: Evgenia Parajanian/

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.

5. Taking Your Passport

Passport and Travel Documents (Photo: Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock)
Passport and Travel Documents (Photo: Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock)

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.

Related: Do You Need a Passport to Go On a Cruise?

6. Walking Around with Wads of Cash

Cozumel Port
Cozumel Port

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.

Related: Credit Card Mishaps That Could Ruin Your Cruise

7. Being Clueless About the Port

Shanghai (Photo:chuyuss/Shutterstock)
Shanghai (Photo:chuyuss/Shutterstock)

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!"

Related: First-Timers' Guide to Shore Excursions

8. Ignoring the Shore Excursion Safety Talk

Half Moon Cay Horseback Riding (Photo: Holland America)
Half Moon Cay Horseback Riding (Photo: Holland America)

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.

9. Showing up Late After Your Shore Excursion

Costa Maya Cruise Port
Costa Maya Cruise Port

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

10. Pushing Yourself Over the Limit on Your Tour

Couple in kayak in Alaska in front of Wilderness Legacy by UnCruise Adventures (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)
Kayakers on UnCruise Adventures (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

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.

11. Losing Track of Time While on Shore

Tender Boat on Zuiderdam
Tender Boat on Zuiderdam

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.

Related: What to Expect on a Cruise: Visiting Cruise Ports

12. Skipping the Shore Excursion's Fine Print

Puerto Vallarta Port
Puerto Vallarta Port

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.

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.

Related: Mistakes to Avoid When Booking Shore Excursions

Publish date October 03, 2022
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