A cruise vacation can be a great travel value because all of the mandatory costs are included and known up front.
On the other hand, there is hardly a cruiser that does not pay any extra money above that amount.
Add-on fees can add a significant amount to a cruise vacation. Examples of extras include beverages (alcohol and soft drinks), photos, souvenirs, gratuities, spa services, gambling, and port excursions.
Port excursions are one area where you enjoy the experiences at a reduced rate.
Here are 8 great ways to save money on activities when a cruise ship is on port.
- Skip Excursions. Yes, let’s get this one out of the way. Excursions are optional. You do not have to do them. While others are traipsing on a glacier, touring ruins, or snorkeling / diving / sailing / etc., you can remain on the ship. The ship will be relatively empty and calm so you can read, eat, sunbathe, exercise, or do laundry in peace. I have spoken with many veteran cruisers who enjoy the ship the most during excursions.
- Wander On Your Own. You can also skip the offered packaged excursions and simply wander the port area(s) on your own. I know someone who takes long runs when cruise ships dock. He has done so all over the world.
- Take a Bus. Nearly every place that a cruise ship docks will be served by public buses. You will save lots of money and have more fun by riding local buses. Last year I learned that Pauline Frommer likes to and encourages others to use public transportation at ports.
- Hire a Private Guide. You can arrange in advance to have a private guide take your group on a customized or established itinerary. The rate will likely by less than that offered by the cruise line; after all, excursions are a big profit center for cruise lines.
- Hire a Taxi Driver. Taxi drivers in most popular ports of call are accustomed to acting as tour guides for visitors. They may have a standard rate for a definite time range or set itinerary–or negotiate BEFORE starting out.
- Book Independent. Rather than booking one of the cruise line’s packaged excursions, save money by using a third party supplier. They provide the same experience at a fraction of the price. A couple of independent excursion companies are Shore Trip and Port Promotions.
- Be Flexible and See What Happens. Or do a combination of the above (and below), depending on your mood, the weather, the port, and so on. Once you book an excursion, you cannot cancel for a refund. When you first board the ship, a scuba diving excursion sound great but perhaps not on the fifth day.
- Check Email. A corollary to wandering on your own. Visit the local library or cybercafe for free or inexpensive internet access. Because internet rates onboard are typically very, very expensive.
Some other resources:
- Rick Steves cheat sheet for European cruise excursions
- Cruise Critic’s analysis of cruise excursions
- Cruise Diva’s discussion about going ashore
Charles McCool is an independent consumer travel advocate.
© 2012, Charles McCool