The Great Shore Excursion Debate

SkagwayWhen it comes to booking shore excursions for your cruise, two options are available.  You can book through the cruise line or you can book them on your own, either by pre-booking them online or over the phone, or by waiting until you arrive in port and then seeking out the available tour operators once you’re ashore.

The cruise lines have a standard set of tours that they offer.  These are tour companies that they have an arrangement with and, without a doubt, get a small bit of the profit from each ticket sold.

Everyone on a cruise will have an opinion as to whether you should book your excursions with the cruise line or on your own, so let’s look at the pros and cons of each option.


Booking with the cruise line


1) Excursions through the cruise line can be purchased, and usually cancelled, up until the day before you arrive in that port.  This allows you to have time to watch their onboard presentations and browse the shore excursion booklet they provide you in your stateroom before making a decision.

2) Since you are reserving your seat on that tour in advance, you’re guaranteed a spot, as long as there is room on the tour when you buy your ticket from the cruise line.

3) If, for some reason your ship doesn’t end up going to that port, such as bad weather, you get a full refund on any tours you’ve booked with them.

4) If, for some reason your tour arrives back at the dock late, such as a flat tire, etc., the cruise ship will usually wait for you.

5) The cruise line has, supposedly, chosen tours only from well-established reputable companies to help guarantee you have a safe and enjoyable tour for your money.

6) The cruise line tells you when and where to meet on shore and, once you’re there, everything is taken care of for you.  There is a tour representative to help you and the bus is waiting and ready to go.


1) The selection of tours offered by the cruise line is limited.  There are often many more things to do in a particular port than what is offered by the cruise line.

2) The price of the tours are almost always more expensive than the price you can get, often for the same exact tour, if you book it yourself.

3) Since you have to book the tour at least one day in advance, you can’t wait to see what you’re in the mood to do when you get into port.  Maybe you won’t feel like taking that excursion that day.  Maybe you won’t feel like taking any excursion and will just want to walk around in port for a while.


Booking on your own


1) You can pick any tour that is offered in that port as long the length of the tour fits into the time you have before your ship leaves.  This usually gives you many more options as to what you want to do with your time in port.

2) You can go online and research tour companies before your cruise and make a list of what you want to do, and even make reservations since you know the day and time you’ll be in that port.

3) You’ll often save money booking your own tour and, if you want, you can usually book the exact same tour the cruise line offers at a reduced rate.

4) If you decide to wait until you get into port to book something, you can see what you’re in the mood for that day, what looks good, what’s on sale, etc.

5) You may be able to book more than one tour if you have enough time in port.


1) If you decide to wait until you get into port to book something, you have to take the time to look around and find the tour companies. This may eat up some of your time in port.  You can get around this by going online before your cruise and making a list of interesting tours, their company name, address, and phone number so you can find them quicker.

2) If you wait until you get into port to find a tour, the one you want may be sold out.  Make sure you have a backup plan.  You may also experience long lines when you’re trying to buy tickets.

3) If you pre-book your tours online, they may not let you cancel if you change your mind on the day of the tour.  Make sure you know their cancellation policy.  If, for some reason, your ship doesn’t go into that port you may be out of luck for getting your money back if you had to pre-pay.

4) As I said before, if your tour arrives back to port late for some reason, your ship will not wait for you.  We were on a cruise where a couple arrived back late from their tour and the ship had already left.  They had to pay for flights to the next port, and lodging, to meet up with us the next day.

5) There are scam artists out there so you could end up with a less-than-optimal tour operator.  Make sure you do your research.

6) There are also some areas beyond the port that aren’t so safe and, if you book your own tour in these areas, you’re on your own.  If you book with the cruise lines they guarantee your safety.


For more information and some interesting reading, here’s a link to a guy who wrote a whole book on finding cheap shore excursions on your own

Click Here

All images copyright © Eric T. Christensen



  1. All good points. We especially consider the fact that a ship could leave without us if we are late. With that in mind, and the limited time ashore, we usually book through the cruise line. However, at some ports we like to skip the tours altogether and explore on our own. We have had some great days doing that.

    • Eric says:

      We do exactly the same thing. We like the convenience of the ship’s excursions but when they don’t offer anything interesting we do our own thing.