Skip to Content

How To Plan Awesome Family Cruise Shore Excursions You’ll Love

We have collected our best tips and advice on planning family cruise shore excursions. Whether you’re interested in planning excursions with your cruise line, going a DYI route, or both, we’ve got information to help you plan and enjoy a great excursion for your family!

On this Page, you’ll find:

  • The Basic Key Facts About Cruise Shore Excursions
  • Universal Tips For Your Cruise Shore Excursions
  • Planning Cruise Shore Excursions Through Cruise Line
  • Planning Independent Cruise Shore Excursions
  • Tips For Enjoying Your Cruise Shore Excursions

Cruise Shore Excursions | panoramic photo of long pier leading to tropical island

The Basic Key Facts About Cruise Shore Excursions

One of the highlights of almost any cruise is actually getting off the ship to visit the ports.  There are several different ways to do that. You can book excursions through the cruise line (either online before you leave, or onboard at the shore excursions desk).  You can make your own arrangements through independent tour operators. Or, you can wait until you arrive in port, and make your plans on the fly. 

Official Cruise Line Excursions

Whether you book in advance online, or book once you are on-board the ship, the cruise line will present a wide range of shore excursions that appeal to a wide range of people. There may be city tours, beach tours, adventure activities like zip lining, helicopters, cooking lessons, and/or other activities that are representative of the locale being visited. These are activities and local tour operators that have been vetted by the cruise line. All payments for these activities will be made through the cruise line. Most of these activities will be set up to accommodate a large group of people.

Usually, when you book in advance, you also pay in advance. When you book on board, the charges are applied to your shipboard account.

cruise shore excursions | photo of mother and child looking at cruise ships in harbor

Independent Cruise Shore Excursions

Independent cruise shore excursions are excursions that you plan and book outside of the official cruise line channels. Although booking through the cruise line may be the path of least resistance, it is not your only option. If you booked your cruise through a large travel agency, they will often have arrangements with other tour operators and will offer their own slate of options available in different ports. These are often cheaper than what is being offered by the cruise line and often involve smaller groups. Likewise, you can do your own research and book with local tour operators directly.


For the truly adventurous at heart, you can (almost) always just wing it. Basically, you plan to exit the ship and see what options await you at the port. There should be some sort of tourist information desk or collection of tour operators close to the pier. You can wander over and check out those options. You also could simply hop in a taxi or nearby public transportation and go exploring.

Usually, in the newsletter provided the evening before in your stateroom, there will be some general information about the port, the layout of the pier, some type of map of the vicinity, and emergency contact information. There may also be some information about what you should expect to pay for taxi or bus rides. Take this with you as you set out to explore.

If you elect to sign up with a tour operator or excursion on shore, you should be mindful that these operators will not necessarily have been vetted by anyone, so proceed with caution. Also, keep in mind that you will obviously be a tourist, if for no other reason than you just literally stepped off a large cruise ship. You could easily be placed at a disadvantage if you have not done any advanced research. This can be mitigated if you are with a group of people – either your original travel group or folks you connect with on board.

Note that if you think you will likely use serendipity to guide your excursion choices, you should still try to do a little bit of research into what types of activities are likely to be available in the ports you’ll be visiting so you can avoid unpleasant surprises. For instance, not every Caribbean port necessarily has readily available beaches. Some ports, like the Belize cruise port, require time and planning if you really want to have fun.

Click here to subscribe

Universal Tips For Your Cruise Shore Excursions

We’ve collected our best tips on planning and enjoying your family cruise shore excursions below. We’ve included information about official cruise line excursions and information about planning independent cruise shore excursions. And you will also find more general information that applies to almost any type of cruise shore excursion.

No matter what type of shore excursion you plan to take, or how you decide to book it, keep the following simple points in mind:

(1) Make sure that you stay on ship time.

When you are on a cruise, the only time that matters is ship time. “Ship time” is the time that is followed by your specific cruise ship, and this time will often vary from the official time followed by local ports. And, for some ports, different cruise ships will follow different times.

Before you step foot off a cruise ship in port, confirm that you have the proper ship time that is being observed on that particular day. You should be extremely wary of relying on any electronic devices that automatically reset to local time. When a ship departure time is posted, it will always be posted based on ship time. You should confirm that whatever clock you are using is on ship time before you leave the ship. And, the departure time may have changed from when you booked your cruise, so you should reconfirm the actual departure time. (See this story for an example of what can happen if you fail to confirm the time.)

(2) Take a snack.

Be sure to pack snacks for excursions. Either snacks that you have brought from home, or purchased in your travels. Or, snacks that you’ve grabbed from your cruise ship. Do not assume that the ports you visit will have ready access to convenience stores or fast snacks for on the go.

Even if you expect to have a meal while you are out and about, take a snack! Some excursions can be long. You may encounter unexpected delays. Or, the included meal may not be something you and/or your kids want to actually eat. Think of it as insurance against hunger and crankiness spoiling your day. 

Planning Cruise Shore Excursions Through Cruise Line

5 Absolutely Solid Reasons Families Favor Official Cruise Excursions

Although they often come with a premium price tag, the official cruise excursions can be a relatively safe and convenient way to plan your time ashore.  So, if you’d rather spend more time actually on the beach rather than figuring out where to go and how to get there (and back), the official cruise excursions can be your most convenient and least stressful option. Find out five reasons why official cruise excursions have wide and popular appeal.  





Planning Independent Cruise Shore Excursions


How To Actually Plan Affordable Family Shore Excursions With Remarkable Ease

Booking shore excursions through the cruise line can usually be the easiest and most convenient way to fill out your itinerary. However, it is not your only option.  And, it is most likely one of the most expensive ways to plan shore excursions.  Read on to learn how your family can save money planning independent shore excursions instead.





A Case Study:

How Our Family Saved Awesome Money On Our India Shore Excursions

PIN Image - photo of happy couple holding fistful of hundred dollar billsIf you’re not careful, shore excursions can totally bust your cruise budget. But with a little research and planning you can arrange your own excursions for a fraction of the costs of those offered by the cruise lines. Read on to find out tips on how we did it.

You can plan fun and adventurous shore excursions for your family without breaking the bank. Follow along with our real world example to find out how




Click here to subscribe

Tips For Enjoying Your Cruise Shore Excursions

You’ve paid good money for your cruise and even more money planning your awesome cruise shore excursions. So you want to make the most of the experience. These tips will make sure you get full value for your investment of time and money!

24 Absolutely Useful Items You Need To Pack On Family Port Calls

Visiting ports of call can provide some of the best highlights of your family cruise vacation. So you want to make sure that you have everything you need when leaving for a fun, stress-free day. This list of basic essential items will help you get maximum enjoyment during your family’s port calls. And help ease your path from ship to shore and back again.





5 Best Reasons Families Leave Kids On The Cruise Ship

When should you leave your kids behind on the cruise ship? A highlight of your family cruise may be engaging in fun family shore excursions in different ports of call. But a fun family cruise vacation does not require 100% family togetherness. Find out 5 situations where it may make the most sense to leave your kids behind on the cruise ship in port.