You can have a great time on a cruise without ever leaving the ship, but if your itinerary includes stops at various ports of call, you should consider going ashore. Shore excursions can provide some of the most memorable moments on a cruise, though they can also be confusing or intimidating to a newcomer.
One of your biggest decisions when planning shore excursions will be whether to book through your cruise line or to arrange your own experience. Going through the cruise company offers a number of benefits. In addition to the convenience of not needing to conduct background checks or additional research about your tour provider, you get the opportunity to mingle and form friendships with your shipmates, and you can be sure the boat won’t leave without you. You can also book last-minute activities while aboard the ship. If you choose to book through a cruise line, take a careful look at the excursion description to see how much time you’ll spend traveling and how much you’ll spend sightseeing. If the description is unclear, take advantage of the onboard excursion manager and ask directly.
On the other hand, you can often save money by arranging your own activities, and some cruise-line excursions can be a bit lackluster or impersonal because they’re designed for broad appeal. Doing the legwork on your own may help you gain a deeper understanding of your destination and result in a more intimate tour experience as well. However, if you choose to sightsee independently, time management will be key. Make sure you understand the timetables of your transportation options and get to shore as early as you can. You should also know what time you need to be back on your ship, the name of your ship, and the phone numbers of people to contact if you run into problems onshore.