Mailbag: When do shore excursions become available to book for my Royal Caribbean cruise?

09 Sep 2022
Matt Hochberg

Planning for a cruise ship vacation means picking out fun and interesting tours while in the ports of call you visit, but when do excursions become available to book?

St Kitts scenic overlook

Periodically I answer questions RoyalCaribbeanBlog readers have sent to the RoyalCaribbeanBlog mailbag to answer for the benefit of everyone.

My family and I are booked on an Alaskan cruise for next August. I am starting to look into planning all of the details of our trip and wanted to know how far in advance Royal usually releases shore excursions for your cruise. Right now I see a few options but not a ton. When do  I need to really start checking in and looking for excursions? Thanks in advance for your help! - Katie L.

When I received Katie's question, I realized I've been getting this question asked a lot lately and wanted to share the answer for everyone curious when tours become available to book.

Royal Caribbean excursion sign

One of the best mantras for cruise planning is book as early as you can in order to get the lowest price. Cruise fares tend to be lower the sooner you book.

Not only does booking a cruise early lock in a good price, but you can also get the perfect cruise ship cabin for your family.

Read moreWhat's the best cruise ship cabin for my family?

Search results

If you book a cruise 9, 12, or 16 months in advance, you may find very few (if any) cruise add-ons to buy.

Read moreWhen should you buy Royal Caribbean drink package, wifi, tours & other add-ons

If you're like Katie and wondering when shore excursions will appear to book via Royal Caribbean's website, the short answer is "it depends".

Cruise planner results

Royal Caribbean doesn't have a set time frame when it loads in shore excursions to the Cruise Planner. This is no minimum number of days when tours get loaded, so it's up to the guest to keep checking back periodically.

If that answer doesn't sit well with you, I don't blame you. 

My best advice is to check back for shore excursions in the cruise planner around six months prior to your sail date because there's usually a good chance excursions will be added by that point.

Moreover, even if you check back at six months but shore excursions were added many weeks earlier than that, it shouldn't matter in terms of you being able to get the tour you want.

While Royal Caribbean shore excursions can sell out, most people are not booking up excursions half a year before they sail. In my opinion, there's minimal risk by checking back about six months before you sail for tours. Unlike check-in times on embarkation day, there won't be a rush to book things on the first day it becomes available.

St KItts volcano

If you still don't see tours by the six month timeframe, then check back more regularly as you're more likely to see them added than not. 

There can be any sort of behind-the-scenes reason why shore excursions aren't available to book yet, but they'll eventually make it in.

Read moreWhat to do if Royal Caribbean's shore excursions are sold out

Book on your own anytime

Family excursion in St Kitts

Regardless of when Royal Caribbean loads in shore excursions, you can always book your own tours via independent operators likely much sooner than six months before your sail date.

There's pros and cons of booking a third-party shore excursion, but you might consider browsing these in the interim just to have something ready.

Read more5 quick and easy tips for finding a great shore excursion on your own

Most tour operators will allow bookings much further in advance than six months, especially for high-demand locations, such as Alaska cruises.

Not only will booking on your own give you a head start on Royal Caribbean's offerings, you may a greater variety of choices and perhaps a better price.

Does Royal Caribbean add more shore excursions closer to cruise date?

In addition to waiting for shore excursion to become available, a lot of people want to know if more tours will be added to the lineup.

It's not uncommon to see someone browse shore excursion options on the Royal Caribbean cruise planner site and find the choices limited. When browsing tours many months before the cruise, will there be more tours added by the cruise line?

Royal Caribbean sometimes adds new tours , especially if you checked tours more than a year before your sailing is scheduled to begin.

In addition, if a guest cancels a tour, suddenly a previously sold out excursion is bookable again.

If you read the first part of this article and made a note to check for new tours around six months prior to the cruise, then be sure to keep checking for new tours in the months leading up to your cruise because it's not unheard of for new tours to be added.

Does Royal Caribbean hold back spots on excursions booked online?

Another scenario you might encounter is the exact tour you wanted to do is no longer available to book because it sold out. Will more spots become available either online or onboard the ship?

In my experience, it's not that Royal Caribbean holds back spots as it is they can add capacity.

Sometimes the Shore Excursion department is able to book additional slots (tours) with their local operators.

Martinique Suspension Bridge

More commonly, people cancel their reservations and then an excursion becomes bookable again. In either case, the end-user will never know which scenario has occurred.

If you keep checking online and the tour never re-opens for bookings, you could asked to be placed on a waiting list once onboard the ship.

Ship in Cozumel

Wait lists are something the shore excursion desk can assist you with once you get on the cruise ship. I've had fairly good luck with wait lists, but there's no guarantee.

More mailbag questions:

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost experts on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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