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

In:
09 Sep 2022

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:

Top 10 cruise ship shore excursion mistakes to avoid

In:
19 Aug 2022

After booking a cruise, the next step in the vacation planning process often involves researching and booking amazing shore excursions around the world.

Martinique Suspension Bridge

All too often, however, first-time cruisers or those who are new to a particular port can make rookie mistakes in the shore excursion planning process, which can lead to disappointment and extra money spent later on.

While everyone makes mistakes, it’s easy to be better prepared and have a stress-free day in port by avoiding these 10 common pitfalls when booking a shore excursion!

Booking only through the cruise line

Royal Caribbean offers wonderful shore excursion opportunities, from whale watching in Alaska to guided tours of Rome and catamaran excursions in Mexico.

However, don’t assume you have to book a shore excursion directly through Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean shore excursions are typically priced higher than tours you can find through independent tour operators due to the cruise line being the “middleman” between you and the tour company.

Take a look at local tour companies in your port of call to see which excursions are offered and if they’re available at a lower cost.

Related: 5 quick and easy tips for finding a great shore excursion on your own

Recently I was browsing Royal Caribbean shore excursions for my upcoming Alaska cruise. I was interested in taking the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway in Juneau, and found that the cost for the exact same experience was $59.99 when offered by Royal Caribbean and $45 to book directly on the Goldbelt Tram’s website!

Of course, booking an excursion directly through Royal Caribbean comes with more protection if the tour runs late, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons of booking independently in your planning process.

Related: Is it better to book excursions through the cruise ship?

Assuming you have to book an excursion in the first place

Many first-time cruisers may think they have to book an excursion in every port they visit, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy time on shore without spending extra on shore excursions!

Excursions can surely offer unique opportunities you can’t do on your own, such as helicopter tours, guided ATV tours, etc., but you can have comparably fun experiences in port without breaking the bank.

Related: 7 ways to have a great time in port without a cruise ship shore excursion

Not doing research

Don’t book a shore excursion based solely on the title or pictures without researching what the excursion entails.

If an excursion is titled "Mexico Beach Break," for example, it will likely mean you'll be provided transport to and from the beach with no guided tour in between. If you're interested in a more in-depth sightseeing experience with a guide, this is probably not the best choice for you.

Dominca beach

Similarly, don't book the first tour you see. Research different tour operators and prices to see which works best for your preferences and budget.

You also want to check reviews before booking a tour. While reviews should always be taken with a grain of salt, if you notice any major red flags, it’s probably best to search for another excursion.

Waiting too long to book an excursion

Once you’re sure you want to book a particular excursion, it’s best to book the tour as soon as possible to lock in the best price and ensure the tour does not sell out.

One benefit of booking tours through Royal Caribbean is that you can reprice the tour until 48 hours before the cruise. If you book a whale watching tour in Alaska for $160 and later see the price dropped to $130, you’re able to cancel and rebook the excursion at the lower price without penalty.

The main benefit of booking right away, though, is to ensure a tour doesn’t sell out.

Tours are more prone to sell out on cruises to “bucket-list” destinations like Alaska or popular cities in the Mediterranean. Because passengers on these cruises are typically traveling longer to reach a destination–and likely picked the cruise solely for the ports themselves–they’re more likely to book shore excursions.

Related: What to do if Royal Caribbean’s shore excursions are sold out

Booking too many excursions

Some excursions are only 3-4 hours long, meaning that sometimes you can technically fit two excursions in one day if the times line up correctly.

While on paper this may seem like a good idea as it gives you the chance to explore more of port, it’s not always the best idea for a few reasons.

If your first tour runs late, you’ll risk missing the second tour. If both tours are booked through Royal Caribbean you’ll receive a refund for the second tour, but this may not be the case with independent tour providers.

Another reason not to book multiple excursions in one port is that shore excursions can be tiring. Even if you’re just laying in a beach chair in the hot sun, it’s easy to be exhausted and ready to get back onboard after the tour is over.

Instead of booking multiple tours, consider booking a tour in the morning and exploring the port freely in the afternoon. After the tour, feel free to grab lunch, have a few drinks, or shop before getting back onboard.

Not checking transportation logistics

One of the most important things to do before booking a shore excursion is to research how much transportation is required to reach the destination from the ship. Depending on the excursion, transportation time can vary from ~5 minutes to over two hours!

While on a cruise to Greece earlier this year, for example, I booked a 5 hour tour to Shipwreck Beach, named one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. I booked the tour from a local operator when I arrived in port, and the tour looked awesome from the brochure and photos available.

Related: Visiting Shipwreck Beach in Zakynthos, Greece

I did not ask any questions about transportation logistics before purchasing the tour, though, so you can imagine my surprise when we boarded a bus instead of a boat! The tour required a 1-hour bus journey across the island to reach the boat.

While I did not mind the bus ride as it allowed me to see more of the island of Zakynthos and the tour was fantastic overall, I realized the importance of doing more research on transportation before booking a tour!

Not checking cancellation policies

Be sure to check cancellation policies for your tour before booking, especially if you’re not entirely sure you plan to do the excursion.

Most Royal Caribbean shore excursions can be cancelled up to 48 hours before arrival in port without penalty, and full refunds will be provided to guests. Royal Caribbean shore excursions involving flights, trains, overnight stays, special events, and Private Journeys must be cancelled at least 30 days prior to sail date.

Independent tours, however, can have varying cancellation policies depending on the tour operator. Read through the fine print when booking a tour independently to ensure you don’t end up disappointed if you want to cancel the tour later on.

Overestimating fitness level

When browsing shore excursions in the Cruise Planner, you can filter tours by fitness level (mild, moderate, strenuous). Some excursions may require hiking on steep trails, kayaking for longer periods of time, etc.

Be sure to consider your fitness level (and the fitness levels of others in your group) before booking an excursion to ensure you will be able to complete the tour successfully and without too much struggle. 

Not considering others in your group

A dream excursion for one passenger can be a nightmare to another. If you’re traveling with friends or family on a cruise, be sure to communicate your shore excursion interests with each other before booking.

If your idea of an amazing day in port is lounging by the beach with a drink in hand but others in your group want to go zip lining, it can lead to tension during the cruise planning process.

Be sure to communicate which types of excursions you’re interested in with your group. If you cannot find something everyone wants to do, consider splitting up and meeting after separate excursions for lunch or a drink before getting back onboard!

Related: Guide to picking the perfect Royal Caribbean shore excursion

Considering others in your group is extra important if you’re traveling with young kids. While you may want to book a walking tour of historic sites in port, this might not be the best option with energetic kids who want to simply run around and have fun.

Look through shore excursions to determine which work best for your family before booking to avoid problems–and tantrums–along the way.

Related: 12 must have Royal Caribbean tips & tricks for families

Not reading the fine print

Our last mistake many cruisers make when booking a shore excursion is not reading the fine print. If you read the fine print, you’ll find that many of these “mistakes” (transportation logistics, cancellation policies, etc.) are listed in the fine print.

Outside of these tips, make sure you read the fine print to check what is and is not included on a tour. Some excursions may include lunch while others may not, so you might want to pack snacks or plan to enjoy lunch in port after the tour.

St KItts volcano

The fine print may also mention what to wear and what to bring on an excursion. You won’t want to show up to a hike with flip flops or a tour of a church in Rome with shorts and a tank top!

Reading the fine print is a surefire way to ensure you won’t encounter any surprises on the excursion.

More shore excursion tips & tricks:

7 ways to have a great time in port without a cruise ship shore excursion

In:
20 Jul 2022

Most people will look to book a tour of some kind to go on while their cruise ship is in port, but you don't need an excursion to have an enjoyable day.

Cozumel coast with restaurants and bars

Shore excursions are a popular way to see the top tourist sights that any port has to offer, and it's definitely the right approach for knocking out these must-see places.

However, there is sometimes a port of call on a cruise where for one reason or another you opt not to book anything. Perhaps you've been there a few times already, or the weather doesn't look great, or you just need a break after port visits the previous couple of days.

Whatever the reason, there can be fun things to do in every port your cruise ship visits without a formal tour or plan.

Ship in Cozumel

Depending on the port, there can be more options than others. In some ports, the cruise ship will dock directly in a city, whereas others, the ship docks further away. Even the most rudimentary cruise ports usually have a few things worth doing, so I wanted to highlight suggestions for how to get off the ship and explore just a little bit without a plan.

Here's my list of seven ideas for how to have fun in a port without any excursion booked.

Drink for cheap at a bar

If you skipped a Royal Caribbean drink package but want to enjoy tropical drinks, going to a bar in port can save you a lot of money.

In the Caribbean especially, drinks will cost you significantly less than on your cruise ship. Not only is each beer and cocktail likely cheaper, there are usually better specials and larger drink sizes.

I have yet to find a port that a cruise ship visits without at least one bar somewhat near the port. Most ports that cruise ships visit have a port area, which is a secured area enclosed from the rest of the city or island. In this area, there are all sorts of vendors and bars are included.

Pirate Republic brewery

Some bars are steps away from the security checkpoint to get back onto the ship, which means there's no way you are missing the ship and minimal effort to get to and from the bar.

Find free wifi

Whether you bought an internet package on your ship or you're ready for "real" internet that doesn't take a minute to load that funny gif your sister sent you, there's usually plenty of places in port offering wifi access.

Just like the drink at the bar tip I just covered, you can usually find complimentary wifi at many bars and shops in port.  Some will require a password, which usually means buying something. Stop in for a drink, but stay for the wifi.

A good idea is to ask a crew member onboard the ship for places to go with free wifi, as crew members regularly visit these ports and seek out the internet too.

Ask locals for a nearby beach

Depending on the port you visit, there can be a beach you could walk to from where your ship docks.

This isn't possible in all ports, but sometimes there is a nearby beach. A good idea is to ask a local in the port for suggestions. 

Keep your expectations in line, as the closest beach may not be the most pristine stretch of sand and water you've ever seen, but you also didn't have to pay for a tour either.

Here are a few easily walkable beaches from select Caribbean ports:

  • Nassau: Junkanoo Beach
  • St. Maarten: Great Bay Beach
  • Cozumel: El Cid La Ceiba Hotel

Have lunch

A favorite to-do in any port if all I want to do is feel like I got off the ship and did something is to find a spot for lunch.

Just like the bars, there's usually a few restaurants in close proximity to where the cruise ships dock.

In cities like San Juan, Puerto Rico or Cozumel, there's far more choices than other ports.

Most serve up enough variety for the pickiest eaters. In fact, restaurants near the ships tend to offer more American food than authentic local cuisine, so don't worry too much about having to eat anything unusual.

If you are in the mood for authentic local cuisine, it would be a good idea to ask one of the vendors in the port for a suggestion. 

Be sure to bring cash, as credit cards are not always accepted.

Listen to live music

Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise: Roatan | Royal Caribbean Blog

Another good idea for something different to do is find a musical act performing in port.

It's been my experience there are different musicians that perform in port for cruise ship passengers as they come and go.

Generally, you'll find most musical acts in the first few hours the ship docks and then again before the ship leaves because that's when foot traffic is highest in the port area.

Ideally, find a nearby bar you can sit at and enjoy the tunes. Be sure to bring some small change to tip the musician after enjoying the performance.

Go for a run

Oasis of the Seas Live Blog - Day 3 - Costa Maya | Royal Caribbean Blog

If you like to jog, maybe take a break from the cruise ship running track and go for a run in port.

It's a good idea to research in advance where you can safely run near the port. Not all ports may have an area you can start running. Many places cruise ships visit are industrial ports, or simply not in an ideal part of town.

If nothing else, a short taxi ride should get you to a park, boardwalk, or good starting point.

Go to a supermarket

La Mega in Cozumel

One of my favorite DIY shore excursions is to go to a local supermarket and browse what they have.

This is a really fun shore excursion to do in a different country because it provides a lot of insight into the destination.

You can browse the aisles and see what is for sale, who is shopping, how much things cost and how to buy things. What is the popular snack food? How are things packaged? You will learn so much by lurking in the supermarket.

Read more6 things that happen on a cruise that nobody talks about

You'll probably need to take a taxi to get a supermarket.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Top 3 things to do in each port Matt is going next week

In:
13 Jul 2022

Listen to the Show

I'll be boarding Mariner of the Seas for our next group cruise and I'm listing my favorite things to do in each of the ports we are visiting. 

Share with me your thoughts, questions and comments via...

On this episode:
Running time:

Guide to picking the perfect Royal Caribbean shore excursion

In:
01 May 2022

You booked a Royal Caribbean cruise and now you want to figure out what you are going to do at the ports your ship will be visiting.

Where do you start?

Family excursion in St Kitts

Shore excursions are a major part of any Royal Caribbean cruise because a large part of your overall vacation is exploring the ports of call you will visit.  You have just a few hours at each stop, but it should be enough to get a taste of the city you are visiting.

The concern many guests have is figuring out what the options are to choose from and which ones are a good idea and which are a mistake.

The way to be assured that you have the most options and pick the right one for you, is to do your research ahead of time.  

Many of your fellow passengers will not do much, if any, research and will rely purely on the information Royal Caribbean provides them.  In fact, most will wait to get onboard the ship and then book something.

Besides risking a poor decision, they are also wasting time on their cruise from doing fun activities.

Let's explore what you need to know so that you can research your ports properly and make all of your reservations in advance, leaving you with more time onboard your ship to do what you really want to be doing.

Learn the basics about the ports

Before you even look at one shore excursion, you should research what each port is best known for.

Typically, the individual ports you visit are best known for something and there can be a few activities that stand out among the rest.

Depending on your itinerary, you may even know what each port is known for ahead of time, such as major cites like Boston, Rome, Barcelona, or Venice.

Start off with a list of the ports you will be visiting.  

The port you start and end your cruise with is a very important place because you may end up spending the most time of any ports here.  I recommend folks arrive to their embarkation port at least one day in advance to avoid travel delays impacting your ability to get to your Royal Caribbean cruise.  

Some people will tack on extra days beyond that on the beginning or end of the cruise, so you will find that you may be spending a lot of time in your embarkation/disembarkation port.  The most important factor can be aspects like an affordable hotel, dining and transportation to/from the ship.

For your embarkation port as well as the rest of the ports you are visiting, start off with some light reading.  I recommend doing an internet search for each city and learning about its significance.  

Wikipedia articles are often good starting points, because they will quickly get to why the port you are going to is frequented and some of the major attractions.

The goal of this step is to understand if you are visiting somewhere that is known for its beaches, or for its history, or for its culture, or for something else.  

Just because a port is known for its beaches does not mean you cannot take a tour of ancient ruins or go shopping, but you want to make sure you are not missing a big draw.  A good example would be going to Civitavecchia, Italy and not knowing that Rome is a quick drive from there.

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

Understanding the difference the two kinds of shore excursions

Lover's Beach in Cabo

Before you look at one shore excursion, it is important to know about some fundamental differences between shore excursions.

At a very basic level, there are two kinds of shore excursions: shore excursions offered by Royal Caribbean and shore excursions offered by third parties.

Royal Caribbean shore excursions

Royal Caribbean shore excursions are sold directly by Royal Caribbean to its guests, and they are group activities managed by local companies in each port that Royal Caribbean has vetted and will stand by.  

Royal Caribbean also guarantees if you take one of its shore excursions, they will ensure you do not miss the ship if you are delayed on the excursion.  Even if the ship is slated to leave, the ship will wait for your group to return or provide transportation for your group to meet up with the ship at the next port.

Furthermore, if your ship cannot dock at a port for any reason, any shore excursions you booked with Royal Caribbean directly will be completely refunded.

Royal Caribbean excursion sign

The price of Royal Caribbean shore excursions are set in stone and are not negotiable.  The full cost of the shore excursion will be due upon booking and if you were to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion onboard your ship, you could use onboard credit to pay for it.

The price of a shore excursion will be no less expensive if you pre-purchase it online.  In many cases, shore excursions are more expensive on the ship than compared to buying it online before the cruise. Not to mention pre-purchasing before you get to the ship will guard against the tour being sold out.

Royal Caribbean shore excursion pros

  • Easy to find and learn about
  • Guaranteed return to your ship
  • Fully refundable if your ship skips a port

Royal Caribbean shore excursion cons

  • Tends to be more expensive than third party shore excursions
  • Group tours, which means tour will move at the slowest person in the group's pace
  • Limited offerings

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

Third party shore excursions

Third party shore excursions are essentially any tour or activity you do on your own that is not sold to you by Royal Caribbean.  This can be a group tour or an individual tour.  It can even be you taking a taxi somewhere and doing something on your own.

With third party shore excursions, you are responsible for planning all aspects of the tour, so you will have to find a company or person, negotiate the rate and then find them in port and ensure you return on time.

The policies of what happens if your ship cannot dock at the port and refunds can vary from tour guide to tour guide.  Many will offer a refund policy if your ship cannot dock, but it is something else to consider.

Ketchikan charter boats

Prices for third party shore excursions can sometimes be negotiated, depending on the excursion and the guide.  Some excursions will require full payment at the time of booking, but many will require just a deposit to hold your spot, with full payment prior to the excursion beginning.

Third party excursions are far less limited than what Royal Caribbean offers, and you can price shop among many competing companies to find the one for you.  

Third party shore excursion pros

  • Far greater variety of choices
  • Tends to be less expensive than Royal Caribbean shore excursions
  • Possibility for personalization and be more efficient with your time

Third party shore excursion cons

  • You are responsible for getting back to the ship on time
  • Requires more leg work to learn about them all
  • You must handle any financial dealings, including cancelations.

Start with Royal Caribbean's shore excursions

Royal Caribbean's shore excursions are a good starting point because they are simple to find and will give you a basis to compare other options later.

To find all of the shore excursions for your cruise, it is best to register your cruise on Royal Caribbean's My Cruises section and then visit the Cruise Planner.

Shore excursions are divided up by the port you are visiting and then further categorized by the type of activity (culture, culinary, family, sightseeing, etc).

Go through each port and look at the various options to choose from.  

In addition of deciding if any of these excursions look appealing, you should be considering the following aspects of each shore excursion

  • Cost (adult vs child)
  • Duration (a few hours, half day, full day)
  • Physical and age limitations

Be sure to read the descriptions of any shore excursions that sound interesting for all the aspects of the excursion. Often a main activity is accompanied with smaller activities, such as a zip line adventure also including a beach break and lunch.

How to find third party shore excursions

Mediterranean cruise in Rome

Whereas Royal Caribbean's shore excursions are nicely laid out for you, third party excursions require some leg work to discover.

Between your initial port research and looking at Royal Caribbean's shore excursions, you probably have a good idea of what each port offers but there is plenty more to discover.  There are two resources I always go to when I want to find shore excursion ideas.

TripAdvisor

Mazatlan

TripAdvisor is a user submitted review site that has lists for hotels, activities, restaurants and more.  I find it to be a really good means of discovering popular activities as well as activities that float under the radar.

For each port, do an internet search for the port name and TripAdvisor.  If you are visiting Cozumel, then you would search for "Cozumel TripAdvisor".  The first result back should be TripAdvisor's page on Cozumel.  Going about it this way is faster and simpler than navigating TripAdvisor's site.

Click around and look at the activities mentioned.  You may find beaches, buildings, restaurants and other cultural spots listed, with reviews and photos from other people that have been there.

Read the reviews for insight into what the activity offers and what the people that left reviews liked and did not like about it.

In most cases, you will not find a vendor here, but you will discover the places you want to visit.

Message boards

Next, visit the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards for excursion ideas and recommendations.

Message boards are a little tricky to browse, but they are a wealth of knowledge.  What is great about this message board is you will not only find a list of things to do, but the activities here are focused on what cruise passengers will be interested in and often there are recommendations for which guides or companies to work with.

Read through the various forums for each port you will be visiting and read what others have to say.  You might even be inclined to sign up for the message boards and post your own question to get a more personalized answer.  

Skagway train

Like TripAdvisor, your goal is to narrow down what activities you want to do while in each port based on others advice as well as descriptions and photos you run across.

If you find individual companies at this stage, that's great but if you still have not found someone to work with yet, don't worry. The next step will take care of that.

Search for what you want to do


By this point you should have a really good idea of what you want to do in each port.  Maybe you know you want to spend the day at a particular beach or you really want to get a tour of a city's major historical landmarks.

For each port and activity, go to your favorite internet search engine and do a search for the port name and the activity.  Here are some examples

  • Cozumel beaches
  • New York landmark tour
  • St Thomas guided tour
Navigator of the Seas in Willemstad, Curacao

You should find a lot of listings for the kind of tours you are looking for.  If your search is coming back with too many results or they are too vague, try adding more keywords to specify exactly what you want.

  • Cozumel Paradise Beach
  • New York midtown tour bus
  • St Thomas private tour

For each tour operator you find that looks promising, consider sending them an email or calling and asking some basic questions.

  • Is the price the same for adults and kids/infants?
  • What happens if our ship cannot dock in the port?
  • What is your cancelation policy?
  • Would you be willing to accept $____ instead?

Ask as many questions as you want and also consider asking for more a more personalized experience.  The worst they will say is no, but often these people and companies want your business quite a bit and will work with you.

Make the decision

At this point, you have a pretty good idea of what each port offers, the prices and options available to you and expectations for the excursions.

Booking the excursion for you and your group is now a matter of weighing the pros and cons of booking with Royal Caribbean or not, as well as between individual excursions in each port.

Decisions such as, to book with Royal Caribbean or not, or which tour sounds the most interesting will vary from person to person and port to port.

Cabo

By engaging in the steps listed in this post, you should have a good understanding of what each port offers, which activities are of interest to you and the right price.

Although this may further complicate the decision, it is important to note that there is always a third choice in any of the ports of forgoing an organized tour all together and exploring the port on your own.

Many ports are conducive for walking off the ship, taking a taxi and exploring the port on your own.  

London

In the end, the decision can come down to price and one's comfort level with booking on their own versus Royal Caribbean.

You do not have to make a decision right away, but the longer you wait, the greater the risk of the shore excursion you want filling up.  This is especially true with Royal Caribbean shore excursions.

You should treat each port individually and not be concerned with if you book something on your own or go with Royal Caribbean across all ports. 

With this information, you should have the tools to make an informed decision and pick a great shore excursion before you set foot on your ship, leaving you more time onboard to enjoy the cruise.

Common shore excursion questions

Can you get off a cruise ship without an excursion?

Yes, in almost every port of call, you can walk off the ship with no tour or excursion booked and walk around on your own.

Depending on the port, there may or may not be much to see or do near where the ship docks.

Most ports have at least a few shops, bars, or restaurants near where the ship docks. These are usually not authentic offerings, but you cannot deny the convenience of having them so close to the ship.

Some people will walk to a downtown area, or take a taxi as well.

What are the different categories of shore excursions offered?

There are a few common types of shore excursions:

  • Accessible Shore Excursions
  • Active Adventures
  • Culinary
  • Culture
  • Destination Highlights
  • Family Friendly
  • Sustainable Tours

Accessible excursions are tours that are designed for parties that have wheelchair accessibility needs.

An active shore excursion refers to a tour that centers around physical activities, such as swimming, paddling, hiking, or something else requiring physical effort.

How much exertion is required truly depends on the tour, but these are not tours that are passive where the passengers take a bus tour of the area.

Culinary tours center the experience around food or drinks, usually the sort of eats the port you are visiting is known for.

Culture tours tend to highlight the historical sites and people of the country.

A destination highlight excursion will take you to the major tourist attractions your port is known for.

Family friendly tours ensure the tour is appropriate for children of all ages, which avoids any experiences that may have a height or age restriction.

Sustainable tours are certified excursions that are not hindering the local environment in anyway.

Are shore excursions cheaper on the ship?

No, shore excursions will not be any cheaper if you wait to book it onboard. In fact, it may cost more.

Royal Caribbean regularly discounts its shore excursions before the cruise on its website. So booking a tour online before the cruise will cost you nothing more.

How far in advance can you book excursions on Royal Caribbean?

Royal Caribbean will usually begin loading in shore excursions for booking up to 8-10 months before your cruise.

There is no set timeline for all sailings to expect shore excursions to be added, but you can start to look for tours once you are less than a year from your sail date.

You'll be able to book a tour up to 48 hours before your cruise begins via the Royal Caribbean website.

How much do you tip a cruise excursion guide?

Cuba tour driver

It is customary to tip your excursion guide at the conclusion of the tour, but the exact amount will depend on your experience.

Tipping the driver of your vehicle is also common.

How much to tip depends on what you are comfortable with, but usually tipping per person in your group is a good plan.

More information

Do you book shore excursions through Royal Caribbean or on your own? What shore excursion research benefited you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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

In:
30 Mar 2022

While Royal Caribbean shore excursions have many options, some cruisers find themselves looking elsewhere for something to do in port. Whether you’re looking for an activity not offered by Royal Caribbean, hoping to find a better price, or want to see the widest range of tours available, it’s helpful to know where to look.

It’s important to note, of course, that booking a tour through an outside provider does not come with the same benefits as booking through Royal Caribbean directly. Booking through Royal Caribbean ensures the tour operators are vetted and approved, and on the off chance your tour runs late, you can take comfort in knowing the ship will wait for you before leaving port.

That being said, booking independently can mean smaller tour sizes, more excursion options, and lower prices. The benefits of an independent tour provider often outweigh the drawbacks, especially when you are able to read reviews from those who booked the tour in the past and know that you are booking with an experienced tour company.

The following websites and tips are what we use to find shore excursions outside of what Royal Caribbean offers.

Resortforaday.com

If you’re looking for a relaxing beach day with all the amenities of a resort, look no further than Resortforaday.com.

Resortforaday.com is a service that sells day passes at resorts and hotels for cruise passengers. There are currently resorts available in 23 ports, the majority of which are in the Caribbean.

The exact amenities and inclusions of a day pass through Resort For A Day vary, as offerings are subject to the resort’s policies. Some resort day passes include all-inclusive food and drinks whereas others give a food and beverage credit. Likewise, some resorts are kid-friendly and include access to a waterpark or kids club whereas others are adults-only.

A day pass at the Westin Cozumel, for example, includes unlimited food and beverages, beach and pool access, a kids club for children aged 4-12, outdoor showers, wifi, snorkeling, kayaking, and paddle-boarding.

Margaritaville Beach Resort & Waterpark in Nassau, on the other hand, is not all-inclusive. Food and drinks must be purchased individually, but pool, beach, and waterpark access are available to day pass guests.

It’s important to choose a day pass wisely to ensure the resort’s offerings and ambience fit within your travel style. If you want a relaxing, quieter day in port, an adults-only resort may be the best fit. If you’re traveling with kids, though, a resort offering a waterpark or kid-friendly activities would be a better choice.

Most resorts allow access to day pass guests from around 9 or 10am until 5pm.

Tripadvisor.com and Viator.com

Tripadvisor is an excellent research option due to its lists of things to do in cruise ports around the world. To search for tours and activities in your port of call, go to Tripadvisor’s front page and click the “Things to Do” button.

Input the name of your cruise port and you’ll be taken to a page with a wide range of tours available. One of the best benefits of Tripadvisor is the amount of reviews available on the website. Reading reviews from those who have booked the tour in the past is helpful, as it allows you to learn more about the excursion’s benefits and drawbacks.

Not only does Tripadvisor list tours you can book directly through their website, but it also lists the essential things to do and eat at each location. These lists can be helpful for passengers planning a DIY excursion. Knowing the best beaches, restaurants, and attractions in your port of call can make exploring on your own a whole lot easier.

Viator, like Tripadvisor, allows you to book tours from independent tour operators, and has a wide range of tour categories available. From Arts & Culture to Classes & Workshops and Food & Drink, you’re sure to find a tour that fits your interest on Viator.

Shore Excursions Group

While similar to Tripadvisor and Viator, Shore Excursions Group focuses solely on shore excursions for cruise ship passengers. Tours are offered all around the world, from the Caribbean to the Arabian Gulf and Asia.

Shore Excursions Group makes it easy to pick a tour that fits within your cruise ship’s itinerary, as tours are filtered by your cruise ship’s specific departure date and ports of call. There’s no need to check your calendar or worry about accidentally booking the wrong day, as Shore Excursions Group has all Royal Caribbean itineraries listed on their website.

Shore Excursions Group features several different types of tours: small group tours, private tours, scenic tours, cultural tours, active tours, and city tours. Each type of tour comes with its own style, whether traveling to Alaska’s glaciers on a scenic tour or cycling through small towns in Europe on an active tour.

Message blog forums

Online message boards are a great way to find more information about your cruise ship, and they can also be a useful research tool when deciding what to do in port. Hearing from those cruisers who have been to your destination before is valuable, as they are able to offer their recommendations on what to do (and what not to do) in a particular port.

The Royal Caribbean Blog message boards, for example, have a shore excursions board where you can ask questions to fellow cruisers and learn more about what each port of call offers. If you’re wondering if a certain tour is worth it or you're trying to choose between two separate tours, odds are someone on the message boards has first-hand experience with your port of call and can help you make a decision.

Google (“port name + tour”)

Sometimes the easiest way to find a shore excursion on your own is through a simple Google search.

If you’re looking for something to do in St. Maarten, for example, search “St. Maarten tour” on Google. You can customize this further if you wish, searching “St. Maarten tour kid friendly” if you’re traveling with kids or “St. Maarten tour catamaran” if you want to sail around the island.

Google will list the most top-rated websites where you can book shore excursions and read reviews from those who have done the tour previously. It’s hard to go wrong with a Google search when researching shore excursions, and it is a good starting point for those researching activities in their ports of call.

Easy Monkey, Sloth & Iguana tour review in Roatan

In:
14 Mar 2022

Have you ever thought of holding and petting a sloth, monkey, or iguana? 

Many families look for animal encounter opportunities while in a port call, and we decided to try out one of these tours while on a visit to Roatan on Wonder of the Seas.

We booked Royal Caribbean's Easy Monkey, Sloth & Iguana tour while onboard the ship so my kids could check off this item from their must-dos. I was a little more hesitant about being that close to some of these animals, but I decided to try it out for my kids.

Description

The tour begins at the pier after disembarking our ship in Roatan. A group of 17 people in total boarded a bus and we went on our way.

A guide narrates the tour, along with the driver onboard.

There are three stops along the way:

  • Sloth, monkey & parrots
  • Iguanas
  • Market

The trip to the the first stop is perhaps 10 minutes, and you walk outdoors to a series of enclosures.

The first enclosure are guinea pigs, followed by sloths, then parrots, and finally monkeys.

In each enclosure, you walk inside and a guide hands the animal to you, with the exception of the monkeys.  The monkeys do their own thing and will jump on or off you as they scatter around.

The sloths and monkeys are by far the most popular part of this tour, and you have enough time for everyone to hold the sloth, guinea pig, or parrot and then take photos and take it all in.

On our tour, there was no set time limit or anything. In fact, I found the guides to be quite laissez faire about how long anyone holds each animal.

The sloths are the most docile of the animals to interact with, so even animal-phobes, such as myself, can tolerate it.

The parrots might nip once or twice to see if you have food, but my kids enjoyed the birds on their arms and heads.

With the monkeys, you don't really hold any unless they want to be held. On our visit it rained, and evidently that sends the monkeys into a bit more of a frenzy than normal.

The next stop is a short bus ride down the road to the iguana sanctuary.

Here, you will find dozens of iguanas mulling about. You are given large leaves to feed them. The key is to hold onto the leaf while you feed them, but drop it once they get to the stem.

Rain usually sends iguanas running for cover, but there were enough that didn't mind the shower if it meant getting fed.

There's also a tarpon area to feed fish a short walk away.

The final stop is the Maccaw Market, which has drinks, souvenirs, food, and even a chocolatier.

It's a nice looking market area to pick up a souvenir or something to eat.

The entire tour was just around 3 hours from start to finish, although the shore excursion said it would be 4 hours. I think the discrepancy is because the tour assumes longer waits for each stop. On our day in Roatan, we were the only cruise ship in port.

Comments

Overall, this shore excursion delivered exactly what we wanted: time to hold, be with, and see sloths, monkeys, and iguanas.

Our guide was knowledgeable and talked just about every minute of the tour.

I appreciated that the group size was small enough that we did not have too much time standing around waiting for others. Whether or not this would have still been the case if there were 2 or 3 other ships in port with us, remains to be seen.

If you're looking for an easy tour to meet these cute animals, then this excursion is exactly what you want.

The cost for each person was $59.99.

Excursion Focus: Discover Scuba Diving in St. Thomas

In:
21 Jan 2022

When Harmony of the Seas docked in St. Thomas yesterday, I was more than excited for the day ahead. Not only were we able to dock in Charlotte Amalie after originally thinking we could not, but I had a completely new experience booked for the day.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

I reserved the Discover Scuba Diving excursion offered by Royal Caribbean, which takes guests on a 4-hour beginner scuba diving experience with an instructor. This is available for all guests over the age of 12 and you do not need a scuba certification to participate.

Overview

With the Discover Scuba Diving excursion, you will learn the fundamentals of scuba diving and go on your first dive all within a few hours. 

The group met on the pier and began a 30-minute boat ride to Buck Island, a small wildlife refuge located just south of St. Thomas. 

On the way to Buck Island, our instructor gave us a detailed overview of scuba diving basics. We learned which hand signals to use while diving, when to use each piece of equipment, and how to breathe underwater. The instructor quizzed us on the content to make sure we were confident before beginning the dive.

When we arrived at Buck Island, we anchored the boat in Shipwreck Cove and it was time to put our knowledge to the test underwater. Our group of ten was split into two groups. One group would dive while the other was free to snorkel, swim, or relax on the boat.

The staff helped us put on our scuba gear and guide us on how to best jump into the ocean from the boat. Falling into the ocean and taking my first breath underwater was exhilarating, albeit feeling unnatural.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

Once our group was all in the water, we descended slowly into the water for a one-on-one knowledge test with the instructor, where we practiced the skills we had learned on the boat while becoming more comfortable with our gear and breathing technique.

After everyone proved their skills, we held onto the ropes attached to the boat and descended deeper into the ocean slowly until we reached the bottom. Lying at the bottom of the cove was the shipwreck of the Cartanza Senora, a 190 foot freighter that was abandoned and sunk in the 1970s.

Photo credit: Underwater Adventure

We let go of the ropes and our instructor led us on a swim around the shipwreck where we encountered colorful coral, numerous species of fish, and even an eel! On some days there are turtles, stingrays, and nurse sharks around the shipwreck, although we did not encounter any on our dive.

Once back to the surface, the other group took their turn to dive and we spent the rest of the time snorkeling in Shipwreck Cove before taking the boat back to the port.

The Discover Scuba Diving tour is operated locally by Underwater Adventure: Adventure Scuba & School. The excursion can be booked through Royal Caribbean and was $109 per guest when paying in advance. Wetsuit rentals are also available, although the water near the shipwreck was warm so they are not totally necessary.

Comments

I would 100% recommend the Discover Scuba tour for anyone interested in exploring the ocean beyond what you can see while snorkeling. It is the perfect way to test out scuba diving prior to getting certified, and this was one of my favorite excursions I have ever done.

The location of the diving was perfect for a first experience. Not only was the shipwreck much larger than I pictured beforehand, but it attracted sea life and vegetation. Being able to dive with the fish right around you as opposed to viewing them from above while snorkeling made me feel very connected to the ocean and environment around me.

The staff was also really patient and helpful throughout the day, which helped put me at ease when trying something I had never done before. I also appreciated that the tour group was quite small as it led to more personalized attention throughout the dive.

Keeping track of time was difficult to do when 45 feet underwater, so I’m not sure how long we were actually diving. However, I felt that the time underwater was the ideal amount for a first-time experience.

You do need to be a fairly good swimmer for this excursion. The scuba gear includes a lifejacket, which I found very helpful during the times we were learning and reviewing safety tips above water. If you can swim confidently while snorkeling or treading in a pool, you will be fine.

You should be aware that even though you book the scuba excursion, not everyone is always able to succeed in diving. Two members in our group found the ear pressure to be too intense to dive all the way to the shipwreck. However, the majority of the group was able to successfully reach the bottom and dive around the wreck, so it is definitely still worth a try if you are interested.

In addition, if you are prone to seasickness, you may want to bring medication or other remedies with you. The ride to Buck Island was a little choppy at times.

Overall, I am extremely happy I decided to book the Discover Scuba Diving excursion and I think I have found a new hobby! I can’t wait to get my scuba diving certification soon so I can explore more of the diverse underwater ecosystem in the Caribbean and around the world.

 

Excursion Focus: Cycling in St. Maarten

In:
20 Jan 2022

One of the most challenging parts of planning a cruise is figuring out what to do while in port. What activity should I choose? Which beach should I go to? Should I book an excursion offered by Royal Caribbean or explore on my own?

While planning days in port for my 7-night sailing on Harmony of the Seas last week, I kept asking myself these questions. Our original itinerary was switched, leaving me with little time to plan my day in St. Maarten. I wanted to make the most of the day as I had never been there before.

My solution? Go for a bike ride! Not just any bike ride, though. My plan was to loop the entire island on a bicycle to learn more about the island’s landscapes, cultures, and people. I felt prepared from a fitness standpoint as I cycle a lot at home, but I had no idea what my day on a bicycle in St. Maarten would entail.

Spoiler alert: it was one of the best days ever.

Rental

I rented my bike from Tri-Sport SXM, which is the main cycling company and bicycle tour operator on the island. I originally requested a road bike, but they suggested getting an ebike so I could explore more of the island and have some assistance in climbing steep hills.

I met JP from Tri-Sport at the port and he gave me a helpful overview of my bicycle and his recommended route. The total cost of the ebike rental was $55 for the day. The rental came with the ebike, a bike pump, helmet, and a lock.

The Route

I had an ambitious plan. My goal was to loop St. Maarten counterclockwise, starting and ending in Philipsburg. In doing so, I would cycle between two countries, visit both busy and secluded beaches, and explore the island’s culture.

I started the bike ride by cycling north out of Philipsburg and toward the eastern side of the island. This was definitely my favorite section of the ride. Once I got outside Philipsburg, the road heading north was not overly busy and led to some beautiful lookout spots. Crossing the border of the Dutch and French side was fascinating and required some photos.

I passed through the small French town of Quarter of Orleans before continuing to Orient Beach. This is one of the most popular beaches on the island, but is quite long, so it’s easy to find a secluded spot on the beach. There are also many restaurants, bars, and beach clubs open during the day as well.

I continued to the north of the island, grabbing a fresh fruit smoothie in the town of Hope Estate before cycling toward Cul-de-Sac. From here you can take a ferry to the nearby island of Isla de Pinel, where hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling opportunities are plentiful.

Because I kept stopping to take pictures, I was a bit behind schedule. The next section of road was fairly flat, so I quickly bolted toward the northwest of the island. The road was a bit too busy for my liking, though, so I took a detour to Friar’s Bay Beach.

This beach was unbelievably beautiful and not very crowded. As the weather was quite hot, I replenished my water supply, had a quick snack, and relaxed in the shade for a half hour or so.

I wanted to avoid the busy road, so I attempted to find a detour to Marigot. The “road” on Google Maps was the steepest section I had seen all day and was the only point at which I had to briefly walk my bike up the hill!

Whereas most riding so far had been a paved road or a well-maintained dirt path, this section was a mix of cobblestone, grass, and dirt! As I struggled up the hill, I chatted with a few locals who were very curious as to how I found myself on this “road”. 

Regardless, I was able to avoid the busy road, so I’d take that as a win in my books.

After the “road” I cycled to Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island. I found the French-influenced town to be quite cute and enjoyed wandering through the narrow streets on my bike.

In Marigot I stumbled upon Chez Fernand la French Bakery, which offers a variety of french specialties including patisserie, breads, savory snacks, and ice cream. Having already ridden my bike halfway around the island, I was feeling pretty hungry and French delicacies really hit the spot.

After fueling up in Marigot, I left the main part of the island and started my loop of the laguna. Originally I thought this would be a calm section of road, but it actually ended up being one of the busiest sections of the ride! All drivers were cautious of my biking, though, and the road was fairly flat, so it went by quickly.

I took a detour down a dirt path to Cupecoy Beach, which has an area with many small inlets surrounded by limestone. I found several empty or nearly-empty beaches here, and it almost felt like a secret hideway on the island.

My last stop was Maho Beach, which is arguably the most well-known beach on St. Maarten. This beach is located right across from Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten, and planes fly right over you as they land on the runway. Tourists flock here to marvel at the close proximity of airplanes and catch gusts of the powerful wind created when a plane takes off.

I thought it was a unique beach, although unfortunately no planes were landing when I was there! I would not recommend spending an entire day at the beach, though, as it was really crowded and not as nice as other beaches I had seen on my bike ride.

As it was now late afternoon, I began heading back to the cruise port. So did everyone else, apparently, because this section of the ride was the busiest of the day! I enjoyed taking in my final views of St. Maarten from my bicycle before a mellow ride through historical Philipsburg.

As I returned my bike and walked back to the ship, I could not believe how much fun I had cycling around the entire island. The total ride was around 34 miles up, down, and around hilly terrain, countless beaches, and historical towns. And while I certainly felt tired once I was back onboard, I don’t think there could have been a better way to see all that St. Maarten has to offer in a single day!

Safety

When I googled “renting a bike in St. Maarten,” I was shocked by the search results. Many people suggested not renting a bike on the island and saying it would be way too dangerous. Potholes, cars, and distracted drivers would be everywhere!

I decided to take this information with a grain of salt. As there was a reputable bicycle company on the island and St. Maarten has European roots, I figured it would not be as dangerous as the internet implied.

As I started cycling, I realized I was right. I did not encounter one aggressive driver passing me and found that drivers were courteous and patient, even waiting behind me as I struggled on the steepest of climbs. In addition, while there were some potholes on the road, I did not find the road conditions to be any worse than roads I have cycled on at home (with the French side having slightly better road conditions than the Dutch).

The locals on both sides of the island were friendly and helpful. I stopped to take pictures several times and many locals, spotting my bike on the side of the road, stopped to ask me if everything was okay. This definitely added to my feeling of security while cycling solo.

However, I would not recommend renting a bike and exploring on your own to beginner cyclists. While the ride on an ebike is doable for anyone with an average level of fitness, cycling in St. Maarten does require a high level of confidence on busy roads. The main roads are often unavoidable to get around the island, so you may find way more cars on the road than you are used to.

Therefore, the biggest consideration you should make before renting a bike in St. Maarten is your comfort level on busy roads. If you have never biked on a main road before, you may feel uncomfortable with the amount of cars passing you. There is little to no shoulder on the roads, so you have to stay as close to the right curb as possible to allow cars to safely pass.

What made me feel safer throughout the day were the attentive drivers behind me and the fact that all roads were just one lane on each side instead of multi-lane highways.

Guided Tours

There are two ways to go for a bike ride in St. Maarten: renting a bicycle or booking a guided tour. Many guests may opt for a guided tour, but what options do you have?

Royal Caribbean works with Tri-Sport SXM, and they offer a variety of guided tours, some of which are directly listed as Royal Caribbean excursions in the Cruise Planner.

The most popular tour offered is the Historical Philipsburg by Bicycle and Beach tour, which is a 6-mile guided ride through the Dutch-influenced capital of Philipsburg. This ride is suitable for beginners and families and will give a lesson into the history and culture of the city.

You may also choose to book a guided bicycle tour directly with Tri-Sport, as they offer more challenging rides that you cannot book as a Royal Caribbean shore excursion. One of the rides offered is the Tour de Lagoon, which takes you around the lagoon on the western side of the island with a stop at Maho Beach. These tours must have a minimum of two cyclists booking it, but offer a way to see more of the island in a smaller group.

If you are traveling with kids, I highly recommend booking a guided tour as opposed to riding on your own.

Pros and cons of renting a bike vs. choosing a guided tour

The pros of renting a bike instead of booking a tour are plentiful. Cycling on your own gives you the ultimate freedom to choose where you want to go. If you see something interesting, you are able to stop or switch your route in order to discover it more thoroughly. It also gives you the chance to cycle at your own fitness level, making the ride as challenging or relaxed as you want. I also felt that I was able to interact with locals in St. Maarten very easily as a solo cyclist, as they were generally curious about me, thus giving me a deeper insight into the island.

There are a few cons of renting a bike yourself, though. First, you will not have a local with you to help navigate your way around the island or fix your bicycle if something goes wrong. Second, you will attract less attention from cars on busy roads compared to a larger group. That being said, I did not find either of these problems to be an issue (and I never had a single problem with my bike).

Likewise, there are pros and cons to choosing a guided bike tour. The biggest pro is that everything is taken care of for you. There is no need to map out a route yourself and ask for directions whenever you get lost. You also stand out much more on the roads when with a group. A car that may try to quickly pass one cyclist will likely hold back on passing a group of twenty cyclists.

The biggest con I saw with a guided tour were the crowds. Cycling in a group means, of course, that you are with many other people, so you will not get as relaxing of an experience as in a smaller group or by yourself. Plus, many of the popular tours visit the most touristy spots on the island, such as Maho Beach and downtown Philipsburg. This means that not only are there more crowds in the destination you are visiting, but likely there is a busier road to get there in the first place.

Whether you select a tour or not, be sure to research the average temperature during the time of year you will be in St Maarten. I did this ride in mid-January and it was around 83 degrees. It was definitely doable, but I had to drink a lot of water and take occasional breaks in the shade. The good thing about riding a bike, though, is that you get a nice breeze as you ride which helps to cool you down. Plus, you can always take a break in the ocean! There are tons of markets and restaurants throughout the entire ride, so you do not have to pack much water with you on the bike.

Final thoughts

Cycling around St. Maarten put into perspective just how diverse the small island is, and being on a bike allowed me to travel at just the right pace. It was fascinating to see a mix of Caribbean, French, and Dutch influence in the island's cuisine, architecture, and lifestyle.

I've never been more intrigued by the linguistic diversity of a particular place. Not having done much research ahead of time, you can imagine my confusion when I arrived in St. Maarten and heard many locals speaking Spanish instead of Dutch, and that only a small minority of locals speak French.

I will definitely ride a bike again in St. Maarten and would recommend exploring via bike for any guest interested, whether with a guided tour or on your own.

Review: Day Pass at Margaritaville Beach Resort in Nassau

In:
22 Dec 2021

A mere half mile from where the cruise ships dock in Nassau, Bahamas, Margaritaville opened its newest resort in July 2021. 

The resort offers day passes that cruise passengers can purchase to experience some of the resorts amenities. 

What does a Margaritaville Beach Resort day pass include, and how is the experience? Marcy visited the resort on a December 2021 cruise to check it out.

What’s included?

The day pass includes:

  • The “Fins Up” Water Park admission
  • $25 food and beverage credit
  • Private beach access (chairs first come, first serve)
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi.

Cost and Cancellation policy

The current price for the day pass is $115 per adult, $45 for children 3-12 and under 3 years old is free.

You can cancel your pass up until 11:59 p.m. the day before your arrival on their website, however, you can cancel by email up until 10 a.m. the day of your arrival. 

That’s great flexibility if the weather happens to be bad.

My experience

I booked the day pass online via the third-party website resortpass.com. 

While Margaritaville doesn’t give an exact number, it is stated on their website that they will limit the number of passes sold per day.  I received my confirmation email that stated I had to check in at the front desk with a valid photo ID.

We went to the resort on Sunday, December 19th while our Royal Caribbean cruise ship was docked in port for the day.

We decided to do the half mile walk from the ship to the resort, which took fifteen minutes (six of which was just getting out of the port). The walk between the ship and Margaritaville is relatively flat.

We arrived at the resort and headed inside to check in.  We were stopped and told the policy had changed and were directed around the corner to the water parks ticket booth.  We provided our names and were given a wristband and our $25 per person food and/or drink coupons.

The Fins Up Water Park

The water park opened at 10 am, and we were there right at opening.

The first thing I noticed was how clean it was. The park features one pool, a lazy river, a kids slide, three larger slides for all ages, one hot tub and a flow rider type ride that is a scaled down version of the ones on Royal Caribbean’s ships. 

There is also a ledge 10 feet up that you can jump off of into the 11 ft. deep pool.  That was something I had never seen before at a water park.

The pools are not heated, so being December, it was a bit chilly. However, it was a sunny day so the water felt nice. 

There’s a rock climbing wall however, it was not staffed nor did we see anyone climbing it.

Lounge chairs and beach towels are complimentary. There were also lockers located near the restroom & changing rooms. I wanted to get one so my husband and I could store our valuables and enjoy the lazy river together but we were told they were just installed and were not in use as of yet.

The complimentary WIFI was easy to access.  After signing in, a pop up message said the WIFI would only be active for a one hour window.  Ours ended up working the entire four hours we were there so I’m not really sure what the actual rule is.

The overall atmosphere was enjoyable.  There were jumbo screens on the hotel itself that played every genre of music you can think of. 

We heard everything from Bruno Mars to U2, country music, 1960’s blues, 1980’s classic rock, Christmas music from the Monkees to Mariah Carey and of course plenty of Jimmy Buffet.  The volume of the music was perfect.  It was raised but not loud to the point where you couldn’t hold a conversation.

Food and drinks

This is the area that needs the most help, especially if you want to enjoy some cocktails, or any beverage at all. 

There are two areas to get drinks while visiting. The one by the food window was closed, so there was only the main bar that had one bartender the whole time we were there.

It’s obvious they have a bit of a staffing issue.  In fact, on their website, they mention that they offer poolside food and beverage service which we did not experience.  

Make sure to bring your wallet because the food is expensive, and this is coming from someone that frequents Walt Disney World ,so I’m used to overpriced food.

We ordered a chicken wrap and a burger (both included fries) and two beverages with alcohol that totaled $85.  Remember we did have two $25 food credits so that brought it down to $35 but that just seemed very overpriced to me. 

Gratuity and VAT taxes were automatically added.  They only accepted credit cards, no cash. 

I really did enjoy my chicken wrap.  It was made to order so even though it took about 15 minutes to get the food, it was fresh and delicious.  My husband wasn’t impressed with his burger though.  It was overcooked and bland.  The drinks were very good. 

Final thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed the day. It wasn’t crowded, I assume because not many people are aware of the day pass offer.

I love a lazy river so I could have just floated around in there all day.  My husband’s favorite activity was the ten foot jump, he said it was the best thing there.   

Would I do it again?  Maybe. It was a great day but the way I look at it, I could get a full day at CocoCay’s water park, which offers more activities for a cheaper price that also includes food.

However, if you’re looking for something new to do in Nassau, or you’re a fan of Jimmy Buffet and the Margaritaville brand, then the day pass is definitely for you. 

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