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Simple tips to safely take a cruise ship shore excursion

In:
10 May 2024

Cruise ships offer exciting shore excursions to unique areas, but how can you make sure they’re safe?

Shore excursion safety tips

Royal Caribbean cruises have the appeal of taking you to multiple exciting ports of call, from the gorgeous landscapes of Alaska to the ancient ruins of Greece. 

But when you’re traveling to a new and foreign location, safety is always a top priority.

Ensuring that you have a safe, enjoyable experience during your shore excursions takes some careful preparation.

While most shore excursions come with safety in mind and experience tour guides, being smart and proactive is the best way to stay safe.

Especially if you have special concerns (like pregnancy or a disability), are traveling alone, or haven’t been on a cruise before, some extra research and preparation will help you stay protected throughout your cruise.

Here are our top tips for safely taking a cruise ship shore excursion at any port of call.

1. Book through the cruise line

One of the simplest ways to tour a port of call is by purchasing a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean.

Although more expensive, shore excursions sold through Royal Caribbean have been carefully reviewed.

The tour groups and guides have been vetted.

Royal Caribbean

Not only that, but the cruise ship will also wait for your excursion if it runs late.

You’ll be perfectly safe from being left behind in a foreign place!

Read more8 cruise ship shore excursions our readers tried and instantly regretted

2. Research extensively beforehand

wonder-shore-excursion-selfie

Before you even purchase your preferred shore excursions, take your time to research each aspect of the experience.

Investigate each port of call you’ll be visiting. Even if you have multiple stops in the same country, don’t assume that they’re all the same.

Research will tell you about the safety level, available activities, the landscape, weather, and other important information.

You’ll also need the specific details for your shore excursion: the price, duration, activity level, and dress code.

Knowing all this beforehand helps prepare you for a safe and fun experience.

Read moreIs Royal Caribbean still going to Labadee, Haiti?

3. Don’t be afraid to speak up

RC Cozumel

I was on a cruise that stopped at Cozumel, Mexico, and was walking through the busy tourist port, when an older man approached me and offered me an already-opened bottle of beer.

When I politely refused, he started to insist that I drink, saying it didn’t matter if I was underage.

I firmly said no, and kept quickly walking.

Can you imagine what might have happened if I had gotten nervous, hadn’t said no, or even agreed to drink the beer?

Beer at all inclusive resort

Being firm, smart, and unafraid to speak up when something seems wrong is a key way to protect yourself.

Of course, you want to be aware of cultural differences, and be careful that you don’t degrade any local customs.

Read moreTop 10 cruise ship shore excursion mistakes to avoid

But your safety is what’s important here, so speak up if something feels wrong! 

Trust your intuition, and don’t let anyone make a sucker out of you.

4. Listen to your tour guide

Cruise ship bus tour excursion

Your shore excursion’s tour guides will be the best source of knowledge about your port of call.

They are extremely trained and experienced in doing exactly what you need: keeping you safe while giving you a fun experience!

Listen to their safety briefings, which will involve important information about safety, meeting points, and any potential hazards.

Family on Alaska tour

Take note of any guidelines they give you.

When you’re in any unfamiliar or remote area, listening to experts is the best way to keep yourself safe.

If you do experience any problems or feel unsafe at any time, let your guide know that you need help.

5. How to you keep your money safe on excursions

Alaska by kayak

You're probably going to need cash during your shore excursion, whether to pay the tour, tip someone, or purchase souvenirs.  So how do you keep that safe, especially when you're on a beach or snorkeling trip?

As a tourist, try to keep a low profile, and don't wear jewelry or hold large amounts of cash. 

Your best bet is to treat valuables, such as cash, like you would normally at home.  Keep it in a wallet, and ensure it's out of sight in either your pants, purse, or backpack.

Woman book beach bag

If you prefer, there are various types of waterproof wallets you can purchase. A simple dry pack that can fit your cash, identification, SeaPass card, and a credit card is all you need (Note, this link is an affiliate link that costs you nothing extra to use).

No matter where you store your cash, keep it out of sight. Put valuables in a bag, and then cover it up so a passerby cannot see it easily. 

If you're somewhere where pickpocketing is a concern, you can carry valuables in a hidden pocket worn under your clothing.

6. Stay with your tour group

Cuba tour driver

For additional safety, try to stay with your group. 

Traveling with a larger group—one of whom is an experienced tour guide—ensures that no one can single you out or take advantage of you.

While some tours do have opportunities for you to explore along, try not to wander too far.

There’s safety in numbers. 

Not only that, but a Royal Caribbean shore excursion will consist of other people on the same cruise ship, and who likely speak the same language as you. They’re a great source of help if you run into any problems.

Even when in a big group, make sure you also stay vigilant of your surroundings!

7. Respect local laws and customs

This is where doing research ahead of time really comes in handy.

To keep yourself safe, you need to understand the context of where you are traveling.

What is considered polite and respectful? What should you wear? Who should you speak to—and who should you not?

Familiarizing yourself with the local traditions and laws ensures that you don’t accidentally do anything considered disrespectful or offensive.

You are a visitor to this country, so make sure that you educate yourself and respect all cultural differences.

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

8. Get an Internet connection

Celebrity internet

While this isn’t required—and it’s certainly trickier when you’re in a new country—having Internet access can really ease your mind when it comes to personal safety.

You have an easy way to do immediate research. You’ll have access to Google Translate, local maps, and a way to call or text anyone if you’re in an emergency.

There are a few ways you can get an Internet connection when you’re off the cruise ship in a foreign country.

You can try to find a restaurant or cafe that has free WiFi. Many areas understand that tourists may need Internet access, and they’ll be happy to provide it to you if you purchase something.

You could also buy a SIM card to get local data. These are sold everywhere, such as in airports or near currency exchanges.

If you need an e-SIM, there are several ways to buy them online. I like to use the app Airlo, which allows you to buy an e-SIM for any country and choose a specific timeline for it to be activated.

Bored of typical shore excursions? Try a day pass to a resort

In:
19 Dec 2023

If you're looking at your shore excursion choices and not finding anything that excites you, it might be time to try a day pass to a resort instead.

In any port your cruise ship visits, you'll find lots of different tours. Bus tours, hiking, beach breaks, and historical sights are very common.  So common, that after a couple of visits you may find yourself at a loss of what to do.

I certainly felt that way in some ports of call, especially some Caribbean islands that are well-known for their beaches. I found taking a beach break tour or a taxi to a beach nice, but lacking often in more of the services I like in my day.

Read moreTop 10 cruise ship shore excursion mistakes to avoid

Cruising with my kids, it's nice to have shade, food and beverage choices, and sometimes a pool too. I'll admit that while there are stunning beaches to visit, I prefer the pool more than the ocean. But my wife tends to like the ocean.

Out of a need to find a compromise, I discovered that resort day passes were a great choice for so many Caribbean islands.

Years ago, a day pass involved calling the resort directly to inquire if they offered such an option.  It was difficult to know which options existed.

Luckily, the process has gotten a lot easier.  There are a few sites out there that sell resort day passes, specifically for cruise ship passengers.

RIU Palace in Aruba

A day pass to a resort gives you access to their grounds and many facilities. Think of it like being a hotel guest without the room.

There are two day pass websites I frequently check and book through: ResortForADay.com (contains affiliate link that costs you nothing extra to use) and ResortPass.com.

No matter which site you choose, the process is pretty much the same. Browse available resorts on the island your ship will be visiting, and book a pass for each person in your party.

Some passes are quite cheap, and others much more expensive. It comes down to how popular the resort is, which amenities it includes, and if it's all-inclusive or not.

Transportation from the cruise ship to the resort and back is never included, so you'll need to arrange that on your own.  I almost always just take a taxi at the port.

One consideration before booking is if it includes food and drinks.  Many are all-inclusive, but not all.  By having all your food and drink included, you get a single price for the day, although it's going to cost more.

Beer at all inclusive resort

For the all-inclusive resorts, there could be a restaurant to go into to dine, or it could be waiter service at the pool. Keep in mind that some resort restaurants have a dress code related to bathing suits, so it might be a good idea to pack a change of clothes.

Some resorts have a stipend, where part of your admission cost will be used towards the food served there. The downside to this strategy is I've found most resorts price their food quite high, so that stipend goes quickly.

In some cases, there are resorts that offer simply a day pass and no food or drink with it. You can usually pay as you go with the food there.  This has a lower up-front cost, but depending on how much you consume, you might end up paying a lot before the day is over.

British Colonial hilton resort pool

With ResortForADay, you'll pay a deposit at the time of booking and then have to pay the remainder of the balance once you get to the resort.  

With your pass, you'll get access to chairs and umbrellas that the resort offers. Depending on the resort, the amount of chairs will vary. Some have a lot, some few.  Shade is also a consideration, as it varies considerably from one to another.

Read moreGuide to picking the perfect Royal Caribbean shore excursion

Just like any shore excursion, there are a few things to bring along:

  • Confirmation of your reservation
  • Identification for the adults
  • Money
  • Towels
  • Accessories for your day (sunglasses, sunscreen, etc)
Warwick hotel

When you arrive to the resort, you'll need to have proof of your booking with you.  I recommend having a print out to make it simpler. Plus, the agent at the resort will likely need to take it to reference, and phones return to a lock screen often.

All resorts check your identification, and some hold onto it as a sort of collateral while you're visiting.

Once checked-in, you will be free to roam the grounds and use the resort. Almost all provide a bracelet to wear during your stay.

Margaritaville at Sea

Being that this is a hotel, there will not only be other cruise ship passengers visiting, but also resort guests. In short, the chair hog situation could be present depending on the day.

I've found depending on the resort, weather, and my mood, I love having access to both the beach and pool.

Quite often we go between the two, and then having the convenience of food and drink service makes booking a day pass worth it every time for me and my family.

Food at a Bahamas resort

I love the flexibility it provides, especially with timings. Unlike a group tour, we can arrive and depart when we're ready. This means if my kids are done early, we can hop in a taxi and go back.   Or if things are going really well, we can stay a bit longer.

Not all resorts are the same, so it's important to do your research into what you're getting with a visit.  I recommend skipping the publicity photos the resort provides and doing an internet search for the resort name to get first-hand reviews, as well as photos of the facilities.

You should also be crystal clear on what is and what is not included. Look for verbiage on the individual resort listing to understand what you'll be getting, and what you need to bring or pay extra for.

Margaritaville resort

Just like any excursion you do on your own apart from the cruise line, manage your time to avoid being late. The cruise ship will not wait for you if you're late, so take note of how long it took to get from the cruise terminal to the resort and pad extra time to return.

Ultimately, I find a resort day pass is the perfect family shore excursion for a Caribbean visit, especially if I've visited the island a few times.

I value the amenities you get with a resort pass, and greatly prefer to be able to enjoy the time at the resort on my family's schedule instead of a group visit. It's probably not the cheapest shore excursion you'll find, but I find good value in what I get.

The next time you're considering tours and nothing jumps out at you, perhaps a resort pass might be the best choice.

8 cruise ship shore excursions our readers tried and instantly regretted

In:
18 Oct 2023

It's one thing to make a mistake, but quite another when you realize early on that you've goofed.

Cruise ship bus tour excursion

Shore excursions are a major part o the cruise experience, and some cost as much as hundreds of dollars each.  No one wants to spend their time and money on a substandard tour, but unfortunately, there are a few duds out there.

It seems like most tours ends up being quite satisfactory, but occasionally there is an excursion that is disappointing from start to finish.

Sometimes the problem could be bad luck and factors you couldn't anticipate, like a new tour guide trying to learn to ropes or bad weather. Other times, you might think you would enjoy a certain kind of tour but then realize you don't. 

River tubing

Whatever the reason, sometimes tours don't measure up to expectations and Royal Caribbean Blog readers have encountered these as well.

I picked out eight cruise ship shore excursions our readers took and reconsidered their decision making almost immediately.

Ensenada

water and rocks near La Bufadora Ensenada

Having been to Ensenada, Mexico a few times, smokeybandit found the tour choices less than appealing.

"I enjoyed my tequila tasting, and if I spoke Spanish it could be a fun town to drink in, but that port is a PVSA port and nothing else."

What he is referring to with "PVSA port" is the fact cruise lines use Ensenada as a way to satisfy the Passenger Vessel Service Act (PVSA) of 1886. It requires foreign flagged cruise ships to call on a foreign port if sailing a closed-loop cruise form the United States.

Ensenada, Mexico

This means, cruise ships cannot sail from Los Angeles and only visit California ports.  It must make a stop outside the country, and Ensenada, Mexico is the closest port of call that is in close proximity to Southern California.

The justification for both the PVSA is to protect the U.S. Merchant Marine (the licensed (officers) and documented (trades) personnel on the ships) and to protect U.S. shipyards that both build and repair the ships.

Bus tours

Corsica bus tour

By far, the overarching theme we got from our readers was that bus tours in so many different places was a major regret.

ChessE4 wrote about a bus tour in Corsica, "The guide talked way too much at each stop, and about the time we returned to the city center the local market was closed for the day.  Had we gone on our own, we would have seen most of the same sights and enjoyed the market."

BeachGal tried an open-air, double-decker bus around St. Maarten, "Tour started about 40 min. late, and we were all standing in the sun waiting and wondering what was going on. The guide at the front of the bus narrated the tour, but only the folks on the top level could hear her.  It took a couple of stops before they got it fixed."

"Maho Beach was the only interesting stop on the tour, and we didn't get to stay there long.  Ugh, never again!"

Bus tour in Amalfi coast

Mturk did the Sorrento & Amalfi Coast by Motor Launch tour found it to be too much in a short window of time, "tried to pack too much into the day for sites that were too geographically dispersed to be properly enjoyed. We ended up spending most of the day on the bus instead of enjoying any of the locations we went to."

Bus tours are attractive because they're usually priced low and offer an easy way to see an area. This is very attractive to someone who is unfamiliar with the port and might be hesitant to go on their own.

The reality is a bus tour may leave you feeling constricted and not enough time to properly enjoy any one stop. Moreover, you may spend more time at a stop that you do not care for, but the tour must go to anyway.

One alternative is to forgo an organized tour and explore on your own, especially when your ship is visiting a city or town. If your ship docks near downtown, you can walk on your own or even use public transportation to easily get around.

Another option is to book a smaller group tour or private tour. Royal Caribbean sometimes offers small group tours, or you can book through a third party provider.

Horseback riding tours

Horseback riding tour

I always thought horseback riding on a beach would be fun, but tonyfsu21 painted a different picture.

"As you can imagine, the guide in position number one in line is the only one who gets through the water without excessive amounts of horse excrement all over their legs. Really kind of gross and I highly advise you avoid at all costs."

Peggy's Cove

Peggy's Cove

Two different readers wish they hadn't booked a tour to one of the premier spots in Nova Scotia, Peggy's Cove.

Peggy's Cove is a famous lighthouse that is quintessentially encompasses what someone imagines an Atlantic lighthouse to look like. It's perched along a narrow inlet and on wave-washed boulders facing the Atlantic.

RCIfan1912 thought it was amazing, but he wouldn't do it again, "It was a super long bus ride and holy cow was it crowded. We were very late getting back to the ship."

Peggy's Cove

letscruise agreed, and thought the issue was lack of enough time because the tour was coupled with other stops, "we could have definitely shortened time spent at the Titanic cemetery to be able to spend more than the 30 minutes we were allotted at Peggy's Cove."

Just like bus tours, you could see about booking a private tour to get you to a particular tourist attraction.

No matter if you book a group tour or a private tour, try to get there early to beat the crowds that come as the day progresses.

Snorkeling in Cabo San Lucas

Cabo beach

Snorkeling is a very popular cruise ship excursion, but DDaley thinks there's no point to doing this in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

"We’ve done these twice and while it’s fun on the boat, there’s just not that much to see when you’re actually snorkeling. We’ve snorkeled just about everywhere, and there is certainly no need to do it on the Pacific coast ."

Save the snorkeling for another port and prioritize time spent at a beach or whale watching when the season is right.

Read moreTop 10 things to do in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico on a cruise

ATV tour in Cozumel

I've done a few ATV tours and enjoyed them, but it sounds like Keanoknick might have found a dud.

They booked a ATV tour that would take them through a jungle during a stop in Cozumel, "The so called jungle we rode through felt like I was riding in my back yard in Texas, nothing jungle about it. "

One tip for previewing any tour is to look for reviews, especially videos. Doing a YouTube search for the tour you're taking is a good place to start, as well as looking through reviews in our shore excursion forum.

Read moreGuide to picking the perfect Royal Caribbean shore excursion

Cave tubing in Belize

Cave tubing in Belize

Va4fam wrote simply, "what could go wrong with a hike through the jungle and a gentle tube ride in giant bat-filled caves?"

I would think cave tubing would be a lot of fun, especially since it's a well-known activity in that area of the Caribbean.

"Let's start with the bus.  We took several small buses to connect with the large bus that would take us to our destination.   About 15 minutes into the trip, we heard a loud bang and smelled something burning.  

"We asked the guides if everything was ok, they said it was just the brakes burning.   As we went further from Belize City, the bus shook and rattled before the driver finally pulled to the side.   Yep, definitely a tire blow out. "

"Sat on the road with no air conditioning for over an hour before the little buses retrieved us and took us to the excursion."

"The first family stepped off the bus and into a colony of fire ants and needed to be evacuated back to the port." 

Unfortunately, a lot of the issues on this tour were bad luck and there's not much you can do about that. It's always a good mantra to be as flexible as possible on a cruise.

Read more23 Do's and Don'ts for your Royal Caribbean cruise in 2023

Going to Hell

Hell sign

As soon as I saw readers posting about a Hell in Grand Cayman, I knew exactly why they regretted it.

Hell is the name a tourist trap in Grand Cayman that is noteworthy for its name, which serves as an excuse to make the joke that you went to hell on your cruise.

LCWind wrote, "Overhyped, dated, creepy.  The stops the tour makes are to shops to entice you to buy. Not worth."

Research any tour or place you want to visit and get past the marketing hype to determine how much fun these places actually are in reality.

The cruise ship shore excursion mistake that sounds like a better idea than it really is

In:
01 Jun 2023

It may seem like a good idea, but you're better off not double booking shore excursions no matter how good it seems.

Family on pier

Cruise ships stop in ports of call around the world, and it's tempting to try to "see it all" while you're there for the day.

For many people, this might be the only time they get to visit these places.  Regardless of if you return again, people like the idea of enjoying the kind of humble brag activities they can share with friends and families.

On days when your ship is docked most of the day, it may seem like a good idea to book two shore excursions on the same day, but in practice, it ends up being more problematic than you might think.

You have less time than you think

Gangway in Nassau port

The reason why booking two tours on the same day is a bad idea is the issue of time management.

First, you'd need to line up two shore excursions back to back that provide enough time to conclude one without being late for the second one.

Quite often, tours run a bit long.  Or the tour lacks an indication of time required to transport you to and from the meeting point.

The last thing you'd want to do is miss out on your second tour because you couldn't get to the meeting point for that excursion on time.

Basically, it's more difficult than you think to have a good idea of when exactly a tour will end so you can be ready for the second tour.

Port times can be misleading

Radiance of the Seas in Alaska

Also, the times your ship is listed to dock isn't necessarily the time you're in port.

Cruise lines will list the time they expect to dock and the time they expect to depart, but those aren't the times you can actually get off the ship.

It takes a bit for the ship to physically dock, tie up, and then get clearance from the local authorities.  Clearance can sometimes take a while if the port authority deems it necessary to conduct a more thorough investigation.

Skagway, Alaska, pier with Serenade of the Seas docked

At the end of the day, the sail away time is the time the ship will leave the port.  This means you need to be back onboard at least a half hour earlier.

Of course, the all-aboard time is the absolute last minute to get back, so you'll need to realistically get back sooner than that time.  

All of this adds up to less time in port than it might otherwise appear.

Shore excursions are tiring

St KItts volcano

Even if you get the timing perfect, the second reason to avoid booking two excursions on the same day is the energy required.

When you research shore excursions at home from the comfort of your couch, desk, or bed, you have all the energy in the world and feel up for just about anything.

But after a couple of hours in the hot and humid Caribbean sun, or enduring rain in your face in Alaska, your energy levels are going to be totally different.

Exploring the islands and cities your ship visit takes a toll on your body, even basic sightseeing tours.  Buses are uncomfortable, and you probably had to wake up early to prepare for that morning excursion.

Working in two hours in one day may leave you exhausted.

You can still do more than one thing

San Juan Street

Don't confuse this advice of avoiding two tours to mean you can't do something else in port before or after your shore excursion.

Walking around on your own or just taking a taxi to a nearby beach is a much better way to still enjoy what your port of call has to offer, while adding far more flexibility.

If your first tour took a while and you're now hard pressed for time, you could take a quick stroll and then head back to the ship with plenty of time to spare.

Paradise Island beach

But if your first tour is over and you have plenty of time, you can still enjoy a DIY excursion and head to a beach or city center for more exploration.

In fact, many tours I've been on will offer guests a different drop off point at the end of the excursion that isn't the cruise ship.

By booking only one tour, you have much more flexibility to "roll with the punches" depending on how you're feeling and how the time is working out.

Another option is to come back again

Oasis Class ship docked in Nassau

If the port you're set to visit has really impressive things to do and you want to do more than one thing there, the easiest solution is to book another cruise.

People that cruise a lot will tell you they'll repeat itineraries often because they want to go back to a particular port of call.

Granted, the cost of another cruise isn't insignificant, but planning another vacation isn't a bad idea at all either!

Stick to one tour, but be open to additional exploring

Family on Alaska tour

My best advice is book just one shore excursion per day and leave the option open to do something on your own when it ends.

While you certainly could book two tours in the same day when your ship is in port for 10 or more hours, the logistics (and associated stress) of getting back and then to the next tour just isn't worth it.

I think you'll find plenty to do on your own if you want to continue enjoying the port without having to secure a second excursion.

Your really dumb cruise ship shore excursion questions answered

In:
24 May 2023

Are shore excursions required? Do I need to bring my passport into port? What should I wear on an excursion? We’re answering 15 of your dumb cruise ship shore excursion questions today.

In addition to enjoying time onboard your cruise ship, you’ll have the opportunity to visit ports around the world, such as in the Bahamas, Alaska, Europe, and beyond. Every cruise port has something exciting to offer, whether snorkeling, city sightseeing, wildlife viewing, or visiting a waterpark.

Many cruisers book shore excursions in each cruise port to help provide the best experience in just a few hours, but learning the ins and outs of shore excursions can seem overwhelming. From choosing between excursions to preparing for your day ashore, there’s a lot to remember when planning a fun cruise ship port day.

Just like when we answered your “dumb” cruise questions about dining and cabins, we want to point out that these questions, of course, are not inherently dumb. Rather, they are questions we hear over and over again at Royal Caribbean Blog, and we want to answer them all in one place.

Here are your really dumb cruise ship shore excursion questions answered.

Do I need to book a shore excursion?

You are under no obligation to book a shore excursion while on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Booking shore excursions is completely optional, although it’s a popular choice for many cruisers.

Shore excursions allow you to discover a destination through a guided experience, whether you want to see a port’s top attractions, participate in a thrilling experience like kayaking or zip lining, or spend the day at the beach.

The advantage of a shore excursion is that there is little planning involved on your end. You won’t need to worry about handling transportation logistics or researching what to do. Instead, you just show up at the tour’s designated meeting point and local guides will handle the rest.

Not booking a shore excursion does not exclude you from getting off your cruise ship in port, however, and many passengers prefer the flexibility of exploring on their own. Without a shore excursion, you can still visit a port’s top sights, but there’s just a little more planning involved.

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

Do I need to bring my passport on a shore excursion?

A great debate among cruisers is whether or not you should bring your passport on a shore excursion. Some cruisers swear by bringing their passports into port. Others leave it in their cabin’s safe, knowing that if they were, for some reason, to miss the ship, crew members could retrieve their passport from their cabin.

To be on the safe side, we recommend bringing your passport on a shore excursion. Although the chances of missing your cruise ship are slim, it’s always better to be prepared for an unexpected scenario. You never know if an emergency will happen that might require you to spend extra time in port, thus missing your ship’s departure.

Related: What happens if you miss your cruise ship?

We recommend keeping your passport protected while on a shore excursion. Placing it into a waterproof bag, as an example, helps keep it dry and protected when at the beach or on a rainy day.

Do I get a refund if I miss my shore excursion?

Whether or not you get a refund for missing your shore excursion depends on a few factors.

If you booked a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean and your excursion gets canceled due to a schedule change, weather, or if your ship cannot dock in port, you will receive a refund.

If you booked an excursion through an outside provider and you miss the excursion, refunds are at the discretion of the tour provider. Most reputable tour companies will offer a similar refund policy as the cruise line in the case of an unexpected cancellation, but it’s best to check each tour’s policies before booking.

If you miss a shore excursion due to sleeping in or missing the meeting time, it’s unlikely you will be refunded for the excursion.

Can I cancel a shore excursion?

For most shore excursions booked through Royal Caribbean, guests can modify or cancel an excursion up to 48 hours prior to port arrival with no penalty. This allows guests ample flexibility in booking shore excursions; if they change their mind about a particular excursion once onboard, they can cancel it without incurring any extra charge.

Certain tours, though, must be canceled 30 days prior to sailing. Tours that involve flights, trains, overnight stays, hotels, special events, and Royal Caribbean Private Journeys should be canceled a month or more in advance of the sailing.

If booking through an independent tour operator instead of Royal Caribbean, you should review the tour’s cancellation policies before booking as they can vary from provider to provider.

The price of my shore excursion went down! Can I get a refund?

Royal Caribbean shore excursions, like all other add-ons in the Cruise Planner website, can vary in price from day to day. An excursion may be offered for $100 on one day and spike to over $150 the next. On some occasions, the price may decrease (sometimes significantly).

If booking a Royal Caribbean excursion, we recommend checking the Cruise Planner website frequently to monitor any price drops. If the price of an excursion you booked dropped, you can cancel and rebook the excursion with no penalty via the website.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Planner site

If you notice the price of a tour drop through an independent tour operator, it’s at the discretion of the tour company whether or not you can rebook the tour at the lower cost.

Should I bring my wallet on a shore excursion?

White Pass train in Skagway

Even though you don’t need your wallet while onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise, you should bring it on a shore excursion.

Your SeaPass card works on your cruise ship to make purchases, but it will not work in port. Therefore, remember to pack your wallet in your day bag. Bring a credit card, an ID, and some cash to ensure you’re prepared for the day.

Of course, you should bring your SeaPass card, too, as you’ll need to scan it to get on and off the ship on a port day.

Which currency should I bring on a shore excursion?

World currencies

In addition to bringing your credit card on a shore excursion, you should also bring some cash. Cash can be used to purchase souvenirs or eat at restaurants that do not accept card payments, as well as tipping your shore excursion driver and guides after the tour.

The type of currency to bring depends on your port of call. Most Caribbean cruise ports will accept USD in tourist areas, although you can use local currency if you have any on hand.

Related: How much cash should you bring on a cruise?

Most countries (but not all) on a European cruise use the Euro. If you’re traveling to several countries that use the Euro, it’s a good idea to withdraw a small amount of currency from an ATM before the cruise.

When planning for which currency to bring into port, check the guidelines for each specific country. Some countries may accept card payments virtually everywhere, such as the United Kingdom, whereas others are best traveled with cash.

We do not recommend exchanging currency before a cruise. It’s easy to withdraw money from an ATM once in your embarkation city or cruise port, avoiding the hassle of exchanging currency ahead of time.

What should I bring on a shore excursion?

We advise wearing a daypack on a shore excursion to carry any belongings and essentials you’ll need throughout the tour.

What to bring depends on your ship’s destination along with tour type. Regardless of the tour and destination, you should pack your shore excursion ticket, a wallet, passport (or other ID), phone, camera, and your SeaPass card.

Related: 40 essential things to bring on a cruise

If your port is in a warm climate, remember to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, bathing suit (if visiting the beach), flip flops or sandals, beach towels, and a beach bag. We recommend a water-resistant or waterproof bag in case of rain.

If traveling to a colder climate, such as Alaska, you’ll want to pack layers along with rain gear. Bringing a fleece and rain jacket ensures you stay warm and dry, and you’ll also want to ensure your shoes are water resistant.

Family on Alaska tour

As far as accessories, bring a pair of binoculars to better view Alaska’s scenery along with a camera and beanie. You might even want to bring a pair of sunglasses—even though you're in Alaska, a sunny day can still lead to sunburn.

Related: Alaska cruise packing list: What to pack for your sailing

What should I wear on a shore excursion?

Shore excursions vary widely, from beach days to mountain hikes, and it’s important to dress appropriately for an excursion to ensure you’re comfortable during the day.

You can wear a bathing suit on a shore excursion, but remember to also wear something over the bathing suit, such as a cover up or shorts and a t-shirt. As far as footwear, wearing flip flops or sandals is usually your best bet. If the excursion combines a beach day with a more active activity, however, you should pack a pair of sneakers in your bag as well.

For a cold weather excursion, check the weather forecast before disembarking the ship. Weather can change drastically throughout the day in destinations like Norway and Alaska, so it’s important to be prepared for any and all weather scenarios.

Bergen, Norway

Related: Best travel clothes for women on shore excursions

We advise wearing a base layer, such as a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt, followed by a warm layer like a sweatshirt or sweater. On top of these two layers, wear a waterproof jacket if rain is on the forecast.

Some tours may require you to wear a certain type of outfit or footwear. Hiking tours, for example, will usually require closed toed shoes whereas excursions visiting cathedrals may require you to dress more conservatively. Read through the details of your shore excursion before leaving the ship for more information on what to wear.

Where do I meet for a shore excursion?

Each port operates excursions slightly differently with regards to where you will meet your tour group.

Many excursions will meet on the pier as soon as you disembark your ship. For these tours, a crew member or tour guide will hold up a sign with your excursion’s name and number. Look for the correct sign upon disembarking and wait with the tour group until every passenger has arrived for the excursion.

Some ports, such as Costa Maya, have a designated shore excursion meeting area once you enter the port from the pier. These meeting areas are typically shaded, providing more comfort as you wait for other passengers to arrive.

Royal Caribbean excursion sign

Related: Best shore excursion in every Caribbean cruise port

Other Royal Caribbean excursions will require you to meet inside the ship before disembarking, most commonly in the theater. This is common for excursions that require more travel time, such as those visiting mainland Mexico from Cozumel.

Information on where to meet will be found on your shore excursion ticket, which is delivered to your cabin on embarkation day if you booked the tour before your cruise. If you book an excursion while onboard, your shore excursion ticket will be delivered to your cabin during the sailing.

What happens if I lose my SeaPass card on a shore excursion?

Lost your SeaPass card on a shore excursion? If so, there’s no need to worry—you’ll still be allowed back on the ship.

When disembarking the ship in a port of call, you’ll scan your SeaPass card. This allows Royal Caribbean to keep track of which guests are on and off the ship. When coming back to the ship after an excursion, you must scan your SeaPass card.

If you lose your SeaPass card while in port, let the port authorities know once entering the port area. Ship security will verify your identity and let you back onboard, where you can make a visit to Guest Services for a replacement SeaPass card.

Obviously, it’s best not to lose your SeaPass card while in port. Keeping it safe in a daypack is advised. If you put it in a pocket, remember to take it out before swimming in the ocean or participating in active activities.

How do I book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion, and how much do they cost?

plan-my-cruise-cruise-planner

To book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, log on to your Royal Caribbean account on the cruise line’s website. If it’s your first time logging in, create an account and link your cruise reservation number to the account.

Once logged in, click on the “Plan My Cruise” button under the listed sailing. This button brings you to the Cruise Planner website, which is where you can book cruise add-ons like drink packages, specialty dining, spa treatments, and shore excursions.

Click on the shore excursions tab to see the listed excursions for your cruise itinerary. You can organize excursions by port, activity level, interest, and duration. If you find an excursion that looks interesting, add it to your cart.

Once in the cart, you can purchase the excursion with a credit card or, if you have any, with onboard credit.

Cruise planner results

The cost of a shore excursion can vary greatly, with some excursions priced at only $25 and others over $1000! There is no set price for a shore excursion—the price ultimately depends on the type of tour, destination, and tour length.

Related: How to save money on cruise excursions

Most basic tours, such as a beach resort day or city tour, cost around $100, with some priced significantly more and less. Excursions in Alaska tend to be higher than those in the Caribbean, especially if they involve helicopter rides and glacier landings. Those in Europe tend to be higher as well, as many excursions in the Mediterranean are full day tours of cities like Rome and Paris.

Can I book a shore excursion for other people?

Dominca beach

You can book shore excursions for any passengers in your cabin along with any other passengers with whom you have a linked reservation.

Once you are on the booking page for an excursion in the Cruise Planner, it will prompt you to select the number of guests for the booking. The names of those in your cabin will appear on the list, so you can add all passengers in the cabin to the reservation.

If you want to add a guest who is not staying in your cabin to the excursion reservation, click “Add Guest” on the booking page. This will redirect you to a page where you can link your reservation with another guest.

To do so, you’ll type the guests’ surname(s) along with their date of birth and reservation number. Once your reservations are linked, you can book any pre-cruise add-ons for that guest.

What happens if I miss my cruise ship?

Allure of the Seas docked

One of the worst things that can happen on a shore excursion is missing your cruise ship. No one wants to be those passengers sprinting back to their ship as the gangway goes up, causing them to miss the ship’s departure and become stranded in a foreign port!

If you miss your cruise ship while on a Royal Caribbean shore excursion, Royal Caribbean will cover the cost and handle the logistics of getting your group back to the next port. Missing your ship is not very common when traveling on a Royal Caribbean excursion, as the ship will wait for you as long as possible.

If you miss your ship while on an independent tour or when traveling with no tour, you must cover the cost of getting to the next port. In these cases, crew members will enter your cabin to try to locate your passport, which they will hand to the port authorities.

Related: Do you need a passport for a cruise?

Once you reach the port, the port authorities will hand you your passport and can assist you with figuring out the next steps. If you do not have a passport and are in a foreign country, you will need to visit the nearest embassy or consulate in order to receive a new passport.

Is it better to book an excursion through the ship or independently?

If you want to book a tour instead of exploring on your own in port, you have two options: booking through the ship or through an outside tour provider.

Booking through Royal Caribbean is not necessary, although it comes with several advantages. When booking through Royal Caribbean, you can feel confident that the tours are properly vetted and that you won’t be left behind in case your tour runs late.

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

Plus, booking excursions through Royal Caribbean is more convenient. Finding tours and things to do on your own requires more time and research, whereas Royal Caribbean lists all their excursions on the website. You also have the opportunity to speak with the shore excursions staff once onboard, and they can be a valuable resource when choosing between and planning for excursions.

New Providence Island

Nonetheless, booking independently gives more options along with (usually) lower prices. You can also book small group tours as opposed to the larger groups you may find on a Royal Caribbean excursion.

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

You can find reviews for most tours and tour companies online as well, leaving you confident that any tour provider you book is properly vetted. Websites such as Resortforaday, Viator, Shore Excursions Group, and Tripadvisor are all recommended options to find a tour on your own.

Your really dumb cruise ship shore excursion questions answered

I cruised to a tiny town in Mexico you’ve probably never heard of, and it was the highlight of my cruise vacation

In:
06 Mar 2023

There’s a charming small town just minutes away from one of Mexico’s busiest cruise ports, and it’s by far my favorite place to visit on any Caribbean cruise.

With lively culture, gorgeous beaches, and world-famous cuisine, visiting Mexico is a must whenever I’m planning a Caribbean cruise. Yet as a culturally-focused traveler, I’m more interested in exploring local places rather than spending the day at a gated resort.

So when I first discovered Mahahual, a small fishing village located just 1.5 miles from the Costa Maya cruise port, I knew I had to check it out. With a little over 2,500 residents, it’s worlds away from destinations like Cancún and Puerto Vallarta, and I was intrigued.

I visited Mahahual for the first time last April and immediately fell in love with the town’s relaxed, beachy vibe. I couldn’t wait to return, so when I booked another cruise to Mexico, I knew I’d be heading back.

Let’s take a walkthrough of a perfect cruise ship port day in Mahahual, from sunbathing at the beach to endless tacos and guacamole. If you’re planning a cruise to Mexico soon, this may just be the best place to visit.

Getting there

The town of Mahahual is split into two sections: the main town—where most residents live—and the boardwalk.

The boardwalk, known as the malecón in Spanish, is the main tourist area of the town, and it's where most visitors will spend the day. Getting to the Boardwalk is easy, but you’ll first have to navigate the maze of the Costa Maya cruise port!

Once you walk off the ship and enter the Costa Maya cruise port, you’ll be met with a maze of restaurants, bars, shops, and even a pool. Although the port area is nice (it even features its own aviary), I’d highly recommend leaving port and heading to Mahahual for a more authentic travel experience.

To do so, keep heading left through the port, following a path that will eventually lead you to a line of taxis. Taxis to Mahahual are $4 per person each way.

On my recent port day, we took a taxi to the Faro de Mahahual, a 72 foot lighthouse marking the start of the town’s oceanfront boardwalk.

Exploring Mahahual

We arrived at the lighthouse around 8AM local time, just as Mahahual started to wake up. The breezy morning weather made for an excellent time to walk the boardwalk.

Mahahual’s malecón is car-free and lined with coconut trees, shops, and beach clubs. The town is an up-and-coming diving destination, so there are plenty of small bungalows and hotels along the way.

Several massage stands were set up along the boardwalk, too, which are guaranteed to be priced lower than on the ship!

Although the morning in Mahahual is quiet, it’s the best time to walk the mile-long boardwalk. Temperatures are comfortable, there are few crowds, and you’ll get a better taste for the tranquil atmosphere of the town before other tourists arrive.

After 20 minutes walking the boardwalk, we were ready for Mahahual’s main attraction: the beach.

Beaches in Mahahual and Costa Maya, Mexico

Mexican law states that all beaches must guarantee free public access to anyone; there are no private beaches in the country! Because of this law, the beach in Mahahual is accessible to any visitor, but there are a few things to be aware of.

Beach clubs

Mahahual’s coastline is full of beach clubs and hotels, most of which use beach space for chairs and umbrellas. While you can technically access the beach at any location, use of beach equipment is reserved for guests at the respective businesses.

Therefore, booking a day pass to a beach club is the most comfortable option for a beach day in Mahahual. Some beach clubs offer free entry if you buy food and drinks whereas others offer an all-inclusive cover charge.

Here are a few of the best beach clubs in Mahahual:

Maya Chan is another popular day pass in Mahahual, but it is not located in the town center.

Free beach access

If you’re hoping for a free beach day in Mahahual, your best bet is to find a quiet spot of sand in between beach clubs. To do this, walk further down the boardwalk where there are fewer businesses and tourists. You can place your towel on the sand here for free!

Jaime’s at the Blue Reef

My favorite beach club in Mahahual is Jaime's at the Blue Reef, and this is where we spent the majority of our day in town. At $56 per adult, a day at Jaime's provides an all-inclusive experience with unlimited food and drinks.

The menu has a variety of both Mexican and American dishes, including quesadillas, onion rings, ceviche, and tacos. We dined on chips and salsa, guacamole, and several types of tacos, and everything was delicious.

Jaime, the owner of the Blue Reef, even made us a special dish of rice with freshly caught shrimp cooked in white wine and pepper. The hospitality of the Blue Reef keeps me coming back each time I visit Mahahual!

Beach club access also includes a private, padded beach chair placed perfectly in the shade of coconut trees and palapas.

In between food and drinks, taking a dip in the ocean is a must. Although this region of Mexico is prone to seaweed, most beaches in Mahahual are protected by a barrier in the water, and we found the water perfectly clear during our stay.

Of course, you can't beat the views from the rooftop at Jaime's at the Blue Reef, either, which feature the most spectacular panoramic views Mahahual has to offer.

Like always, my time at the Blue Reef was a highlight of my day in Mahahual.

What to do in Mahahual

Although a day in Mahahual is best spent at the beach, there are a few other ways to enjoy your time in the town, too, from dining to cycling and more.

Food & Drinks

One of the best reasons to cruise to Mexico is for the food, of course, and Mahahual boasts plenty of culinary options to match any tastes. As the town receives many tourists, both American and Mexican fare can be found in town.

Many visitors will dine at one of Mahahual’s beach clubs. If you're looking for a restaurant more off the beaten path, though, walk a few blocks away from the busy oceanfront.

Here you'll find restaurants frequented by Mahahual locals, such as La Curvita, which serves breakfast and lunch dishes for under $5 USD. Menu highlights include tortas, quesadillas, Mexican-style eggs, fajitas, empanadas, and more.

A variety of bakeries and cafes are located along the boardwalk as well. Panadería La Tartaleta is a fantastic spot for coffees and pastries, whereas La Dolce Vita makes unbelievably fresh smoothies.

The passionfruit, mango, and banana smoothie is one of the best drinks to try in Mahahual, so I made sure to pick one up on my recent port day.

Cycling

Because Mahahual’s boardwalk is car-free, it’s a popular spot for bike riding. Several cycling excursions cruise the boardwalk each day, but you can also rent a bike on your own.

Bike rentals cost between $3-8 for a rental, which you can rent for only an hour or for the whole day.

Although I didn’t have time to cycle during my recent visit to Mahahual, I’d recommend this option for those looking to see as much of the town as possible in a short port visit. You can ride bikes past the boardwalk and onto a sandy beachfront road or head to the local side of Mahahual to ride amongst the neighborhoods there.

Diving

The waters off the eastern coast of the Yucatán peninsula are known for having some of the best scuba diving in the world. If you’d like to give diving a try, you can do so in Mahahual.

Several diving companies are located throughout the town, but if you are trying for the first time, I’d recommend a Discover Scuba lesson from Mar Adentro Diving, located right off the boardwalk in Mahahual.

Back to the ship: why you should visit Mahahual on your next cruise to Mexico

After a wonderful day walking around Mahahual and suntanning at Jaime’s at the Blue Reef, it was time to head back to Symphony of the Seas. While taxis are available directly from the Blue Reef, we wanted to walk down the boardwalk one last time.

Now mid-afternoon, the boardwalk was packed with visitors from the two cruise ships in port. Music was pumping at beach clubs, street food vendors were rolling carts down the street, and vendors were ready to sell any type of souvenir and trinket you could imagine.

Like any tourist area, it's important to be prepared to be asked to buy souvenirs, massages, and food. A simple "no, gracias" is a polite way to dismiss any vendors on the beach or boardwalk, and they weren't pushy.

We walked the mile back to the lighthouse, where we were easily able to get a taxi back to port for $4 per person.

My day in Mahahual was the highlight of my cruise vacation. The town’s small, walkable size makes it easy to explore, and it has everything you could need in a port day: great food, picturesque beaches, plentiful activities, and affordable prices.

I love the energy of Mahahual, and even though many tourists visit each day, it still has a laid-back feel. Combined with the friendliness of everyone I encountered in town, Mahahual is a place I plan to visit over and over again.

If you have a cruise booked that visits Costa Maya, don’t hesitate to leave the port area and take a taxi to Mahahual.

I found the ultimate foodie destination in the Caribbean: The most delicious Cozumel food tour

In:
01 Mar 2023

I travel for food, and I’ve just found the best Caribbean cruise port for foodies: Cozumel, Mexico.

Mexican food is among the world’s most popular cuisines for a reason: it’s fresh, flavorful, diverse, and spicy. After all, who doesn’t love chips, guacamole, and tacos?

And although Cozumel is best known for its beaches and world-renowned scuba diving, I decided to plan a self-guided food tour on my recent cruise ship port day.

The plan was simple: find the most delicious, authentic Mexican restaurants in Cozumel for breakfast, lunch, and dessert. Yet with only 8 hours in port before my cruise ship would depart the island, I knew I had to strategize to find the best food in such a short amount of time.

Follow me on a self-guided food tour in Cozumel, which will surely inspire you to eat your way around Mexico on your next Caribbean cruise. I hope you’re hungry!

Getting to downtown Cozumel

If you’re visiting Cozumel on a cruise, there are two main cruise terminals: the Langosta pier, located right downtown, and the International Cruise Terminal, located three miles south of downtown.

Royal Caribbean ships dock at the International terminal, so we paid $8 one-way for a taxi from the port to downtown. For convenience, I had the taxi driver drop us off at Parque Benito Juárez, the main square in downtown San Miguel de Cozumel.

From here, countless restaurants, shops, and attractions are within walking distance, and the square is a relaxing place to spend time throughout the day.

After a brief walk around the square, it was time to check off our first item of the day: breakfast.

Breakfast

Tacos and enchiladas may get all the attention when it comes to Mexican cuisine, but Mexican breakfast is severely underrated. Whether sweet pastries or hearty plates of eggs, tortillas, and salsa, you can’t go wrong with breakfast in Mexico.

Here are some of the best breakfast dishes to try when you visit Cozumel:

  • Chilaquiles: tortilla chips simmered in a red or green sauce, often served with eggs or chicken
  • Huevos rancheros: fried eggs placed over crispy corn tortillas and topped with a red salsa
  • Huevos divorciados: a form of huevos rancheros drenched in green salsa on one side and red on the other
  • Huevos motuleños: A Yucatán specialty of fried eggs on tortillas served with black beans, cheese, ham, and peas
  • Concha: a sweet, fluffy bread topped with a crackly crust that resembles a seashell

Mexican breakfast is, by far, my favorite type of food to eat in Mexico. There are countless restaurants offering breakfast downtown, but I settled on La Candela, a breakfast and lunch restaurant located just a few blocks from the city center.

The ambiance of the restaurant was charming, with a palapa-style roof and open-air patio. I ordered the chilaquiles—my favorite Mexican dish—while my dad ordered huevos divorciados.

Both dishes far exceeded my expectations. In fact, the chilaquiles were the best, most flavorful chilaquiles I’ve ever had. I'm still dreaming about them a week later!

Of course, you can’t enjoy breakfast without a fresh-squeezed jugo de naranja (orange juice).

In total, we spent 300 pesos ($16 USD) on breakfast.

Food markets

After breakfast, we wanted to continue checking out Cozumel’s food scene, so we headed to the Mercado Municipal, just an 8 minute walk from Parque Benito Juárez.

From the incredible aroma of barbecued beef and chili peppers to the more... unpleasant odor in the raw meat aisles, Cozumel’s main food market immediately ignites all of your senses.

Although not the biggest open-air market I’ve been to in Mexico, the Mercado Municipal boasts restaurants, produce and meat stalls, a candy shop, and aisles of convenience stores.

Walking through the market can be an excellent way to learn more about daily life in Cozumel while sampling various dishes, candies, and fruits.

We couldn’t pass up the chance to try Mexican candies, and purchased a few for 60 pesos ($3 USD).

We walked back to Cozumel’s waterfront and enjoyed the candies with an ocean view. This is an excellent place for people watching and enjoying the sea breeze in between your Cozumel food tour.

Lunch

Despite our goals of trying as much food as possible during our 8 hour port day, we faced one problem: we were still full from breakfast! To pass the time, we headed to the Museo de Cozumel, a museum with artifacts and information on the island’s history, geography, and culture.

The entrance fee was only $7 USD per person, and I was impressed by the museum’s exhibits and technology, which gave me a new understanding and appreciation of the island. Of course, the air conditioning was a nice touch, too!

Hungry once again, we were back on Cozumel’s streets in search of lunch. On our way to the market earlier in the morning, we passed many small, unassuming restaurants and decided to head that way again.

A quick Google Maps search led me to Las Flamitas, a local spot just a few blocks from the Mercado Municipal. The first thing I noticed as I approached the restaurant was a nonchalant chalkboard with a list of daily specials, and I took that as a good sign.

Our waiters were exceptionally friendly at Las Flamitas, and we started the meal with a refreshing bottle of Fresca soda followed by a comforting bowl of chicken soup, which came included with our meal.

For our main courses, I ordered enchiladas with green salsa and my dad ordered chicken fajitas. Just as we hoped, both dishes were flavorful, fresh, and satisfying, although we found it a bit funny that the fajitas were served with a side of spaghetti!

In total, we spent 280 pesos on lunch, or $15 USD, and I’d definitely come back to Las Flamitas again.

Bakeries

In the mood for something sweet? Cozumel has you covered, and the moment I stumbled upon La Cozumeleña bakery, I knew I had to pick up some pan dulce.

Like Mexican breakfast, Mexican bakeries are highly underrated, but once you try the diverse assortment of baked goods—from savory empanadas to fruit-filled cakes—it’s easy to become addicted.

I settled on three items: a coconut empanada, guava and cheese empanada, and oatmeal-cinnamon cookie. The coconut empanada was the clear winner, but you can’t go wrong with any Mexican bakery item!

Street food stalls

Our final stop of the day was back to Parque Benito Juárez, where we had one final goal: street food.

If there’s anything that gets me excited about tasting new cuisines, it’s street food, but I was disappointed to see only a few street food stalls during my day in town. I may have been in the wrong area or perhaps the street food scene is more active at night, but I expected to see more food carts around downtown.

Nonetheless, my plan was to find a street food stall selling marquesitas, a dessert native to Mexico’s Yucatán state. These sweet snacks are made by rolling a thin crepe like a taco and filling it with caramel, condensed milk, edam cheese, and other optional ingredients like fresh fruits or jam.

Unfortunately, my search for marquesitas in downtown Cozumel left me empty handed, as most of the street stalls I saw were not open.

I was still determined to grab dessert from one of Cozumel’s food stands, though, so I continued walking around the park looking for something to eat.

This is when I made perhaps the best discovery of the day: a machacado de frutas.

In a corner of Parque Benito Juárez, in front of the Fat Tuesday bar, I noticed an older gentleman attending to his food cart (attached to a tricycle, might I add), and I was immediately intrigued.

The cart was stacked with bananas and a variety of colorful syrups along with cans of condensed milk and jars of cinnamon. Even with these context clues, I had no idea what this local man sold at his cart, so I decided to ask.

“¿Qué tipo de comida es esta?” What type of food is this?

“Machacado,” he responded kindly.

His answer left me even more confused. I had never heard of this dessert before (was it even a dessert?). Unlike churros, flan, and tres leches cake, the word 'machacado' had never appeared in any Spanish textbook, YouTube video, or articles I’ve seen about Mexican food.

Needless to say, l couldn’t say no to my curiosity, and he began preparing me the best dessert I’ve ever tasted in Mexico.

First came the mashing of two bananas, which were placed in the bottom of a large plastic cup. Next was a generous scooping of crushed ice, followed by a layer of creamy sweetened condensed milk. The dessert was topped with a drizzle of vanilla syrup, which soaked into the ice below, and a liberal dash of cinnamon.

I handed the gentlemen 30 pesos (roughly $1.60 USD) and I was on my way.

I had never tasted anything quite like this dessert before. It felt as if I were eating a homemade cinnamon roll coated in a thick layer of icing and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It was everything I could have ever dreamed of in a dessert, and even my dad, who had just proclaimed he ‘couldn’t eat another bite of food,’ kept sipping away at his machacado.

My tips on planning a food tour in Cozumel

If you’re a foodie who’s interested in discovering Mexican cuisine, I can’t recommend planning a food tour enough. Cozumel certainly has gorgeous beaches, but walking the colorful streets downtown and trying a variety of local restaurants was, by far, the best day I’ve had on the island yet.

Here are my top tips for planning your own food tour in Cozumel:

Self-guided versus with a guide

I planned a self-guided tour in Cozumel because I value the flexibility of exploring without a schedule and choosing the restaurants myself. However, if you’re more comfortable with a local guide, you can book guided food tours on websites such as Tripadvisor and Viator.

A guided tour will likely provide you with more knowledge about Cozumel’s cuisine and take you to areas you might otherwise not visit yourself. On the downside, these tours will be more expensive than planning the day on your own.

Cozumel 4 You Facebook Page

A valuable resource I used when planning this tour was the Cozumel 4 You Facebook Page. This page is a hub of information on Cozumel with restaurant recommendations and ideas on how to spend your day on the island.

What to do in between eating on your food tour

An unexpected problem we encountered during our day-long food tour was not feeling hungry. If you’re planning a full day of eating in Cozumel, you’ll run into the same problem, so it’s helpful to know what to do in between meals.

I recommend visiting the Museo de Cozumel, sitting by the waterfront, and walking around various shops downtown to pass the time.

A variety of coffee shops are located throughout downtown as well, including the popular Aqui + Ahora Coffee Bar, and this can be a nice way to spend time throughout the day.

Download offline maps

While Cozumel’s downtown is walkable, having Google Maps on your phone can help you better navigate to your destination.

If you don’t have international cell phone coverage in Mexico, be sure to download an offline version of downtown Cozumel in Google Maps to allow for easy access when your phone is on airplane mode.

Pay with Mexican pesos instead of US dollars

While most places in Cozumel will accept US dollars, it's easier to pay with pesos, especially if you're eating at restaurants further away from the main tourist area.

There are several banks located downtown with ATMs depositing pesos, and having pesos on hand will make your life much easier throughout the day. Plus, you can ensure you are getting the best rate when paying in local currency.

I checked out a private island in Honduras —with crystal clear beaches and all-inclusive drinks, it far exceeded my expectations

In:
09 Feb 2023

Roatan, Honduras may be known for its reefs and perfect snorkeling spots, but for those of us who prefer to keep our faces above water, let me introduce you to my new favorite spot: Maya Key Private Island Retreat.

Just a quick 5 minute tender ride from where cruise ships dock in Roatan is the 11.5 acre island of Maya Key. This small island offers two gorgeous beaches, sun chairs, a pool, garden paths, and exhibit centers.

We booked our excursion to Maya Key directly through Royal Caribbean for around $70 per person. The all-inclusive excursion included drinks, food, beaches, pool access, and select activities.

Aside from Perfect Day at CocoCay and Labadee, I had never experienced a “resort” type of shore excursion, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with our day at Maya Key.

Would it be worth the money, or would it have been better just to stay on the ship where we could get those same amenities, minus the beach, without paying extra? I headed to the island to find out for myself.

First impressions of Maya Key

My group of three disembarked Allure of the Seas right away, and we were some of the first to the small island of Maya Key. The tender drops you off at a small dock where you are met by Cindy Carter, an expat who runs operations on the island. She gives a short introduction spiel, and then you can set off to explore!

The need for a speech may seem strange until you learn that Maya Key isn’t just any day resort, but a wildlife rescue center.

Right off the dock, you’ll see a giant sea lion splashing in his pen, and you’ll receive a secondary greeting from a big red macaw. Various animals can be found around the island, and you can even take a tour of the greater rescue facility.

After being welcomed by Cindy and her feathered friend at the entrance, I headed straight for the beach and the clear blue waters. There are plenty of lounge chairs on the beach in both sun and shade.

They are a little packed together in the main section, but I did find some further down the beach, past the snorkeling dock, that no one was using. 

Maya Key beach experience

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such crystal clear water. I spent most of the day wading around, watching silvery bait fish dart around the kids snorkeling.

Every so often one would pop their head up and yell, “Dad! I just saw a crab!” Apparently there was some kind of fish burrowing in the sand that they were chasing. For those scared of sea creatures, don’t worry. You can legitimately see everything around you; the water is that clear!

For those that do enjoy snorkeling, tours are offered on the island, but I didn’t see many people doing this—I’d guess most serious snorkelers book bigger excursions.

There is also a pretty big inflatable raft park, and the family I saw on it was having a great time challenging each other to races!

Food & drinks at Maya Key

Lunch at Maya Key is included, and it’s the typical island barbecue fare that you see on most excursions: jerk chicken, salad, beans, and rice. It was good, and a welcome protein break in the middle of the hot day!

There was also bar service on the beach, though I found it to be a little sparse. It was easier to run up to the bar myself.

Overall thoughts

If you’re looking for an easy retreat option while in Roatan, I’d book an excursion to Maya Key in a heartbeat. It’s simple, beautiful, and clean. Not only that, but the resort serves a larger purpose, so animal lovers will appreciate the rescue efforts that the island organizes.

I went to a stunning Caribbean island on my cruise that you've probably never heard of

In:
12 Jan 2023

I had never heard of Water Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but as soon as I read about this gorgeous island, I knew I wanted to check it out.

Elizabeth on Water Island

I’ve been to St. Thomas more times than I can count, so when I saw that it was a scheduled port of call on my current Symphony of the Seas sailing, I was planning on staying onboard and grinding out some of my work.

That is, however, until I heard about Water Island, a quiet and secluded island off the coast of St. Thomas that's also the smallest of the four U.S. Virgin Islands and only has about 180 full-time residents!

The water ferry

Dock D St Thomas

I disembarked around 8:50am and began the ten minute walk to the Crown Bay Marina, which is right outside of the cruise terminal. The ferry sails from Dock D and is located directly next to Tickles Dockside Pub.

I had just missed the 9am departure, so I planned on making myself comfortable for the next hour. I was pleasantly surprised when they did an extra run around 9:40am!

Water-ferry-ticket-Water-Island-St-Thomas

You don’t need to worry about going to a ticket office prior; the $15 roundtrip fare is payable via cash only upon embarkation. I received a hard piece of plastic that was my return ticket, and I really appreciated how it listed all of the departure times!

View from water ferry

We departed for Water Island at 9:42am and arrived only ten minutes later. The views of St. Thomas on the way there were breathtaking, and I got to see a (nearly) 360° view of the ship.

Honeymoon beach

Honeymoon beach

When we arrived, we were greeted by a bus driver who was providing free transfers to Honeymoon Beach.

Honeymoon Beach Water Island

It was a quiet day despite five ships docked in St. Thomas (that means over 17,000 passengers), and there were plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent, as well as complimentary palapa umbrellas.

There wasn’t even any music playing on the beach; it came from excursion boats or the restaurant.

If relaxing on the beach isn’t your vibe, don’t worry! They also offered a variety of different water sport equipment, including paddle boards, kayaks, and snorkel gear, and for the first time in my life, I saw a floating cycling class.

Honeymoon-Beach-Water-Island-Activity-Sign
Prices for golf carts

Apparently, you can also pay for a floating picnic table ride for a minimum of $100. Unfortunately, I did not see anyone picnicking in the bay, even when I returned in the afternoon.

You can also rent golf carts to help you navigate the island. They start at $45 per hour, but you can rent one all day for $125. 

Golf Carts Honeymoon Beach

Other amenities include a restroom and souvenir store.

The Crossing

The Crossings in Water Island

After checking out Honeymoon Beach, my plan was to walk (fourteen minutes, according to Google Maps) to Limestone Beach, but I quickly realized that this might not be possible; everyone I saw was riding in a golf cart. The incline of the roads were steep, and there were no trees or buildings to provide any shade.

I did, however, stumble upon the cutest shed called The Crossing, which was probably the highlight of my morning. Outside, you can purchase virgin shaved ice for $5 (they offer twenty different flavors!), beer, wine, hard seltzer, soda, or water.

Elizabeth on Water Island

On a more pleasant day, there’s some outside seating available, which is probably ideal before hopping back onto a golf cart. I can see some major and unfortunate spills happening this way!

To escape the heat, I went inside and checked out the local art that’s available for purchase. I’m regretting not buying one of the stickers that I saw!

After cooling down with a cherry flavored shaved ice, I decided to keep trekking towards Limestone Beach. One local in a golf cart stopped me to tell me that I was heading in the wrong direction and that it wasn’t the best beach to visit because of how rocky it is.

I was also told that Sprat Bay Beach is only accessible to those staying within Sprat Bay Estates. There went my entire plan!

I was still curious as to what the Limestone Beach was like, even if I had to navigate some rocks. After I was pointed in the right direction and kept going for a few minutes, a vacationing couple stopped and asked, “Are you trying to walk this entire island in the heat for fun?”

Fort Segarra

Fort Segarra

They shared the same sentiments about Limestone Beach and told me I was better off hitching a ride with them and visiting Fort Segarra, an underground fort built during World War II. However, the war ended before it was completed, so the structure was abandoned.

The ride in the golf cart took about five minutes, but it went up a lot of hills and poorly paved roads.

When we walked inside of the fort, we all agreed felt like a horror movie. There were no lights, and giant holes in the floor were covered with wooden planks.

Plus, I could tell that this was a place that people go to party, as there were broken beer bottles everywhere. If you walk all the way through, you’ll find to two gun embankments.

View from Fort Segarra

The sweeping views of St. Thomas and the ocean made the journey worth it. There was a picnic table on top of the fort, and I’d highly recommend adding lunch here to any Water Island itinerary.

Lunch at Dinghy's Beach Bar & Grill

Menu at Honeymoon Beach

After taking in all of the views, the couple planned on giving me a ride back to Honeymoon Beach, where I was planning on grabbing lunch at Dinghy’s Beach Bar and Grill.

Well, like the rest of my morning, this did not go as planned. We were stopped a little over halfway there by the owner of the golf cart rental company who said that the golf cart was only able to seat two people. Thankfully, she gave me a ride the rest of the way.

The menu felt standard for a beachside joint, with offerings like burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and salads.

Even though I ate a shrimp based appetizer and entree last night for dinner, I opted to order the bang bang shrimp ($16.00), and, of course, their signature frozen cocktail: the creamy dinghy ($11.00). After all, I was at the beach!

It took almost twenty minutes to receive my food after placing the order. Since I technically ordered an appetizer, I wasn’t expecting the portion to be large.

I was served five fried shrimp coated in sauce and garnished with green onions, enough to satisfy me until I returned to the ship!

Bang-Bang-Shrimp-Water-Island

The shrimp was golden and crispy, though a few pieces were so large that cutting the tails off was difficult; you could barely see them through the fried batter!

I saw a lot of people eating the sandwiches, including some of the HiRO cast members, and I wish I had tried one of them instead.

On the other hand, the creamy dinghy was fantastic! This was my first frozen drink of the cruise, and I was not disappointed. It tasted like a piña colada with a more muted pineapple flavor.

The service at Dinghy’s Beach Bar and Grill was slow. It took over twenty minutes to receive my bill. This was upsetting because I was hoping to get some time to hangout on the beach before catching the water ferry back to St. Thomas.

Overall thoughts

Palapa umbrellas honeymoon beach

While I had an adventurous morning on Water Island that allowed me to explore a new place, I think that I would want to rent a golf cart to maximize my time on the beach and see more of the island.

Since I really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of Honeymoon Beach, I definitely plan on returning in the future!

Why booking my cruise shore excursions in Europe with the cruise line was the best decision

In:
22 Nov 2022

Planning your cruise vacation often includes the age-old debate of whether or not you should book excursions through the cruise line.

When you arrive to a cruise port, you often have three choices for how to spend your day:

  1. Explore the port on your own
  2. Book a tour through the cruise line
  3. Choose a third-party tour company

When it comes to cruising, I firmly believe there’s a time and place for each of these options. Depending on your budget and length of time in the port, it can be very cost-effective to book a third-party vendor.

There’s also been times on European cruises where I want to visit somewhere that isn’t on the excursion list. Sometimes, it’s way too expensive to book excursions through the cruise line when I can get the same experience for much less with an independent tour company. 

I also appreciate exploring ports by foot whenever possible. Some ports are inherently easier to explore on your own; for example, some ports allow cruise ships to dock right in the city center where you can easily walk around or take a taxi.

In general, I’ve found that European cruise ports are very pedestrian-friendly so we often choose to do our own thing whenever possible. This allows you to have flexibility to spend your day exactly how you want and I love exploring a city by foot.

However, on a recent 12-night European cruise to Israel onboard Odyssey of the Seas, we booked four excursions through the cruise line - and it was the absolute best decision we could have made.

Here’s why I don't have any regrets about booking Royal Caribbean sponsored excursions on our Holy Land sailing. 

Immigration Preference

First (and probably most importantly), the biggest advantage of having a shore excursion through the cruise line was having priority immigration when we arrived in Israel.

Although not common for European ports, Israel requires face-to-face immigration for all maritime tourists. With nearly 4,000 passengers onboard, every single person was required to go through this in-person immigration even if they were not planning to go ashore.

Originally, we had booked a third-party tour through Viator because we had an overnight in Ashdod and we weren’t worried about returning to the port at a certain time.

However, I decided to do some research about immigration in Israel just a few months before we sailed. I discovered that Royal Caribbean tours would receive immigration priority and everyone on an independent tour would need to wait for all cruise line tours to go through immigration first.

Those that were not on a sponsored excursion had to get an immigration number prior to arrival; these were given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Also, large independent tours that comprised of 30-50 cruisers onboard had to coordinate getting similar immigration numbers so everyone could go through at similar times.

I watched online as many scrambled to change their tour plans and coordinate with their independent guides when they found out about the immigration delay.

For larger cruise ships, immigration in Israel can take four to five hours! We decided to cancel our third-party excursion, watch the cruise portal, and book a Royal Caribbean excursion as soon as a full-day tour opened up.

This was the best decision we made, as we were able to go through immigration promptly at 8:00am. As expected, those who did not have a Royal Caribbean excursion had to wait until 12pm-1pm to get off the ship.

Most of the sites in Israel close near 4pm-5pm, so this really doesn’t allow for much time to see everything the city has to offer.

For us, Israel was the main highlight of the itinerary and we wanted to optimize our 3 days there with full-day tours. Losing half of a day waiting for immigration would have been not only frustrating, but also disappointing.

We heard stories of people who did not get through immigration quick enough and their independent tours cancelled on them - or they were left behind entirely to fend for themselves. We met others who tried to explore the port on their own after getting left behind, but found difficulties trying to do things without a tour guide.

Late Return Guarantee

In addition to priority immigration, another major perk of booking an excursion though the cruise line was having the guarantee that the ship would not leave us behind.

After thinking through our excursions, we realized that we had a lot of driving between all of the sites we wanted to see. For example, visiting the Dead Sea and Masada was more than 2 hours away from the Ashdod cruise port.

Since we wanted to see places that were not close to the cruise port, it made sense to book our excursions through the cruise line. We also found there to be a lot of traffic jams in Israel; our tour guides mentioned that Israeli people love having the luxury vehicles, which congests the road.

On our second day in Israel visiting Masada and the Dead Sea, we found ourselves more than an hour behind schedule. There were tons of tour buses visiting Masada at the same time and only one person was operating the two cable cars that take people up to the mountain top and back to the visitor center.

We waited in line for an hour with people pushing and shoving their way through the crowd. Most were likely scared of being separated from their tours and being stuck 2 hours away from the cruise port.

With our Masada delay, we visited the Dead Sea almost two hours later than anticipated on the schedule. Instead of stressing about getting back to the ship on time, we had a sense of ease knowing the ship would not leave us because we were on a Royal Caribbean sponsored excursion.

We enjoyed our time floating in the Dead Sea instead of skipping it entirely because we were stressed about getting back to the ship on time. 

There were tons of tours that returned late to the ship that evening, so Odyssey of the Seas left three hours later than scheduled.

The same thing happened on our third day when the ship was docked in Haifa. As we were shuffled from site to site, we were about an hour behind schedule. This had us running late and then we hit traffic on the way back to the cruise port.

Again, the ship departed Israel later than anticipated because there were other tours also behind schedule.

I can only imagine the panic that would have overwhelmed us if we had been on an independent tour during this time. Our tour guide said he had never seen the amount of people we saw when visiting Masada. You just never know when things might go amiss in these situations. 

We were very grateful that we were on Royal Caribbean sponsored excursions and did not have to stress about getting left behind in a foreign country.

Priority Tendering

Although Israel was the main draw for us with this 12-night itinerary, we also had port stops in Greece and Cyprus.

Santorini is one of the most popular ports in Greece, along with being a popular destination for travelers all over the world. Its stunning volcanic, mountain landscape makes it a bucket-list destination, but also a logistically challenging port for cruise ships.

During our visit to Santorini, there were five other ships docked during the same time, so it was very busy. Santorini also requires tenders for those wanting to go ashore to the island.

Those who choose to independently get off the ship are tendered from a one end of the ship while excursions through the cruise line launch from the other end. Those independently exploring are brought to Skala, which is a small tender port near Fira.

Since the town of Fira is located up the mountain, you have to either ride a cable car, walk the steps or ride a donkey (yes, really!).

If you’re on a cruise line excursion, you are likely brought to the Athinios port instead where you can take busses throughout the island.

I’ve been to Santorini twice before. My first visit was on a land-visit during my study abroad semester, so I knew the lay of the land. The second time I visited Santorini was on my honeymoon with my husband, in which we chose to independently take on the island with a ferry to Oia and bus ride to Fira.

As young-20-something newlyweds, we didn’t mind the thrill of running down the stairs along the donkeys to get back to the tenders! If anything, it was a fun memory for us after a lovely day on our own time.

However, I knew my parents (in their early 60s) would not appreciate the stress of riding a donkey, the physical strain of doing all the steps, or the frustration of being crowded in a line waiting for cable cars.

After weighing the options, we chose to book an excursion through the cruise line for Santorini. We were given priority tendering to get off the ship and didn’t have to fight any crowds onboard.

The tender brought us to the Athinios port and we were bussed across the island to the Village of Oia, in addition to a stop at a winery and visit to Fira.

Not having to worry about the tendering situation, along with the stress of how we would get back to the tender port from the mountaintop of Fira was a huge relief.

We had a lovely day exploring the island by bus and I was grateful that we didn’t experience any logistical challengers, especially considering how many ships were docked at the port at the same time.

Overall Safety

While Israel is generally considered to be very safe, we did see a few headlines before our cruise that gave us pause with the rising tension in that area of the world.

Speaking broadly, cruise lines do not want to take any major, known risks with their excursions; most of the time, these companies are vetted thoroughly for safety.

When cruise lines market and sell tours, they are inherently accepting some sense of liability when something goes wrong.

Of course, things can happen when you travel whether you’re on a cruise line excursion, exploring a port on your own or traveling with an independent tour company. There will continue to be risks with traveling that you accept when you choose to pack your bags and head out to see the world.

For this itinerary, we felt booking excursions through the cruise line was the best decision we could make for our safety. Since we had not traveled to this area of the world before and we were not familiar with the port or the country, it felt like the most informed decision we could make.

We knew we were paying a premium for booking excursions through the cruise line; yet, it felt like the money was worth it to have peace of mind for our time in Israel.

General Convenience

One of the biggest draws of booking a cruise short excursion with the cruise line is the general convenience you’ll have, especially when it comes to logistics.

It’s so nice to just wake up, have breakfast and meet at a designated spot onboard. There’s very little planning, coordinating and stress involved with sponsored shore excursions.

We also appreciated the flexibility of booking excursions through the cruise line. In this instance, my mom wasn’t entirely sure which days in Israel she wanted to take tours. She considered staying on the ship because she didn’t know how comfortable she felt getting off the ship.

Having our excursions booked with the cruise line gave us cancellation flexibility if she ended up changing her mind last minute and not wanting to join us on tours; you simply walk to the shore excursion desk and the crew members help you from there.

There’s no coordinating with a tour company in this instance, which can be difficult onboard if you have internet troubles or don’t want to purchase an internet package.

At the end of the day, we knew were were also paying a premium for the convenience provided; in this instance, it was absolutely worth it for us.

I wouldn't change anything about the shore excursions we booked through the cruise line during this European cruise to Israel - it was truly the best decision we could make for our family.

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