Should you book your shore excursions through Royal Caribbean, or should you book tours on your own? There are advantages to both strategies, as well as important considerations to be aware of as well.
There is a good argument to be made for doing either one, so here is what you need to know about booking shore excursions and if you are better off going through the cruise line.
Why you should book an excursion through Royal Caribbean
Booking your shore excursion through the cruise line provides the safety net of knowing a few important facts about any tour you choose.
Tours are vetted
Royal Caribbean stands behind the excursions they offer, which means they have certified the tour operator provides the proper equipment, performs the tour in a safe environment with proper gear, as well as providing an authentic experience.
If you are doing a tour that involves boats, airplanes or helicopters, the knowledge that Royal Caribbean stands behind this tour provides some guests with the good feeling that the operator has been properly vetted for safety.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to book a shore excursion through the cruise ship is the promise if the tour runs late or is delayed, Royal Caribbean will get you back on the ship.
Royal Caribbean coordinates with the tour operators around the ship's schedule to minimize any risk of the ship needing to leave for the next destination without you onboard.
When you book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, they guarantee that if your tour is delayed, the ship will wait for you. In the unlikely event that your tour is significantly delayed, and the ship cannot wait, Royal Caribbean will make all the arrangements for you to return to the ship at no expense to you.
If you tour on your own, the ship will not wait, as it is your responsibility to be onboard before the ship's scheduled departure time.
Booking a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean is super simple, with a one-stop shop for browsing tours via the Cruise Planner site.
You can view all the options in one place, and compare tour options before booking. You can even apply onboard credit towards a particular excursion!
As a consumer, it is very nice to have one place to see all the options presented in an easy-to-understand manner.
Why you should book excursions independently or tour on your own
Greater variety of choices
No matter what Royal Caribbean does, they can never match the amount of options you can consider by booking a tour independently or booking a shore excursion on your own.
In every port you visit, there are a multitude of tour operators available beyond what the cruise line can offer. Moreover, you may simply want to walk around on your own and forgo an organized tour. Either way, you will find more options and combinations if you book on your own than through the cruise line.
In the Caribbean, one of my favorite family excursions is to book an all-inclusive resort day pass [link contains affiliate link, which costs you nothing extra!]. Not only are most of these unavailable through Royal Caribbean, they are great values and a lot of fun.
In general, you may be able to save money by booking similar tours to what the cruise line offers because there is "middle man". Royal Caribbean sells these tours, but they are operated by someone else, and that means Royal Caribbean is getting a cut of the profits.
With so many tour operators competing to offer similar excursions, booking a shore excursion through a third party means you may be able to find a lower price for the same trek.
As long as you research the company you are working with, and provide yourself enough time to get back to the ship on time, it can make a lot of sense to book an independent shore excursion that would otherwise cost you more money onboard.
Shore excursions sold by the cruise ship have a tendency to be large groups, which means you move at the group pace instead of your own.
By booking an independent tour, you may be able to find a tour with a smaller group or even a private tour all together. This means you may be able to see more, or at the very least get around at a faster pace.
Moreover, going with a private guide you can get more personalized information about where you are going, as well as catering to what you want.
It should be noted that Royal Caribbean does offer its own brand of private shore excursions, known as Private Journeys.
You prefer to walk around on your own
In some ports, getting around is very easy without any tour at all.
If your ship visits a city where you dock very close to the downtown area, it may be quite simple to bring a walking tour and explore on your own. Not only will this be cheaper than any tour, it allows you to easily get around to visit shops, museums, cafes or historic monuments.
Not all ports may qualify for this, but places like San Francisco, Old San Juan or Barcelona are excellent ports of call to go the DIY route.
One of the most popular shore excursions in Nassau, Bahamas is the Blue Lagoon Beach Day tour. I decided to check it out for myself and see what it offers.
Blue Lagoon is a private island that is about a 30 minute boat ride away from where the cruise ships tender in Nassau. It is located just off the coast of Paradise Island, which is home to Atlantis Resort and many extremely extravagant mansions.
Blue Lagoon offers a variety of options for booking a visit to their island. There is a basic beach day pass, dolphin swim combo, stingray encounter, Segway and more. I counted nine different tours that take you to Blue Lagoon.
Ultimately, I settled on the VIP Blue Lagoon Island Beach Day since I did not want to do any of the animal encounters or other tours.
The VIP tour came out to $120.99 per person. I believe the non-VIP tour would have cost around $88.
Check-in for the tour was on the pier in Nassau where the ship docks. Since I had the VIP tour, I was taken out of the regular line and escorted ahead of everyone else to a ferry that was waiting to take us to the island.
On the ferry, VIP members were given a bottle of water and a granola bar snack.
As we arrived to the island, the crew instructed VIP guests to debark first, ahead of everyone else.
Blue Lagoon is made up of a variety of beaches that you can visit at your leisure. The dolphin, stingray, shark and sea lion encounters are all on the east side of the island. Even if you do not have an encounter scheduled, you can walk around the area and see the animals.
Our VIP guide escorted us to a private beach area that was a short walk away on the northwest side of the island.
There, we found a pristine beach with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas to enjoy.
The VIP tour provides unlimited bottled water, mimosas and fruit punch to enjoy.
The beach was beautiful and very private, although the rockiness of it made swimming and wading beyond your waist impossible.
VIP guests are free to wander the island and enjoy any of the other beaches. Snorkeling equipment rental is included with the VIP pass.
A BBQ island buffet is included with the VIP pass, and served just outside the beach in a shaded area with picnic table seating.
The buffet lunch consisted of salad, fried fish, steak, BBQ chicken, plantains and corn on the cob.
The other beaches offer different ocean depths and views. Some are better for swimming, others better for wading and others suitable for snorkeling.
You have the option to add onto your beach pass to add an animal encounter, aqua park or other tour.
As advertised, Blue Lagoon is indeed a beautiful and serene island to spend the day and delivers a relaxing beach day option.
There was plenty of seating, and the service provided to VIP guests was excellent.
I was disappointed to find the VIP beach to be too rocky to swim. In fact, it was too rocky to even walk very deep in and I noticed only a few brave guests venturing across the rocks to get waist deep.
Of course, I could leave the VIP beach and enjoy a rock-free beach elsewhere, but it seems to be a waste of paying for the VIP perks.
I think Blue Lagoon is a good choice for someone who wants to do an animal encounter, or some other type of tour, and combine it with a great beach day.
Cozumel is known for a great many fun ways to spend your day, including time relaxing at the beach or pool with a drink in hand. The El Cozumeleño resort is one such offering, and it has quickly risen to the top of my favorite places in Cozumel for a beach break.
After first visiting over a year ago, I wanted to check back in to see how well it stacks up these days.
El Cozumeleño sells day passes [link contains affiliate link, which costs you nothing extra!] to its resort that can be purchased online, and it offers guests unlimited access to the resort grounds, food, drink and activities.
The hotel is located on the north end of Cozumel, and is about a 10-15 minute taxi ride from where Royal Caribbean docks its cruise ships at the International Pier. The posted price for 1-4 people to get to El Cozumeleño is $16.
Once you arrive at the resort, you will check-in and receive a welcome drink. It should be noted that a form of payment and identification will be kept at the front desk during your stay.
Towels are available to rent for an additional charge ($5 per towel).
The resort itself is sprawling, with two pool areas, a long beach, and multiple dining venues to enjoy.
One of my favorite features of the resort are the hammocks near the beach, which are not only extremely comfortable, but a prime napping spot.
During our visit, a storm had passed through the area the night before, so the ocean was a bit more stirred up that on my previous visit. The result was the surf was quite strong and the beach a bit worse for wear. Throughout the day, the resort staff worked to clean and reticulate the beach.
By far, the pool area is the primary focus of the resort. While many visitors enjoy time at the beach, the resort's pools are as massive as they are lovely to see.
The pool has a variety of depths, and the north end pools are much shallower and welcoming for younger children.
Your day pass is good from morning through the afternoon and into the early evening, so breakfast and lunch are part of the admission fee.
Your day pass includes:
Pool access, with swim-up bar
Chairs & Lounge Chairs
Unlimited drinks (alcohol & non alcohol)
Non-motorized water sports including snorkeling equipment & Kayaking
Children ́s activities center
Children’s wading pool
Complimentary Wi-Fi service in lobby
There is a large buffet dining venue between the two pool areas that serves meals and snacks throughout the day.
In the morning, the buffet features typical breakfast fare, along with an omelet station.
At lunch, the offerings change to a traditional Mexican lunch with grilled meats and vegetables available on demand.
In addition to the sit down options, waiters are happy to bring food and drink to your chair by the pool or beach as you need it. The wait staff roam the grounds and regularly check if you need anything else.
The food menu is a mix of Mexican favorites and American food. Ceviche, pizza, salsa, guacamole, quesadillas and more are available and unlimited too.
Likewise, there is a good assortment of beverages to enjoy. The selection of beer and liquors is limited in terms of brands (Dos Equis beer, and typically one type of liquor).
When I visited El Cozumeleño in 2018, I loved the balance of price, offerings and service, and it seems like the resort maintains that equilibrium quite well.
There are no shortage of great day pass resorts in Cozumel, so what makes El Cozumeleño stand out is the ample space, good food and drink, along with attentive service.
The resort looks great, and it feels like a step above your average resort. It is no Ritz Carlton by any means, but the staff do a great job maintaining it.
Some of our readers have reported during busier times of the year (popular holidays), chairs go quickly and are often claimed by resort guests earlier in the day. While I have not experienced this in my two visits, it is worth noting if you plan a visit over a holiday season.
At the time of our visit, the price was $69.00 per adult and $40.00 for children aged 3-11 years old (2 and under are free).
A major component to a cruise vacation is exploring and enjoying the ports of call your cruise ship will visit. With so many great activities and tours available on shore, you will definitely want to do it all without spending a fortune.
Booking that tour that looks amazing does not mean you have to pay top dollar, so we have a few ways you can save money on cruise excursions.
Make plans on your own
The first place cruisers look for shore excursions is to book something with the cruise line. While there is nothing wrong with booking a tour through the cruise line, often this is the most expensive option.
While booking a shore excursion through the cruise line comes with some advantages, such as the quality of the tour and guarantee to get back to the ship, booking a tour on your own provides far greater flexibility and money saving opportunities.
Booking an independent excursion or tour guide usually will cost less than with the cruise line, since you can customize where you go and there is no "middle man" taking a cut of the cost.
You could also skip an organized tour all together and rent a car, hop on a bus, or simply walk around on your own.
Regardless of which manner you do something in port outside of the cruise line, be sure to manage your time well and do proper research into reputability of anyone you hire.
In addition to making plans on your own to tour, another option is to book tours through a third-party shore excursion provider.
Sometimes referred to as shore excursion specialists, these providers are similar to the cruise lines in that they offer pre-packaged tours with reputable operators, but are often priced much less. Exact savings will vary, so be sure to shop around and compare prices.
Besides price, they offer certain guarantees in what is offered, refunds, and assurances that may put your mind at ease when it comes to doing something outside of Royal Caribbean.
There are many different excursion brokers out there, but here are a few of the ones we have heard good things about:
Resort For A Day [Note, this link contains an affiliate link. I earn from qualifying purchases that costs you nothing extra]
If you are looking to book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, take advantage of pre-cruise discounts offered by the cruise line in the months leading up the cruise.
Every few weeks, Royal Caribbean offers sales via its Cruise Planner site that discount select shore excursions. These may not be giant sales, but every dollar saved adds up.
Head over to Royal Caribbean's site to book shore excursions and see if any discounts apply to you. Be sure to check back periodically to see if there is has been a price drop.
Save on excursions at NextCruise
If you happen to book another cruise while onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise at the NextCruise office, you can qualify for up to 10% off future shore excursions when you pre-plan them onboard.
You can talk to the NextCruise staff member about details, but usually it offers 5% off the first two excursions and 10% off three or more excursions.
Take the bus
One of the largest sources of cost in any excursion is the transportation to get to and from an area. While many guests opt for taxis, do not overlook public buses.
The "chariot of the people" is available in many ports you will visit, and will cost a fraction of private transportation.
Prior to the cruise, look up bus schedules and pick up locations. Be sure to have proper bus fare, as well as return service. The bottom line is, a bus ride can save a ton of money.
Great value: hop on, hop off buses
Regardless if you book this through Royal Caribbean or on your own, a very popular and affordable way to see a city is a hop on, hop off bus.
These buses/trolleys/trams run a regular route throughout the city and admission allows you unlimited rides during the day. These types of buses are usually very inexpensive, and a very affordable way to get around town and see many different sites without paying for a private tour.
An added benefit is these hop on, hop off rides tend to be narrated too, so you can still learn about the city you are visiting while onboard.
This may sound like an odd tip, but one way to save on a shore excursion is not to book one at all!
Generally speaking, I think exploring the ports your ship visits is a fantastic idea, however, sometimes it may make more sense to stay on your ship while in port for a few reasons.
First, the port you are visiting may not offer a tour or activity that really jumps out at you. Some ports offer very few activities, or perhaps the price is too high for what you want to do. There is no reason to book a tour just for the sake of doing something.
Second, if you stay onboard your ship in one port, that means more money in your vacation budget to do something in a different port. After all, one awesome tour is better than a couple of mediocre ones.
Third, staying onboard the ship is a fun experience in and of itself because the ship is typically so empty, that it feels like you have the venues to yourself. The pools, hot tubs and dining venues will be open and nearly empty! It is a fun feeling enjoying these areas without the usual crowd.
What is your best shore excursion money-saving tip? Can you recommend any good strategies for making your vacation dollar go further? Share your tips, tricks and questions in the comments below!
Of the popular activities to try while a cruise ship is visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico, going to the beach is in the upper echelon of choices. The Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino offers day passes (Link contains affiliate link, which means I get paid a finders fee, but no additional cost to you) to purchase, where guests can enjoy access to the resort grounds and I decided to try it out on a recent visit with my family.
The Marriott advertises itself as a great choice for families of all ages to enjoy time under a palm tree at the beach, or at one of their three pools. Given the fact it can get quite warm in San Juan, the idea of relaxing in the water sounded like a great idea.
The Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is located in an area of San Juan known as Condado Beach. It is a very short taxi ride away from where the cruise ships dock in Old San Juan, and perhaps a 5 to 7 minute ride from when you enter the taxi to when you exit it.
We purchased a day pass in advance from Resortforaday, and the website advertised you have access to the resort from 9am to 5pm with the pass, but when we arrived, the staff informed us we could stay as late as 11pm.
Upon arrival, you check-in at the front desk and pay the remaining balance due for the day pass. You are then given wrist bands that must be worn during your visit. There is a vigilant amount of security guards who monitor all entry and exit points of the resort to prevent people from accessing the Marriott who are not guests.
Here is exactly what is included with your day pass:
$20 food & beverage credit per adult pass
20% discount on nail, massage & body treatments at on-site spa
Beach access, pool access, whirlpool access
Lounge chairs, umbrellas, beach & pool towels
Outdoor shower for casual clean up
Bathrooms available for changing
Walking down to the pool and beach area, you will find multiple pools and even a water slide to enjoy.
Each pool area features plenty of seating, and the resort's tall buildings tend to cast a shadow on part of the pool area. This means you should be able to find seating in the shade or in the sun.
There is a swim up bar in one of the pools, and waiter service that is fairly easy to flag down when needed.
The water slide was a big hit with my kids, who relished going down it all the time.
Of course, beach access is also available and the walk from the pool and resort to the beach is a mere few steps.
While the Marriott is not an all-inclusive, it does include $20 food & beverage credit per adult pass purchased. You will find pretty standard hotel food and drink, although I was happy to find some local craft beers available on the menu.
Our family enjoyed our visit to the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino because it was exactly what we wanted: a place to enjoy time at the beach or pool, where the kids could splash and play to their hearts' content and my wife and I could relax while watching them.
Day passes are not a popular offering in San Juan, so options are limited, but I think we were satisfied with the choice to come to the Marriott. The taxi ride from the port was extremely short, and the resort amenities are exactly what I think most want in a day pass visit. There was plenty of seating (we arrived after lunch), and the resort is well-maintained.
We paid $60 per adult, which does include that $20 food and beverage credit. So essentially, $40 each to spend a few hours at the resort. That is a pretty good value for access to the resort.
The food is not anything special, and we relegated ourselves to drinks and snacks. We figured it would be best to spend money on a meal back in Old San Juan. I think most people visiting are interested in essentially a beach or pool day, with snacks and drinks mixed in as well.
Overall, if you are looking for some time in the water while visiting San Juan, the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino fits the bill for a fun option. While it may not rank among my favorite day pass resorts in all of the Caribbean, it met every expectation I had for it. Families should find this to be a good value for spending a few hours beachside or poolside.
With your first cruise coming up, you might be wondering how to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion. After all, your cruise ship will take you to different ports of call to explore on your own and you do not want to miss out all that you can do while in the area.
In each port you visit, Royal Caribbean provides a variety of shore excursion options for guests of all activity levels, interests and ages.
Here is what you need to know to book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion.
Why book Royal Caribbean's shore excursions
The best reason to book your shore excursion with Royal Caribbean is the convenience and reliability the cruise line provides.
There are two primary means of booking a shore excursion: online via Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site, or onboard the ship at the shore excursion desk or via the app.
Booking a Royal Caribbean shore excursion is simple, especially for families and groups. Select the excursion you are interested in, select how many people will be participating and pay the price and that is it.
Royal Caribbean thoroughly reviews its tour operators, whether it’s the guide on a sightseeing tour or the one that provides proper equipment and ensure the safety of gear used on active excursions like scuba diving, quad riding, and zip lining. Because guides are locally based, you’ll get an authentic experience from an expert in a safe, trusted environment.
The other major reason to book your excursion with Royal Caribbean is the cruise line guarantees you will not miss your cruise ship in the event your tour is delayed in returning. The cruise line coordinates with trusted, local guides and private transport to build the day around the ship’s own schedule. As a result, there is no risk you will not return before the ship departs for the next destination. And if by chance your excursion gets stuck in a traffic jam, the ship will wait for you. Considering the alternative is you have to fly/drive yourself to the next port of call to catch up with the cruise, that is a big deal.
How do I book a Royal Caribbean shore excursion?
The easiest way to book a shore excursion is to do so before the cruise on Royal Caribbean's website. Simply log into Royal Caribbean's site, find your cruise booking and purchase your tour before the sailing begins.
Once in your sailing, select the Shore Excursions tab. From there, you can narrow down the results based on the port, interests, time of day, activity level, age, wheelchair accessibility and more.
You can book tours for family and friends as well. All you need to know is their last name and reservation number. As you proceed through the booking process, there will be an option to add guests from another reservation.
If you prefer to call Royal Caribbean and already have a cruise booked, you can call 1-800-398-9819 for pre-cruise planning assistance.
Royal Caribbean allows guests to book their excursions up to a few prior to the beginning of the sailing. All you need to know is who is participating in the excursion, and a form of payment. Full payment is required when reserving a shore excursion. In the event your ship skips the scheduled port call, Royal Caribbean will refund your money.
Alternatively, you can wait to book shore excursions onboard the ship. There is a dedicated shore excursion desk onboard the ship (usually near Guest Services), where you can speak with staff members, view pamphlets of available options and ask questions.
Keep in mind that the excursion desk onboard the ship is commonly busy with other guests who are trying to book excursions, or asking questions, and this can lead to long lines.
A relatively new and lesser-known option is Private Journeys, which offers private tours that are organized by Royal Caribbean.
Private Journeys is a shore excursion option offered directly by Royal Caribbean, where guests can create a completely customized shore excursion in any port your ship visits. You provide Private Journeys with an idea or basis of what you want to do, and then they work with local tour guides to come up with an excursion.
In the weeks and months leading up to your cruise, you and your Private Journeys representative will custom craft a tour for you and your family. Just like a group tour, these tour operators are vetted and organized by the cruise line. All you have to do, is show up.
We have tried Private Journeys twice (in Belize and Curacao), and think it is a great choice for anyone that wants to tour at their own pace, and like the benefits of what Royal Caribbean provides.
Can I cancel my excursions?
You may cancel purchase(s) made via Cruise Planner up to forty-eight hours prior to the cruise departure date. Excursions can be modified or canceled up to 48 hours prior to port arrival without penalty. Tours involving flights, trains, special events, overnight stays, hotel stays and Private Journeys must be canceled 30 days prior to sailing to avoid cancellation penalties. Other restrictions may apply.
In the event a tour is canceled, a full refund will be provided to the guest’s onboard account.
No refunds are made for failure to use all of the described services included in the excursion price.
Ahead of its 2020 goal, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced it now offers 1,400 sustainable tours are now available for booking.
Offered by certified sustainable tour operators, these special tours are available across Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s (RCL) family of brands — including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara — and are available around the world.
Back in 2016, Royal Caribbean set up a goal to match the 2020 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) target to offer guests 1,000 tours provided by operators certified to the UN-created Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) standard. Royal Caribbean believes by reaching this goal one year ahead of schedule, it clearly demonstrates its, "commitment to operate sustainably and provide its guests with responsible options while ashore."
GSTC standards, known as the GSTC Criteria, are organized around four main themes: effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage, and reducing negative impacts to the environment.
Our guests are eager to explore and discover new cultures and places, and we want to do our part to ensure those destinations continue to thrive," said Roberta Jacoby, Managing Director, Global Tour Operations, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "Achieving this goal was a truly collaborative process with our motivated tour operators and with the dedicated team at Global Sustainable Tourism Council."
Regardless of what you have planned to do at the various ports your cruise ship will take you, here are ten things everyone should do to ensure a great time overall.
Royal Caribbean offers a lot of different things to do in the ports of call you will visit on your cruise, and there are definitely some "best practices" when it comes to not only having a fun time, but staying safe, informed and ready for more fun.