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.
Royal Caribbean has released over 20 new shore excursions for the South Pacific, Australia & New Zealand.
These new tours are designed to accommodate all interest levels, and include tours such as deep sea diving in Vanuatu and helicopter expeditions in New Zealand, to immersive cultural experiences in local South Pacific villages.
New Shore Excursions include:
Rewa Village Tour and Kava Ceremony This half-day tour begins with a leisurely drive through the city of Suva by local bus, including photo opportunities of the picturesque Suva Harbour and Lathala Bay. Guests will then arrive at local village Rewa, where they will partake in a traditional Kava ceremony with the village chief and Fijian warriors.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding The tour starts with a stunning boat ride to Aneityum, Vanuatu’s southernmost isle. Guests will explore a crystal-clear bay brimming with tropical fish on a guided 1.5 stand up paddle boarding adventure, and unwind on the beach afterwards.
Akaroa Sea Kayaking Guests can immerse themselves in the dramatic scenery of the Akaroa Harbour on a three-hour, small group paddling adventure in a double kayak. Home to two marine reserves, guests will be on the lookout for rare seabirds, seals and the only marine animal endemic to New Zealand, Hectors Dolphins.
If you are one of those people looking to do something different in Nassau, Bahamas, then perhaps flying a Boeing 737 may fit into that category?
You are not flying a real plane, but rather hopping into a simulator cockpit to take the controls of a 737 airliner to see if you have "the right stuff" to take off, fly, and land the jet in the same way real-world pilots do. I had to find out for myself if I could match up.
Royal Caribbean recently added the Fly A Jet Experience Jetline Simulation Bahamas shore excursion to select Nassau cruises, where guests can book time in a 737 flight simulator and pick fly a Boeing 737-800NG from one of thousands of airports around the world.
Just like all Royal Caribbean shore excursions, you pick a time at booking and then meet your excursion staff. Each session is one hour long.
I met my tour on the pier as soon as I debarked my Royal Caribbean ship and to my surprise, it was just me. The shore excursion is run by Jetline Simulation Bahamas, and they have one simulator that they can rent out at at time.
My guide walked me to the office, which was about a 10 minute walk from the ship (it is located just past Senor Frogs and the British Colonial Hilton). Royal Caribbean says the walk is 0.2 miles over flat surfaces.
Upon arrival, I was given a choice of airports to fly to or from. I opted to pick my home airport of Orlando, Florida and fly to nearby Tampa, Florida. I did this because the flight is so short I would be able to take off and land twice.
A brief introduction tells you what to expect, as you will hop into a simulator that features the same cockpit and screens around you to mimic the real thing. The simulator runs a popular brand of flight simulation software, Prepar3D v4 by Lockheed Martin.
You are seated in the pilot's seat, with the flight instructor as your copilot. The flight instructors have real-world flight experience, and in my case, one indicated this was a side job for him while he worked his way up to a real pilot's license and an opportunity to fly.
The flight instructor is your guide throughout the process, and will lead you from programming the flight computer, to assisting in push back from the gate, takeoff and landing. The instructor gets a good sense of your experience and can provide as much or as little guidance as you need.
While I did two full flights, there is an option just for takeoff and landing if you want to cut out the mundane aspects of flight planning and go right to the fun.
If you have ever thought it would be fun to fly a plane, or wondered about the intricacies of flight, or are simply a geek, this is the excursion for you. Moreover, it is something completely different from the usual shore excursion options in Nassau, which involve time on a beach or water.
The staff at Jetline Simulation are incredibly helpful and fun to fly with. They lead you along the way and help you from start to finish, allowing you to focus on the fun parts of the flight. Some guests want to do this as a fun little distraction, while others truly want the challenge of flying an airliner like real-world pilots do.
This excursion reminds me of a fantastic moment in Indiana Jones and Last Crusade, where Indiana Jones' father was surprised to hear his son knows how to fly an airplane.
This might shock some of you, but I am a geek and have played flight simulator video games for years.
I know, it's shocking. Having a fair amount of flight sim experience, I thought I would really ace the flights but having every control available, instead of a keyboard and mouse, proved to be quite the challenge.
I relished in having access to the knobs, dials and throttles found in a real airliner. The simulator cockpit is the real deal, with gentle vibrations as you turn the engines on, taxi and take-off or land. There is even recorded announcements from the flight attendants at specific intervals of flight. The only thing missing was the in-flight meal.
If you are a fellow geek, you will love this kind of an excursion. At its heart, you are playing a video game. A very intricate and challenging video game.
If you are by no means as geeky as I, never played a flight sim game ever, this is still a great group excursion because just like an escape room, learning to kayak, or exploring a mountain, the point of the flight experience is to test your ability to match what pilots do every day.
This is also a very short shore excursion coming in at only one hour. This is great for working in an additional shore excursion or just something to do in conjunction with walking around Nassau.
Growing up in Florida, I’ve been canoeing a few times, but I’ve never been on a kayak before. Some of my former co-workers used to go kayaking a lot, and I thought I might enjoy that. When I saw a Kayak Adventure excursion on Coco Cay, I booked it hoping to find out if kayaking around the Florida mangroves would be something I could spend my weekends doing.
I almost don’t want to mention the start of the adventure being the very tedious tender process from ship to Coco Cay. However, I will mention it in the context of Royal Caribbean addressing this low point in the experience. Royal Caribbean is almost done with building a pier large enough to accommodate two ships simultaneously as part of the Perfect Day at Coco Cay project. I enjoyed my time on Coco Cay. Getting me on the island faster will let me enjoy it even more.
The tour group met near Coconut Willie’s at a shack set up to rent floats and lockers. I signed the waiver and rented a locker to store my towel and other belongings. Because I registered for the tour by myself, I was given a one-seat kayak while most other people on the tour were given two-seat kayaks. I would be providing all the power and all the steering on my own. After we all donned floatation vests and picked out our paddles, we got some paddling and steering instructions. Our guide also gave us tips on how to get back into the kayak if it flipped. He said with no wind out today, if someone flipped in their kayak, they were trying to flip it. We were ready to drag the kayaks off of the beach and into the water.
Now in a kayak for my first time, our tour guide led us out into the shallow water around the beach. The water was surprisingly clear. As we paddled out, we saw the grass growing out of the sandy floor. Our guide encouraged us to reach in and pick up a conch if we saw one. Some people picked up a conch shell that turned out to have a hermit crab inside. I spotted a few fish swimming in a school along with sponges.
Once we paddled out farther from shore, our guide got into the water and picked up a small starfish for the group to pass around. A short distance away, we saw a slight disturbance in the otherwise smooth water. We were told it was a shark, but a harmless one — probably a nurse shark. Our guide got back in the water after he spotted a much larger starfish. He picked that one up and passed it around. The outside felt like spiky concrete. I’m surprised the animal can move with a body so hard and seemingly inflexible like that. It was also very heavy for its size, which is probably due to it having such a dense exterior.
After getting a ways from shore, all the while still in water that could not have been more than five feet deep, our guide noticed a jellyfish in the water. I looked around and saw a couple of other jellyfish in that area. That one I didn't need to pick up; it could stay in the water. While paddling out to the undeveloped part of Coco Cay, we could see the construction equipment behind some trees that let us know this part of the island would be developed as part of the Perfect Day at Coco Cay project.
With almost no wind that day, the water was very smooth and easy to see through, except for one moment when the surface of the water started boiling. We could see little fish coming up to the surface in a frenzy. I joined a couple in a two-person kayak and one of the other solo kayakers paddling like mad out to the disturbance to get a closer look. The fish, or maybe the shark feeding underneath them, must have seen us coming. Once we got within ten feet of the rippling action, it all subsided and the water returned to calm.
Approaching the southern tip of the island, we made a turn back to the shore and pulled our kayaks up onto the beach. We all got into the water and relaxed for a bit before getting back in the kayaks. On my way to shore, I spotted a sea urchin next to a rock (another creature I knew better than to pick up). While sitting in the water just a few feet from the beach, a couple of fish swam up to me and investigated the area. They were the largest fish I had seen on the tour, but even they could not have been more than eight inches long. I also spotted a striped fish about an inch and a half long staying in close proximity to the shelter of a rock with a big hole in the side. He let me get pretty close before he’d duck into the hole. Then if I stopped, he swim back out again keeping one side of his body up against the rock. If I took a step, he’d dart back into his hiding place. It was adorable and felt like something out of Finding Nemo.
After our rest, we got back into the kayaks and made our way along the shoreline back to our starting point. Our guide called out some stingrays, but they weren't near me. I might have seen the tip of a stingray’s wing, but it was so quick, it may have just been the seagrass moving. I did spot a much slower-moving creature. I looked down to see a sea cucumber plodding along a grassless patch leaving a trail of compressed sand excrement behind him.
Our final wildlife encounter was with the least predictable of all the animals in the water — the fellow resort guest. Even seeing a squadron of kayaks approaching, almost no one made any attempt to get out of the way. Two ladies in their 60’s saw me heading towards the beach, then turned their back to me and walked right into my path as I made my wobbly return to shore. I called out “sorry, I don’t really know how to steer this thing.” They looked up and took two steps to the side.
I pulled my kayak up to beach, returned my paddle and life vest, and retrieved my towel from the locker. I was pretty beat after an hour or more of paddling, and at that point I just wanted a shower. I’m glad I tried kayaking. When I return to Coco Cay, I might do some other activity so I can experience more of the resort. After the fun I had on the Kayak Adventure, I would kayak again, but I’d prefer to get a second person to join in.
When a cruise ship docks at a public port, you have the option of booking excursions through the cruise line or through an independent tour operator. Because Royal Caribbean owns and operates Coco Cay, all the excursions are organized by the cruise line. This means that the Cruise Planner is a one-stop shop for all the excursions and activities at the resort.
The Kayak Adventure on its own is $43, but it can be purchased as a Kayak Adventure and Snorkel Combo for $72. If you opt for the combo, when you check in for the Kayak Adventure, you'll be given a wristband. Show that wristband at the snorkel shack after your kayak tour, and you can pick up snorkel equipment to use for the rest of the day.
Have you been kayaking on Coco Cay? Have you done any of the other excursions on the island?