Can you Save on Cruise Shore Excursions?

Is it better to book excursions through the ship is a question that keeps getting asked.  The answer is both Yes and No depending on what you are looking for.  Can you save money on Shore Excursions?

Yes, you most certainly can, and there are several options available when choosing shore excursions. Don’t just assume the cruise excursions offered by the cruise lines are the best way to go. There is no doubt that some cruise lines do offer good cruise excursions but others can turn out to be duds.

All too often, cruise line excursions translate into long bus rides to see almost nothing with drop-offs at shops selling souvenirs you can live without. It is not unknown for passengers who thought they were being driven back to their ship were invited to stop for refreshments at a little shop belonging to a relative of the tour guide. Finally, you will often pay more for the privilege of letting the cruise line arrange your day than you would if you booked directly with a provider.

The cruise lines will often tell you:

  • their cruise excursions are the lowest possible price.
  • official cruise-line shore excursions are higher quality
  • by arranging non-cruise line excursions you may miss the ship

The most used tactic by the cruises lines is to big up the issue of the possibility of missing the ship. Our experience is that this is all just sales talk as the cruise lines need shore excursions as a way of extracting additional revenue out of their passengers. Shore excursions are a big money earner for most cruise lines.

It’s fair to say that the cruise lines sometimes offer shore excursions that would simply not be possible to do on your own. We had an amazing tour of Pearl Harbour and dinner on the USS Missouri with Seabourn.  With Crystal Cruises we attended a banquet at The Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

How do SHore excursions Work?

Shore excursions, or cruise excursions, are organised by the cruise line using a local tour operator.  The cruise line pays the tour operator about half of what you pay. That means if a tour was $150, then probably only $75 would go to the local tour company. They themselves would most likely subcontract the tour to minivan or minibus drivers who do the actual excursion and they will get about half again.  Which means the people that actually deliver the cruise excursion makes approximately $35-$40. So of the $150 which you paid for your “official cruise line trip”, only about $35 ends up with the person who actually delivers your tour. Something to think about when deciding.


Shore Excursions are a must

Choosing from the huge choice available is exciting. With so many amazing places to visit and so much culture to take in, we really like to make the most of the opportunity while it is there. The only problem is that all these wonderful official cruise shore excursions can become quite expensive and often end up as one of the biggest additional costs on your cruise.  Bit of a headache really…

With many shore excursions offered by the cruise companies running into hundreds of dollars each, there has to be a better way. Remember this is where some cruise lines look for increased revenue by selling sometimes overpriced and over-crowded shore excursions. We have tried all kinds of shore excursions and we hope this short guide will give you a fast track to understanding your options.  We normally mix and match depending on where we are and how adventurous we feel. At the end of the day, the decision is yours and you must decide what is right for you.

Does it Need to be like this??

Not Really. There are a number of options available to you when deciding which shore excursions that are best for you.

It is also worth noting that nowadays some cruise lines, including Regent Seven Seas Cruises and some other high-end luxury cruise lines, include all their shore excursions in the cruise fare. In this article, we explore some of the other options available to you.

Smart Shore Excusions4 1

Which Cruise Excursions should I choose?

We consider ourselves experienced cruisers, so over time, we have tried many of the cruise line shore excursions. Many of these are very good, but we now often do our own thing and make alternative arrangements. We find that other seasoned cruisers do the same. Luckily there are other options that you can consider when deciding on which shore excursions to book.

Whilst a people few will stay on the ship in each port, most passengers are like us enjoy going ashore. Let’s look at a few of the ways to book shore excursions so you can choose which one is best for you and your finances, without compromising quality and experience.

You don’t have to book through the cruise line, but there are some very good reasons why this may well suit you


The most popular way to book shore excursions on your cruise is still directly through the cruise line. The cruise line will offer the most options and they are billed directly to your stateroom. Most of the new ships allow you the ease of booking directly on your TV, it doesn’t get any easier than that. It’s also a good way to spend any onboard credits you may have.

The Good Stuff

  • Widest Selection of Tours
  • Your ship will wait for you if the tour is delayed for any reason.
  • A shore Excursion Desk is located on the ship and can answer any questions before or after your booking
  • Easy To Book
  • A Good way to spend your On-Board Credits

The Not so Good

  • Prices are marked up so you will pay a higher price
  • Tours are often full and are in large groups
  • Some tours require a minimum number of bookings or they get cancelled
  • They are not customisable like private tours
  • Some shore trips sell out fast particularly for Alaskan shore excursions


The second and increasingly popular way of booking excursions is through private companies that specialise in Shore Excursions like Shore Excursions Group. These independent Cruise Excursions are available in over 200 ports around the globe and at much better prices than the cruise lines themselves. The excursion groups are smaller and they pride themselves in offering higher quality excursions than all the major lines plus at the same time saving you money.

They also have 24/7 support and guarantee you that will you return to the ship on time. If your tour is late getting back (to date, they never had a customer miss the ship), they will pay for all lodging, meals, and transportation to your next port so you can rejoin the ship, along with $500 cash to each person in the group. Usually, you can get the same excursion as the cruise line will offer for as much as 50% off.

The Good Stuff

  • Lower prices than the cruise lines
  • Higher Quality Excursions than the cruise lines
  • Smaller more personalised tours
  • Money back guarantee
  • 24/7 Support
  • Guaranteed return to ship
  • More Money to Spend on Spar Treatments and Drinks Packages

The Not so Good

  • Fewer Excursions on offer than the cruise lines


The third and final way to book shore excursions on your cruise is to book one in port after you get off the ship. This is the cheapest way to book excursions and perfect for those that like to make decisions spur of the moment. When you get off the ship, there will be many vendors, taxis and tour operators with signs offering everything from jet skis, snorkelling, diving, beach days, swimming with dolphins, island tours etc. One of the things we always look for and nearly always try is the Hop-On Hop-Off busses you now see in many cruise ports. These can be a good way to see the sights and are generally available at sensible prices.

The Good Stuff

  • Lowest prices, but be prepared to barter
  • Complete freedom to wait until the last moment to decide
  • Smaller more personalised tours

The Not so Good

  • No guarantee you will get back to the ship on time. If your tour is late you are on your own. This does not happen often and they normally do everything they can to get you back with plenty of time to spare
  • Not all tour operators are licensed
  • The tour you wanted may not be available shoreside

So there you have it. Our thoughts and experiences when considering your Cruise Excursions. Definitely not a one size fits all!! Hopefully this will help you choose the right solution for your needs and go some way to help you enjoy your cruise adventures…..


When you go ashore you should always have the name and telephone number of the “port agent” which you will find in your Daily Program. Take a note of it or better still, take a photo on your mobile phone.  That way if you have a problem ashore, you can call on the port agent for assistance. Be sure to take this information with you when going ashore.