Family Cruising: 3 Different Takes on Shore Excursions

by Matt Villano

Family Cruising: 3 Different Takes on Shore Excursions

Most shore excursions are prohibitively expensive. For enterprising (and adventuresome) family travelers, however, there are other options.

Late winter/early spring historically is the time of year when many families book summer cruises. In many cases, this means early March is decision-time on shore excursions for those few days the big ship is in port.

Most of these formal (and cruise-sponsored) daytrips are prohibitively expensive; for family travelers—who often must pay for four or more—the prices can be downright ridiculous.

With this in mind, here are three tips for saving money on shore excursions for your next cruise.

Go on foot
By law, big cruise ships are required to dock at certain docks—most of which are located on the outskirts of their respective towns. This usually means there are at least a few hiking trails within a short walk of the ship when you disembark.

This is true especially in Alaska’s Inside Passage, where a fast walker on a long day at shore can log six or eight miles and still be back in time for dinner on board the ship.

I experienced this first-hand (and, admittedly, without little ones) years ago in Skagway, Alaska. From the cruise ship dock, I bee-lined for the trailhead to Upper Dewey Lake, 3,100 feet from sea level in the mountains just out of town. Yes, the 6-mile round-tripper kicked my butt. But the hike gave me a unique perspective on the city—a perspective few others on that cruise ship received outside of photos.

Arrange a ride
Most cruise ship ports are big enough to have taxi services. Many of these taxi services have web sites. This makes it easy to research some companies before you even board the ship, and work the phones to line up a ride when it’s time to disembark.

Once you’ve got wheels for the day, you’ve got two choices: 1) Pay the cab driver to show you around or 2) Use the web and printed guidebooks to identify places for the cabbie to stop.

I’ve had friends use local cab services to bring them from cruise ship terminals directly to popular beaches and bars. These peeps love this strategy because it provides a virtually unadulterated perspective on what in the particular port city is really like. The only downside: Some cabs are not equipped to accommodate car seats.

Be a sloth
Perhaps the cheapest way to handle shore excursions is to spend them on the ship itself. Under this strategy, you and your family can enjoy free reign of the ship while most of the other passengers have disembarked. Quiet pool decks! An empty gym!

No, this isn’t a good way to experience different stops along a journey. But if you’ve had time for on-the-ground exploration before the cruise, it’s a great opportunity to relax.