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A tour guide for Viking leads her group on a two-hour tour of Old Kotor in Montenegro.

JD Lasica / Special to Cruiseable

A tour guide for Viking leads her group on a two-hour tour of Old Kotor in Montenegro.

Should I book a shore excursion with the cruise line?

Advice on whether a sponsored or independent tour is best for you

If you're ready for a shore excursion but limit yourself only to tours sold by your cruise line, you may be missing out on saving money and discovering exciting alternatives by using independent tour providers. There are a number of large companies that offer comprehensive programs alongside those for sale on board.

 
  SHORE EXCURSIONS
 
An ongoing series
 
 

Yesterday Patti ran down the pros and cons of a shore excursion. Today we'll scope out the benefits of booking with your cruise line vs. an independent provider. You need to decide which approach is right for you.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding with whom to book. 

A canopy tour near Cosala, Mexico.
Courtesy of Mexico Tourism Board A canopy tour near Cosala, Mexico. Ziplining might be offered by the cruise line or by independents. 

Why book an excursion with your cruise line?

  • They have run the tours many times and know that passengers like you enjoy them.
  • They have validated and verified the quality and reliability of the operator and guides.
  • It's convenient and easy to book online through the cruise line’s site before the voyage or on board.
  • You can apply any onboard credits you have against the cost.
  • A crew member accompanies the tour in addition to the guide, providing added security and reassurance if issues arise. 
  • The ship guarantees to wait for your return even if your tour is delayed or your group is late getting back to the ship.
Shorefox, one of the best sites for finding an independent tour operator.
Shorefox, one of the best sites for finding an independent tour operator.

Why choose an independent provider?

A minority of cruisers typically go off with one of the independent tour operators you might find at sites like Shorefox or Viator

  • They have tours that are not always available through the cruise line, especially when addressing special interest, hobby and sport excursions.
  • They often provide day passes for you to use all the swimming, water sports and land-based sport facilities in port. 
  • They sometimes offer similar tours for less money.
  • Tours often have fewer people than the cruise-line equivalent.
  • When the cruise line one is sold out or you are wait listed, this is a good alternative.
  • They provide detailed reviews and photographs from previous travelers who have taken them. Cruise lines tend not to have any (or many) of these available.
  • Look for providers that guarantee to get you back to the ship in time for departure, or to pay for your transport to get you to the next port to pick up the ship. As a general rule, though, it's a good idea to book indie excursions that provide morning departures and are due back well before your ship departs — and that confirm the guarantee in writing.
  • If they meet and depart from alongside the ship, as the cruise line tours do, there's no reason not to book them.
Marietas Island, about 15 miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, offers snorkeling and scuba diving.
Courtesy of Riviera Nayarit CVBMarietas Island, about 15 miles off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, offers snorkeling and scuba diving. You might choose to visit as part of an independent shore excursion. 

Bottom line

In my experience, most passengers book cruise line tours because it's the simplest, easiest option. However, if you're game, it's a good idea to take a look at what independent providers are offering in your ports as you may find something that is more adventurous, unique and cheaper, too.

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Gary Bembridge
I'm a longtime cruise fan and ship geek. While traveling the globe, I operate TipsForTravellers.com, where you'll find podcasts, videos and advice about cruising and traveling.

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