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A kiteboarder glides across the surf in Mexico.

Courtesy of Morph Kiteboarding

A kiteboarder glides across the surf in Mexico.

What you can do in port during a cruise

A guide to some of the options that await you at a cruise destination

First-time cruisers sometimes ask, What can you do in port during a cruise? With hundreds of cruise ships calling into ports all over the world, the question really should be what can’t you do in port?

Tips & tricks on cruise basics

You can do as little or as much as you like in every destination, and there are so many terrific options available for you, whether you book an independent shore excursion, an excursion with your chosen cruise line, or you decide to do your own thing with family and friends. You are going to have just as much fun ashore as you do on board!

Ziplining, kitesurfing & margarita sipping

Your choices depend on location, of course, but you have a lot of options. Let me give you some examples.

Ziplines in Belize and other adventures await when you cruise the Caribbean on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.
Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise LineZiplines in Belize and other adventures await when you cruise the Caribbean on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.

You are heading to a cruise line resort in the Caribbean — say, Norwegian's Great Stirrup Cay, Holland America's Half Moon Cay, Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay. Or let's say, Royal Caribbean, and your itinerary includes a call to Labadee, Haiti. This is Royal Caribbean’s own private beach resort where you can do everything from relaxing on a beautiful white beach with a cocktail and a good book to ziplining across the water on a 2,600 foot-long Dragon’s Breath Flight Line. It has a little bit of everything and is usually blessed with glorious sunshine. What more could you want?

If you’re cruising along the southern coast of the Yucatan — Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Riviera Maya — your port visit might consist of renting an all-terrain vehicle and whooping it up along the backroads. Or exploring Mayan ruins. Or giving a shot at kitesurfing. Or you may want to just kick back on the beach, sip margaritas or piña coladas and do some people watching. 

Maybe you find yourself in Europe, on a Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises, Princess or Silversea. You arrive alongside your berth in Civitavecchia, Italy. Most passengers will opt to spend the day in nearby Rome, which you can do via the cruise line or on your own thanks to a super-fast train system. There is a lot of sightseeing to be done, and you can easily spend eight hours or more with all that Rome has to offer. Or you may decide to spend the day in Civitavecchia, which offers a fantastic food market just off the main street. The choice is yours.

Organized tours, events & self-guided itineraries

Indulge in a memorable dinner and cultural performance as part of a voyage through China's Yangtze River valley aboard Uniworld's Century Paragon.
Bessler / Courtesy of Uniworld River CruisesIndulge in a memorable dinner and cultural performance as part of a voyage through China's Yangtze River valley aboard Uniworld's Century Paragon.

If you’re on a river cruise from Viking, AmaWaterways, Uniworld or Scenic, typically your itinerary includes either an organized tour by a local expert or a self-guided tour with a modern GPS-enabled device. Some of these river cruise lines now go to exotic locations like Myanmar and the Mekong River straddling Vietnam and Cambodia.

Perhaps you booked a cruise on a mid-size ship like Azamara Journey. Azamara organizes complimentary cultural events and tours, showcasing authentic local entertainment, as well as small-group visits to private homes, estates and farms, where hosts bring local traditions to life through a shared meal.

Expedition outings

If you're the adventurous sort and decide to try an expedition voyage on Silver Shadow, Seabourn Quest, Lindblad Expeditions or G Adventures to the farthest reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, then you may well spend some of your port days leaving the ship on a Zodiac (a small inflatable boat) and landing on a rugged beach that is inhabited by thousands of emperor penguins. Other days you might do whale watching from the ship. How’s that for an incredible experience!

All of this is just a sampling of your options — some people don’t even get off the ship at all! Cruising can suit everyone’s personality: You can tailor your days to suit your travel style. I suggest doing some planning on Cruiseable before you leave for your vacation, though many people simply go and then see what happens when they get there. As they say, to each her own!

Your take

How about you? What are your suggestions for novice cruisers about what they can do in port?

Republished and updated from an earlier version. 

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Danielle Fear
Travel writer and social media professional based in Newcastle, UK. I've been cruising since since 2007. Follow me on Twitter at @CruiseMiss.