Biggest Cruise Excursion Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

Biggest Cruise Excursion Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

Biggest Cruise Excursion Blunders & How To Avoid Them

Excursions are one of the biggest extra costs when we go on a cruise vacation, and so it never ceases to amaze me the bizarre choices and things I see my fellow cruisers doing when planning, booking, or going on them.

So, stick around to read about the 5 most remarkable errors I’ve seen, and what they should have done instead so you can avoid them too.

Based on these and some others, here are the 5 big mistakes I keep seeing cruisers make – so you can avoid them.

Biggest Cruise Excursion Blunders – Know Before You Go

The first mistake I see is cruisers not researching the ports before going. So they can decide what the very best things to see or do are.

If you don’t, you are relying on what the cruise line is offering and assuming they include the must- and best-see places. However, that may not be the case.

Lines rely on whatever capacity their tour operator partner has available when you call into that port. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to take you to see the best things. They will just offer you what it makes sense to provide. So, you may be missing out.

But also, by researching the port you will know if you should even do an excursion or self-explore. More on that later.

My go-to for researching cruise ports is They have coverage for even the most obscure ports. It tells me where the ship is going to be docking, what’s within easy access, how easy it is to explore, safety considerations, public transport options, and the key sites to see.

Another critical thing that I always check by port close to time is the weather. So I can be prepared.

For example, on my recent Regent Seven Seas cruise in Japan, I could see heavy rain was due when we were due to be in Tokyo. I packed an umbrella and raincoat, and unlike my fellow guests getting wet or staying in the bus, I still could see the  Imperial Palace, the Meiji Shrine, and the Hamarikyu Gardens in relative comfort.

Biggest Cruise Excursion Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

However, this next mistake is something I see creating more problems than anything else.

Biggest Cruise Excursion Blunders – Checking The Details

That is not checking the fine print in the excursion details and terms. This was the cause of most issues on excursions on my recent cruises. There are five things that you need to check.

Activity Level

First, check the activity or fitness level required. All cruise lines classify excursions. So, for example, on that recent Regent Japan cruise, they had three clear distinct categories that each tour was rated against, with descriptions of amount of walking, steps, standing time, and so on.

However, on many excursions, I would still see people struggling because they didn’t check the fitness and mobility required. For example, we went to visit the Kunozan Toshogu shrine in Shimizu with steep stone steps that many couldn’t cope with.

The cruise before that, I was in French Polynesia and booked a cycling tour, which included a ride up to a mountain viewpoint. However, people hadn’t read the fitness and ability detail, so some waited at the bottom of the mountain while we spent half of the excursion up there.

I went to the Ryugado Caves in Kochi with steep climbs, tight spaces and 800 steps. Many people when they got there couldn’t do it and had to sit outside while we went in.

Also, check in the activity levels for weight, height, or age limits. For example, I did a helicopter ride on my last Alaska cruise up to glaciers in Juneau, which maximum weight restrictions and one man was turned away on the day.

There can be height restrictions for thrill rides like zip lining, and age for drink-related tours.

Biggest Cruise Excursion Mistakes & How To Avoid Them


Next, look in the fine print for details of the distance from the port and how long you’re going to spend on the bus.

For example, also on that Regent Japan cruise, the tour to Kyoto from Kobe where we docked had one and half hours on the bus there and then back. People seemed shocked when we set off to learn this as they had not read the fine print.

Actual Activities

Third, and one I slipped up on my last Caribbean cruise, is check the detail of exactly what is going to happen on the excursion and time allocated for each.

On that trip I booked a beach break in Saint Lucia. If I’d read the detail properly, I would’ve realised that we spent almost half of that time doing a shopping excursion at a centre with chocolate making, candle making, T-shirt screen printing, and other shopping stuff.


Fourth, check what is, and what is not, included.

For example, on the Regent Japan cruise, in many places the excursion covered entry into the grounds but not to go inside attractions or buildings within them. So, in Kyoto, the excursion got me into the Nijo Castle grounds, but touring the castle was an additional cost.

If the tour is over lunch time, check if a meal is or is not included. On that Kyoto tour it was included in a local resort, but on others also over mealtimes it was not.

Biggest Cruise Excursion Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

Dress Code

Also check in the fine print for any dress code.

For example, when I was in Cairo at the start of my Nile River cruise, we had to have our shoulders and knees covered on the day we were visiting a mosque.

Active excursions, like going on an ATV tour may require closed shoes. So, check.

There is another thing that I see cruisers repeatedly getting wrong, and it affects their bank balance badly. 

Biggest Cruise Excursion Blunders – Checking Options

Your most expensive excursion options will usually be booking the cruise line ones. They mark them up to make a profit on the tours their local providers run in the cruise line’s name.

That is why I do these quick checks before booking a line excursion.

First, I check if I can book the activity direct, and for less.

For example, I love doing the White Pass and Yukon Train in Skagway Alaska. I book that direct for less money than a cruise line excursion. I do it months before, as it does sell out. So, getting in early is key if booking direct.

Biggest Cruise Excursion Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

Another is I don’t book the hop-on, hop-off buses through the line. For example, this summer I was on a Norwegian Viva cruise that stopped in Barcelona. They were selling it for over 70 Euros (about US$75).  But I could buy a Hop-on Hop-off day pass for 35 euros at the booth in the terminal.

The other thing I do is compare with independent alternatives like and The second makes much of their guarantee that they will get me back to the ship on time, and if not, will cover the costs of getting me to rejoin the ship at the next port.

But whatever route you go, this next mistake I have seen too often!

Biggest Cruise Excursion Blunders – Early Birds Win

Most cruisers seem to wait until just before the cruise, or once they’re on board, to book excursions. Hence the long lines at the Shore Excursions Desk on embarkation day. This is a terrible idea for a couple of reasons.

First, most cruise lines have a fair cancellation policy, usually the ability to cancel 48 hours before with no penalty. So, I go in early and book excursions as soon as they are available in my cruise planner. This ensures I get the ones I want, knowing I can tweak once on the trip.

I’ve been on so many cruises where people have gone on a trip of a lifetime and missed out.

One that sticks in my mind was on a South American trip on Holland America last year. The highlight was going to see penguins in the Falklands, which for most would be the only cruise they’ll ever go on to see penguins in their natural environment.

But I met so many that had waited until they got on board to try and book that excursion – it was sold out. I booked months ahead and got to see them.

I put in my diary the day excursions open and lock them in for all my cruises.

However, once cruisers have their excursions booked there are several mistakes I keep seeing once they go on them.

Biggest Cruise Excursion Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

Biggest Cruise Excursion Blunders – On-Tour Mistakes

On every trip I see people travelling with friends or family, annoyed that they are on different busses or groups. It is so easy as all they need to do is check in at the same time with all the group together.

The next drives me crazy, which is passengers not paying attention to, nor respecting, meet-up times especially if there’s free time on a tour. The tours go at the pace of the slowest.

In the summer, on an excursion in Pisa Italy, we were given free time at each site, but every time, a family always came back late. This reduced the time we had to explore the others. The guide kept saying they needed to watch this as he would have to leave them behind if they were late for the last stop. He had to get us back to the ship at a set time some distance away.

On the last stop, 25 minutes after the meet time they were not back, so we left without them.

They did eventually get back to the ship before departure by catching a taxi at great expense.




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1 Response

  1. Kristine Vazquez says:

    Great article Gary. I loved the clarity and suggestions. I have been booking the cruise line shore excursions as I wanted the guarantee not to miss yhe ship, but I did miss out on some of the things other passengers told me about when they had booked private tours etc. I do agree that the cruise lines may not offer the best tours. I will definitely follow your recommendations! Thanks

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