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Cruising Excursion Tours – Are They Worth It?

  • June 29, 2017
  • By 50 Shades
  • 38 Comments
Cruising Excursion Tours – Are They Worth It?

Cruising excursions or tours are what you do when you’re on a cruise. Because most cruise ships stop at different destinations and ports, the majority of the passengers disembark to enjoy a half or full day seeing the sights that are on offer. Now that I’m an experienced cruiser and have tried all forms of sightseeing whilst in port, I would like to propose the question “cruising excursion tours – are they worth it”?

For most of us the beauty of cruising is that you don’t really need to do anything. Everything is more or less arranged for you, from meals to entertainment. It is the ultimate “do nothing” and “don’t lift a finger” type of holiday. You can even let the cruise ship organise your onshore excursions or tours and all you need to do is roll out of bed and jump aboard a boat or bus to do the tour. It is all arranged and you don’t need to do a thing. You don’t even have to take photos if you don’t want to!

Cruising Excursion Tours

Our cruise ship in port at Kotor, Montenegro

Cruise Line Onshore Excursions

When it comes to selecting cruising excursion tours we discovered that cruise line onshore excursions organised by the cruise lines are rather expensive. We’re talking about an average of $100 per person for maybe a 3 to 4 hour tour, usually aboard a big coach with a driver and tour guide. Some of the excursions do include extras like lunch and admission to museums, etc.

We did however experience a particularly remarkable cruise excursion in Montenegro, that included a mini bus tour to a seaside resort town and a visit to a mountain farm village where we drank traditional wine and ate locally produced food. We found this tour to be far superior to the other tour company we used. But the question still begs are these tours really worth the big price tag?

Cruising Excursion Tours

Being tendered back to the cruise ship after a day sightseeing

The Competition – Cruising Excursions

Prior to our last cruise, we heard about a company called Cruising Excursions who are in direct competition with the cruise line onshore excursions. They are marginally cheaper and make the promise of taking you on the same guided tours as the cruise lines and returning you back to your cruise ship on time. We decided to give this company a go on our last cruise and booked several onshore excursions with them.

Cruising Excursion Tours

On tour in Nha Trang in Vietnam

Although we saved money on our cruising excursion tours we found them to be inferior compared to the cruise line excursion we went on. On one occasion our tour was cancelled and we were bumped on to another tour, whilst our friends we were travelling with, had two excursions cancelled. They were literally left standing at the port without any prior notice.

On our final excursion in Venice we thought we were going on a tour to the three islands of Venice on a guided cruise and tour, only to find out that we were travelling aboard a boat with hundreds of other passengers. For this excursion we were charged almost double of what the cruise was actually worth had we booked it direct.

Cruising Excursion Tours

Seeing the sights of Rome atop a Double Decker Bus

DIY Tours

There is a lot to be said for DIY tours. If you have done your research and know exactly what you’d like to see at each cruise stop and places or attractions you’d like to visit, then this is perfect for you. It’s fairly simple to hire a private driver or taxi from the port who will willingly take you wherever you please. Some of the drivers can even make suggestions on where to go and give you a great free commentary.

Cruising Excursion Tours

Use the local traditional transport like a Japanese Rickshaw

Otherwise you can put your walking shoes on, grab a map of the city or town and walk your way around. This works well if you know exactly where you want to go and what you want to see. In some places you can jump on a tuk tuk or pedicab to get around very cheaply. I remember when we did this in Cambodia on one of our cruises.

Cruising Excursion Tours

Getting rowed around in a long boat in the floating markets in Bangkok

In a nutshell there are a few alternatives to cruising excursion tours that will save you money compared to the very expensive cruise line tours. On our last cruise we had 10 cruise stops and we only booked 5 cruising excursions. For the remainder we hired a taxi driver, toured by foot or jumped on hop on hop off bus tours. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to spend my money locally rather than giving it to big tour companies.

How do you feel about sightseeing when you’re on holidays? Do you feel that guided tours and excursions are a little expensive?

This post is part of the Lovin’ Life Linky with a Lovin’ Life Team of the “ageing positively” kind who are as keen as I am to promote the Lovin’ Life mindset. The Lovin’ Life Team includes:

Deb from DebbishDotCom
Min from Write of the Middle.
Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit
Jo from And Anyways
and of course me, Kathy from 50 Shades of Age


By 50 Shades, June 29, 2017 Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 4 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now 60. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland. She enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, movies, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
  • 38

50 Shades

Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 4 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now 60. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland. She enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, movies, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.

38 Comments
  • Jo Tracey
    June 29, 2017

    I’m a DIY girl, but find that unless it’s a walking tour & you can be guaranteed to get back to the boat on time, you could be better with the cruise organised tours. I agree, they are expensive, but sometimes (not always) the alternative is a false economy.

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      Yes some of the tours we did go on were very ordinary. On one of the tour buses the microphone wasn’t working so we never heard the commentary anyhow. We booked this fabulous bike tour in Slovenia that we paid $120 each, only to discover it was cancelled and they took us instead on an extremely boring tour to a seaside village and left us there for 3 hours with very little to see or do. We weren’t happy about that! Once bitten twice shy!! :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Jo@JoSimplyWill
    June 29, 2017

    Kathy years ago we did the Hurtigruten cruise up and down the coast of Norway. We booked outrageously expensive shore excursions, and boy were they worth it! Some were entire day trips where we left the ship at one port and joined at another, all beautifully coordinated and timed, with great experiences and sightseeing throughout the day. A memorable experience was our bus crossing a massive bridge at the exact time our ship was sailing underneath, sounding its siren. If a cruise was just visiting a city for a day, especially somewhere geared up for tourists, I don’t think I’d do a tour. It’s easy enough to follow a guide book and do a walking tour, get on a hop-on hop-off bus, and target those attractions that really appeal to you.

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      The organised tour we did do in Montenegro was fantastic and we had the best day, however the others were so-so. The other days on the cruise we really enjoyed the hop-on hop-off buses getting off wherever took our fancy and spending a hour or so walking around that particular area. I’m not one for quick stops and being rushed around. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Deborah
    June 29, 2017

    I’ve actually never been on a cruise but think I’d opt for a cruise-organised excursion unless I knew the place I was visiting or there was something I particularly wanted to see. Although I’m not a great tourist / sightseer so I’d probably be just as happy hanging out at cafe or something, soaking up the atmosphere!

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      Sometimes it’s just enjoyable being rushed around from one attraction or point of interest to another. I would rather spend some time walking around and soaking up the atmosphere too! :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Vanessa
    June 29, 2017

    Tours are of benefit when you want to see the “must do” things and only have a short time. I think it highly depends on destination and personality though. Personally, I tend to like just walking and getting lost on holiday. Though I’ve never been on a cruise, I understand ships don’t really wait for you so you don’t want to be LOST lost :)

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      We found the hop on hop off buses cover all of the “must do” things and are about a third of the price of organised bus tours. Like you say it really depends on personality. We also like to do a lot of walking and venturing off the main streets. But as you say not getting too lost!! :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Jan Wild
    June 29, 2017

    We are pretty much DIY travellers, although we do love a walking tour, particularly if it is food and wine focussed. Our favourite so far was a Latin Quarter tour by Paris by Mouth and we are looking forward to A Taste of Porto tour when we head to Portugal later this year.I agree value can be variable.

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      Walking tours are fabulous. These are the ones I like the best too. I don’t particularly like being herded around on a large tour bus amongst 50 other tourists. It can be very tedious. The Taste of Porto tour in Portugal sounds tempting! :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    June 29, 2017

    I do a combination of booked and DIY sightseeing. If I am visiting a country whose languages I am unfamiliar with, more conducted tours.

    Thanks for your travel insights and photos!

    SSG xxx

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      Same here. I can understand language being a barrier and yes tour guides do come in handy in these situations. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Johanna
    June 29, 2017

    I thought we were DIY travellers until we did the Princess Cruises RTW cruise in 2016. We did a lot of the ship’s excursions and loved them, and really couldn’t find any reason not to book them, especially if there was a chance that we might not get back to the ship on time. Granted, they are generally more expensive and there are other options. I think for us, if we can walk from the ship and do our own thing in a casual way like catching rickshaws or bicycling, then doing our own thing is fine – but say training from the ship in Italy – might be dodgy if you consider the strikes and delays that could happen. Great post – and thanks for the tips too – I shall look up these alternative companies for our next cruise!

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      I think the cruise line’s excursions are very good and they do guarantee that they will get you back to the ship on time, however fellow passengers told us that they cost them thousands of dollars extra on top of their cruise. The downside is that you get herded around by bus and after a while you tune out of the endless commentary because the scenery is just so breathtaking! I think I like to do a bit of both. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au
    June 29, 2017

    I loved the European river cruises because the excursions were included in the price and were top notch – and really well done. Occasionally we’d skip one and just wander around the town instead and I loved that too – being free for a few hours to pop into shops, have a rest in a little cafe etc. I’ve booked other excursions online when we’ve been on a normal overseas holiday and they’ve worked well too because I used a really reputable site and checked the reviews carefully!

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      Yes I agree it is important to read tour reviews prior to booking them. Unfortunately the company we booked with didn’t have that many reviews written about them, but I made sure that they do now! It really does get down to personal preference and budget. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Min@WriteoftheMiddle
    June 29, 2017

    Great to hear of your experiences Kathy! When we went on a cruise in December we opted to seek out a day tour of Port Vila/Efate independent of the cruise organised ones. Having not been on a cruise organised one I can’t compare except for cost. Our day tour was ALOT cheaper and it was a fabulous tour. No complaints! :-) #TeamLovinLife

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      Yes I think some of the independent tours are just as good as the cruise ones and a whole lot cheaper. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • jodie
    June 29, 2017

    The thing we’ve learned about us, is that we are not very adventurous on our own!! The nice thing about a tour, is you learn many things you wouldn’t have found out yourself (not that we remember them, but….)
    Jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

    • Kathy
      June 29, 2017

      I agree that you do learn a lot more on a guided tour, but sometimes the tour guides drone on and on and you block it out after a while! I think it probably suits a lot of people to be completely organised and then others like us, like to do our own thing. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Sandy from Tray Tables Away
    June 29, 2017

    We have generally found it much quicker, easier and more interesting to jump in a taxi or grab a local tour or driver than sign up for the ship excursions. You get a lot more knowledge from a local and it’s often more fun plus you aren’t stuck in places for lengthy periods and queuing to get off and on buses.
    In saying that on a recent cruise to the South Pacific a local UNESCO reef and beach has capped touris numbers and if you didn’t sign up with the ship you missed out.
    So it can pay to do a bit of research as always ;)

    • Kathy
      June 30, 2017

      I agree totally Sandy. We normally research each destination and get an idea of what we want to see and do first before we make any decisions about booking tours. I feel that on our last cruise only one of our tours was fantastic and the rest were average. We would have been much better off hiring a local driver. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Life Images by Jill
    June 29, 2017

    I;ve never been on a cruise, yet, but these are valuable tips Kathy. I guess it all depends on our travel experienced you are, and whether you want all the hassle taken out by just booking on the ship, especially when you only have a few hours. And if you are cruising you might as well visit the destinations they dock at or why bother going! Thanks for the link up Kathy.

    • Kathy
      June 30, 2017

      You would be surprised as to how many passengers on the ship don’t get off at each port! I think most people like to be organised rather than organising themselves so opt for the cruising excursions. However we like to do a lot of our own thing rather than being ferried around on a tour bus. It is a personal choice. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond
    June 29, 2017

    The first cruise we went on Kathy, I booked every ship cruise going. Now we usually do our own thing and you can do it far less expensively than ship cruises. When we cruised the Baltic, I booked a tour myself and our guide was absolutely wonderful. We also did the same when we went to Beijing and wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors. I arranged a guide and she couldn’t have been more helpful. You just need to be prepared don’t you but I do think the ship tours have their place. I haven’t heard of Cruising Excursions but will check them out. thanks for the link up and have a great week!

    • Kathy
      June 30, 2017

      Yes I think we have done precisely what you have done on past cruises. We started off booking heaps of tours then realised we could organise our own. Some days we just like to amble around the port town or city rather than do a tour too. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Lyndall @ SeizeThe Day Project
    June 30, 2017

    Having limited time in port and wanting to explore as much as possible can be tricky. It’s a shame you were left stranded with the cancelled tours. It’s also annoying that the cruise companies charge so much for onshore tours.

    We’ve done a lot of DIY, public transport, walking tours and segway tours to explore foreign cities, which are always a delight.

    • Kathy
      June 30, 2017

      I agree totally, I prefer the DIY tours as long as you’re organised. We have been guilty of getting off the ship and not having an actual plan for the day and then just wander around aimlessly. This last cruise we were super organised and knew exactly what we wanted to see at each place. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    June 30, 2017

    That ship looks like it’s parked up on the road! Incredible. #teamlovinlife

    • Kathy
      June 30, 2017

      It is an amazing photo. We were moored right in the centre of Kotor in Montenegro. Beautiful place! :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Helen
    July 1, 2017

    Such a pity you were not happy with the excursions. It is always a gamble. Though we have only been on 2 cruises, both times we decided to just do our own thing when in port. Once it was Hawaii, and 2015 the Med. I have to admit that I did a lot of “homework” about the ports where we were able to just walk to or get a taxi or bus from the port. Speaking to other people on the Med cruise that did tours – their own arrangements and through the cruise ship – not a lot were happy about the excursions. Most of the time we got the feed back, that they have spent way to much time traveling than sightseeing! which made them all a bit grumpy. We were very happy with our decision and have a lot of photos to show. Hope you have more luck next time.

    • Kathy
      July 1, 2017

      We really did our homework too and thought we had chosen well with our cruise excursions. They weren’t all bad, but I think could have been better. I would probably DIY our own tours in the future. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Rhonda Albom
    July 1, 2017

    We have also done lots of cruising. For ourselves, we only pay for ship’s excursions if they are really special and not available on our own.

    • Kathy
      July 1, 2017

      I think you are on the right track. We will definitely be more selective with ship excursions in future. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • Janet
    July 1, 2017

    We haven’t availed ourselves of too many excursions/tours when cruising, as they can indeed be quite expensive. The only time we choose the ship excursions is if it is in a port for a very brief stay – eg when we stopped in Salerno Italy (I think it was), we were there for only half a day, but really wanted to see Pompeii which was an hour or so’s drive away, we figured it was the simplest option. Before we arrived in Valletta, Malta, we booked a private car and driver for the day – as hubster’s family is from Malta, we had a long list of things to squeeze in, including a visit to some relatives, so this was the best option – our driver even waited while we had a cup of tea with the rellies! We have also pre-booked tours with other companies, before leaving on our cruise – eg when we docked at Tauranga, we did a tour to Rotorua. Other times we just picked up something after we arrived in port eg the little train in Noumea. Great topic Kathy!

    • Kathy
      July 2, 2017

      Thanks Janet. I think it’s good to be fore-warned about cruising excursions. Many people probably think that this is their only option when there are so many more available to them (as you’ve proved). I think doing a mixture of booked tours and DIY tours is the best way to enjoy your cruise ports. :) #TeamLovinLife

  • budget jan
    July 2, 2017

    What a great post and I loved reading everyone’s comments. I feel I would organize my own although I would be making very sure that I got back to the ship before it sailed. Of course if I knew the ship tour was going to be good (Like yours in Montenegro) I’d pay for that tour and relax knowing the ship would wait if there was a problem.

    • Kathy
      July 2, 2017

      Experience certainly has helped us with our cruise excursions. We’ve had some good and bad ones! I think you need to do your homework before you go and you can’t go wrong with a DIY tour. :) #TeamLovinLife

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