What should you do when you have multiple days in port? Should you maximize your time on land or divide your time between exploring and enjoying life aboard the cruise ship? The first step is to list all of your available options.
- Staying on the ship
- Taking daily cruise line shore excursions and returning to the ship at night
- Arranging for daily private tours
- Booking a multi-day shore excursion including nights in a hotel
- Making private hotel reservations and planning your own tour arrangements
5 Factors to Consider
- What are you interested in seeing or experiencing?
- What is your budget?
- What is the distance between the ship and the main attractions?
- Are there any safety concerns? (language barriers, cultural issues, crime rates, etc.)
- What is your comfort level?
Research Port & List Priorities
The limitations imposed by a brief port visit are removed when there are multiple port days. Thus, passengers should take more time to research the main attractions and their respective locations. Mapping out the distance between the potential sites may clarify which places may be too far off the beaten track. Some potential spots may not conform to a port visit for logistical reasons.
- After reviewing all of the information, create a “must see” list.
- It is important to ask whether the overall cost falls within one’s budget.
Should You Book a Private Excursion?
Sometimes booking through a private tour agency can reduce the cost significantly and/or offer tours that may not be available through the cruise ship. If you have 4+ people in your group, it may be cost effective to make your own arrangements. This option also allows you to customize your itinerary while enjoying the tour in a smaller group setting. Keep in mind that traveling as a couple will usually be more expensive than being part of a slightly larger private group. However, the ability to see more places and to be more in control of how much time you spend in each location may justify the extra cost of traveling as a couple.
Booking a motor coach tour limits a passenger’s flexibility. One has to be willing to conform to the itinerary set forth by the tour guide. Sometimes the actual tour is slightly different from what appeared on the tour description. It is the simplest way to book an excursion and oftentimes the easiest way to get to a desire location.
If one books with a private company or hops into a taxi at the port, one must feel confident that the selected transportation is reliable. A mistake in timing can be a costly if you return after the ship sails.
Should You Consider an Overnight Stay?
Some feel that it is frivolous to stay in a hotel when the cruise includes sleeping accommodations whereas others see the benefit of spending a night or two onshore. If you stay on land, there will be more opportunities to indulge in the local cuisine, to explore on your own, and to shop. However, the extra cost may be beyond a person’s reach.
Oftentimes, cruise lines offer special programs and meals for those who choose to stay aboard the ship. These events sometimes provide passengers with a taste of the local community.
When the distance between the port and the major attractions is a considerable, it may end up being a better use of time to stay in a hotel. Would you prefer to use 4-6 hours per day commuting or 4-6 exploring?
Comfort Zone in Foreign Ports
Some people are natural explorers and travel with little or no constraints while others fear everything that appears “foreign”. Determining where one fits into this spectrum will enable one to make the appropriate travel choices. On the one hand, adventuresome souls will not have any trepidations booking their own plans. On the other hand, people who are less likely to try new things and feel most comfortable in their home environment will be more content with booking a multi or single day shore excursion. The port of call can also have an effect on one’s perception. Some places may appear more “safe” than others.
Most recently, I had a 2 night/3 day stay in Tianjin, China. The cruise literature clearly stated that it would take approximately 3 hours to travel to Beijing and another 3 hours to return. I had one simple response to this scenario. I did NOT want to spend 6+ hours a day commuting.
Next, I had to decide whether it was advantageous to book privately or via the cruise. Although my private options appeared to be less expensive and possibly equally as reputable as Celebrity Cruises’ overnight tours, I felt more comfortable with the ships’s arrangements. My comfort level was lower in China than it has been in other parts of the world.
On previous cruises, I arranged private tours prior to leaving home, but waited until after I was on board to book my cruise line shore excursions. I never had a problem getting my first choices. During my recent Asian cruise, I encountered an unexpected problem. When we stopped at the shore excursion desk, I was heartbroken to learn that all of the multi-day excursions had been sold out. In order to see anything in Beijing, I would need to commute 6 hours each day.
Within a few hours, we learned that additional spots opened up. We were able to take the 3 day excursion. Not everyone was as lucky. We met two other couples who were complaining about their back-to-back commutes to Beijing.
In other instances, I have preferred to book private reservations. For example, several years ago we had multiple days in Ashdod and Haifa, Israel. I was delighted to sleep and dine in Israel. In that situation, I was able to contract with a previously booked private guide, Jacob Firsel. Moreover, communicating in English was not an issue. Most importantly, I felt safe.
When a cruise has multiple days in a port, one should explore all options and decide whether anticipated plans fall within one’s comfort zone and budget.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.