Cruises are classic family vacations, known for their all-inclusive lodging, food, and activities in between popular destinations. A timeless part of the cruise experience is the cruise excursion, a company-organized off-boat outing for cruise passengers. With so many different cruise lines and destinations available, it can be intimidating to choose the right excursion for you.

Shore excursions often consist of sightseeing, food tours, and physical activities unique to the port destination. The cruise organizes and leads outings for a small fee that relieves passengers of the stress of individual booking and planning.

Below is the ultimate guide to excursions, covering the types of outings, different cruise lines and what they offer, and the respective costs for the booking. Read on to learn everything you need to know before planning your next cruise excursion!

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What are Cruise Excursions?

To put it simply, shore excursions are off-boat activities organized by the cruise company to maintain the interest and enjoyment of its passengers. For an extra fee, the company books, plans, and leads outings to popular tourist spots such as museums, landmarks, and monuments.

The different types of shore excursions vary depending on your location, but all can be sorted into five basic categories:

  • Sightseeing
  • Food and culture
  • Wilderness
  • Adventure
  • Water sports

Shore excursions will often be labeled with intensity, length, and whether or not they’re family friendly. Depending on the cruise line, the excursion may also list an alternative option in case of bad weather. Some cruise lines, like Carnival, also have small review sections with each description so you can read what others have experienced.

What Should I Bring on a Cruise Excursion?

Packing for a cruise excursion is similar to preparing for any outing; be sure to dress comfortably, wear sunscreen, and have enough water to sustain you. Familiarize yourself with the itinerary of your excursion as additional necessities will depend on the type of activity you’ll be doing.

While your packing list might vary here and there, the Norwegian Travel Line recommends some basic items you should have on hand, such as:

  • Sunglasses
  • Medications such as pain relief and antihistamines, as well as emergency medicines like insulin or Epi-pens
  • Bug spray
  • A camera or smartphone
  • Comfortable footwear
  • Bathing suit (you never know when you might take a dip!)

Some other good items to pack are:

  • Snacks
  • A change of clothes
  • Wet wipes or hand sanitizer in case things get dirty

Cruise companies often list a full description of the excursion with information such as the length of the trip and any additional activities, so be sure to visit your cruise line’s website before departing.

Which Cruise Lines Have the Best Excursions?

Determining which cruise line has the best selection of shore excursions is typically a personal preference, as activities vary widely. Reading online reviews or cruise forums is a good way to determine which outings are best for you and your family. Overall, popular cruise companies will likely have better excursions as they offer the most choices.

Below are three popular cruise lines along with typical routes and possible excursions to pick from.

Royal Caribbean

This international cruise line, founded in 1968, travels to more than 300 destinations, including:

  • The Caribbean
  • Europe
  • Alaska
  • North America
  • Asia

Some excursions offered by Royal Caribbean are:

  • Food tours
  • Snorkeling
  • Sightseeing
  • Hiking

Private, personalized activities can also be arranged for a customizable thrill.


Another international cruise line, Carnival travels to many different destination areas, including:

  • The Bahamas
  • The Caribbean
  • Mexico
  • Europe

Shore excursions vary based on destination but are broken into two categories:

  • Sightseeing
  • Water activity

Holland America

Lastly is the British-American Holland America Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation. This cruise features 14 destinations with 473 ports. Like Royal Caribbean and Carnival, shore excursions differ depending on the location but include typical tourist activities like wine tasting and hiking.

Consider A Boutique Excursion

If large group activities aren’t for you, you might opt for a boutique excursion: a smaller, premium tour that gives passengers an intimate and personalized experience. Below is a list of popular cruise lines that offer boutique excursions along with some insight into the different experiences.

Disney Cruise Line

Praised for its family-friendly cruise activities, the Disney Cruise Line travels to 17 destinations across the globe. Known as the Signature Collection, Disney boutique excursions include unique experiences like tea in a European Lord’s manor and VIP tours of the Walt Disney theme parks.

Oceania Cruises

Offered through their Oceania Exclusive collection, this Florida-based cruise line currently hosts 192 intimate activities such as tours through Bordeaux’s vineyards and ancient Pompeii.

Regent Seven Seas

Last on this list is the luxury Miami-based line Regent Seven Seas, which boasts 11 international destinations. Boutique excursions include a treetop lunch in Brazil and an organic food tasting in Saigon.

How Do I Book a Cruise Excursion?

Booking a cruise excursion is much easier than you’d think. All major companies offer a full list of available outings on their website along with instructions on booking and prices. Excursions can either be reserved with your cruise booking or added on after.

In some cases, excursions can be booked onboard, but this is typically only allowed if there are still available spots. It’s recommended that you reserve your excursion prior to departure.

How Far in Advance Should I Book an Excursion?

There is no set date for how early an excursion should be booked through the cruise company, but it is recommended to do so as soon as possible. The closer it gets to your trip, the higher the prices and the lower the availability. To ensure enough spots for your family without breaking the bank, book shore trips as soon as you have your tickets!

How Much Do Cruise Excursions Cost?

Just as there’s no date for booking, there isn’t a set cost for shore excursions. Prices vary on the company, length, and intensity of outing, and destination. According to TripSavvy, you can expect to pay anywhere between $25 and $300 per person on off-boat activities.

How to Save When Booking a Cruise Excursion

Cruise companies typically list the price per person on their website, so a good way to save money is to compare the different activities and respective prices. Choosing a similar but shorter excursion can save you quite a bit in the long run. Additionally, booking early ensures that you’ll be paying the lowest possible price.

Are Excursions Worth the Money?

While they can be expensive, shore excursions eliminate the research, planning, and extra spending required for an outing in an unfamiliar area. With professional guides leading and strict itineraries to fit as much as possible into a short amount of time, shore excursions are objectively worth the high price tag.

If you’re on a budget, you may consider saving the money all together and organizing something cheap yourself, but you will likely be torn choosing between activities that fit your time frame. Shore excursions are put together by professionals and guaranteed to be an experience you won’t forget.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re interested in feasting in France or tanning in Trinidad and Tobago, shore excursions are the ultimate way to experience everything your destination has to offer. These outings are a surefire way to improve your trip while taking the stress of planning right out of your hands.

The next time you’re booking a cruise, be sure to check out all the excursions your cruise line has to offer!