One of the pleasures of cruising is discovering ports of call around the world. From helicopter flightseeing over the glaciers in Alaska to visiting grand palaces of St. Petersburg, cruise excursions are a must to fully experience what each port has to offer.
Although the convenience of cruise line excursions presents a great option for port exploration, if you enjoy independent sightseeing, you’ll often prefer to plan your own activities ashore. Here is a look at your various options.
1. Using a Local Tour Operator
Many local companies offer similar tours as the cruise lines at a competitive price and in smaller groups. They also offer special interest tours and customizable options. Most travelers find them on the internet or through word of mouth. To compete with the cruise lines, many operators also offer a guaranteed on-time return to the ship.
2. Local Taxis
Taxi drivers are always lined up at the pier, offering transportation and private tours. Travelers may find this an affordable option and it is a chance to engage a local resident who may share colorful stories, introduce hidden spots and recommend restaurants or other sightseeing experiences. Taxis allow travelers to customize their cruise excursions and set the amount of touring time. In most Caribbean ports, taxi drivers who take guests into town or to a beach will often offer a return service back to the port at an agreed-upon time.
3. Car Rental
Travelers comfortable doing a self-drive tour can rent a car to explore on their own. Car rental companies may be located inside the port facility or a short distance away and may offer a shuttle pick-up and drop-off. Pre-booking is highly recommended, especially at popular ports.
4. Exploring On Your Own
If a port is located in or near the city center, many travelers opt to walk or take local transit into town and wander on their own. This option works well in many Caribbean and European ports where shopping and attractions are close at hand or along public transit lines.
Advantage of DIY Excursions
The benefits of DIY cruise excursions include flexibility and the ability to plan your day based on your interest. For travelers who do not like to be herded in groups or be limited by set times, DIY excursions allow for a customized agenda without compromise. And depending on how you choose to spend the day, it can also be the least expensive option for a rewarding experience.
Finally, Here’s 6 Tips For DIYers
DIY options aren’t for everyone. They involve a lot of time spent on research, some street-smarts, and a certain amount of tenacity. To many, it simply isn’t worth the effort. But for those who are willing, we present a few tips and suggestions for consideration.
1. Research, Research, Research!
Use tourist board websites, guide books, travel blogs and online forums to research each port. First and foremost is the feasibility of independent touring – is the area safe to go on your own, how far away are the points of interest, is transportation readily available, will there be a language issue? Next, determine what you would like to see and do and how to make it happen, taking in all the logistics and planning for contingencies.
2. Understand Visa Laws
Certain countries in the world require international travelers to have tourist visas. Cruise lines typically provide a blanket visa to cover all cruise guests in transit, however, this visa may only cover guests booked on the ship’s tours. Guests booking independent tours or disembarking on their own may require to secure their own visas or in some cases not be allowed off the ship. Make this an essential part of your port research.
3. Allow Extra Time
Ships will not wait for late guests who are not on a ship’s tour, therefore it is essential to factor extra time into the itinerary to return before the all-aboard time. Account for traffic accidents, weather delays, and any unforeseen events. Small islands or cities may only have one main thoroughfare in and out of town which can be tied up by accidents, large cosmopolitan cities may have traffic jams, taxis and rental cars may break down or get a flat, all of which can delay your return time.
4. Car Rental Requirements
Certain countries require car renters to have an international driver’s license to drive locally, with some available for purchase upon arrival and some required advanced purchase prior to arrival. Outside of North America and major European countries, rental cars often have standard transmissions. Research local road conditions, heed traffic advisories and ensure you are comfortable if driving is on the other side of the road.
5. Investigate Local Tour Operators
Before booking with local tour operators, do your research on their tour quality, customer satisfaction rate, and on-time performance. Look for customer feedback from online forums and trip review sites. Once a tour has been booked, confirm the pick-up time and location – at some ports, local tour operators may not always have access to the secured area inside the pier, and you may have to walk a certain distance to meet them.
6. Pack Your Street Smarts
When venturing out on your own, bring your government-issued photo ID, and the local port agent contact information which is listed on the ship’s daily program. Carry a small amount of local currency for incidentals, transit fares, and tipping. Before getting into any vehicle for hire, agree upon the price and its inclusions. As with any destination you visit, be aware of your surroundings, and use common sense. Don’t be seduced by a bargain especially if it sounds too good to be true.
No matter how you choose to explore your ports of call, you’ll be rewarded with wonderful memories to bring home. Bon Voyage!