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Cruise tips for family of 6

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We are going on a 7 day cruise of the Eastern Caribbean on the Ruby Princess-grandmother (me), mother, father and children-11,10 & 7. The itineray is:
Princess Cays, Bahamas, St. Maarten, St.Thomas (we have plans for this day)Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos (1/2 day)
This is first time for everyone but me and we are not savvy. Shore excursions for the 6 would be very expensive, so I am looking for tips-what to do and how to keep the costs down. I have heard that it is possible to do excursions not arranged by the ship. What are the pros and cons of this?
I have relied heavily on the advice from Fodorites for all my travels and I am looking forward to hearing all the good advice

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