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Excursions on Cruise Ships --- Do I have to?

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Hello
I have never been on a cruise until next year. My friend and I are taking a Windstar cruise and we had questions about the excursions. Is it possible to go on our own at the different stops? Does the ship "tie up" and we can get off or will we need to take an excursion to get to land We were thinking we could explore on our own or hire a local guide.
Thanks for your help.

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