Shore excursions....are they a must?

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Jan 2nd, 2018, 11:45 AM
  #1
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Shore excursions....are they a must?

Hello! We are planning a potential first cruise. DH and I are not really the cruising type but as we have two 8 year old girls it sounds a bit more relaxing after a two week jaunt to Europe earlier this year. And we showed them a few videos on some of the ships and now they are pretty much sold So we are looking at a 7 night cruise to the Eastern Caribbean (St. Maarten, San Juan and Labadie, if it matters). I just received a huge 80 page document with all of the shore excursion descriptions from our agent and it's overwhelming.

I vividly recall DH and I being in beautiful, quiet Dubrovnik in November quite a few years ago when all the sudden a ship docked and the center was filled with noise and people. Crowds aren't really my thing, and yes I know crowds on ships are a given So my question is, is it easy enough to get around these islands if we wanted to, say, rent a car and get away from the crowds? Are there downfalls? Does it make more sense to just book excursions? Can we find private excursions and, if so, are they typically less expensive and less crowded? I admit to quite a bit of sticker shock seeing the price of many of these excursions...I would love to see my girls swimming with dolphins, but not sure its worth almost $800!

Thanks!
Tracy
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Jan 2nd, 2018, 03:55 PM
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We have been on a half dozen Bahamas/Caribbean cruises. Our GD is 8 and will be on her 4th cruise with us this March to the Southern Caribbean. It is our favorite vacation with her. It is so relaxing and easy. We are not looking for world class food, though on some ships, it is very good and we have had some incredible entertainment, like Cirq at Sea on Norwegian Epic. Some of the kids programs are truly outstanding, some not, but the main thing is going from snow and ice for a wonderful week of sun and sand.

We have also done Med/Greek Islands, etc. cruises. We have never taken any of the ship's excursions. The only advantage, as I see it, is the ship having to wait for you or being responsible for you if you are on one of their excursions. On your own, you are on your own. Read and decide what you want to do on each island.
Options:
1. Book a driver ahead to take you around or to designated places.
2. When you get off the ship, at or near the dock, look for a local taxi to take you where you want to go.
3. Join up with a few other people from the ship to do the above.
4. Read reviews on Cruisecritic of the excursions for that itinerary and things to do on your own.
5. Join the role call for your ship. Cruise critic is one place to do that. Other people will likely be forming small groups to do their own excursions. You might be able to join them.
5. Research things to do on each island. Research and book private excursions. Look in trip advisor for reviews and recommendations.
6. List your ship and itinerary here and other cruisers can make REC's for drivers, excursions, etc.

Read reviews and REC's. Read, but also question those in Trip Adviser. I think you can mostly trust those on cruisecritic. I think you can trust opinions on here.

Only you can decide how much a given experience is worth and whether the money would be better spent another way. Do check out how animals are treated and cared for.

I just re-read your post. It appears you may not have booked yet. My advice. Look carefully at the different ships. I think they really affect your enjoyment of your first cruise. Consider carefully the ports of call. Some are really beautiful and fun. Some are great for kids. Some, not so much. For GD's first cruise, when she was 4, we looked for a newer ship with a great kid's program, great entertainment and nice beaches. For the upcoming cruise, we are going mostly for islands with beautiful landscapes and beaches.
If your agent is really knowledgeable, that is great. You might want still to compare and read about different ships and itineraries on cruisecritic.com and vacationstogo, just for your own education. Cruising is a lot of fun.
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Jan 2nd, 2018, 04:13 PM
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Labadie is a very small private “port of call” that is completely self contained. No need for a car as you can walk everywhere. San Juan is a large city so traveling around by rental car isn’t really practical. That leaves St. Martin which can be easily navigated by rental car if you feel comfortable driving on unfamiliar roads.

You’ll find local vendors in each port of call that do various tours and excursions. The itineraries and prices vary and generally they will be a few dollars cheaper per person then similar excursions offered by your cruise line. You can also find local taxi driver/guides you can hire to give you private tours. A Private Tour (to comparable locations) will generally be more costly than any group tour regardless of whether it is arranged through your cruise line or done on your own. The one drawback to using either of these options is that if you encounter any delays and are late getting back you ship WILL NOT wait for you. By contrast, if a “ship” arranged tour is late the ship WILL wait.

By definition a “private tour” will be just you and your family. A “private tour” is almost always going to be the most expensive way to do any type of tour.

The number of people on “local” group tours will vary and can have more, less or about the same number of people as tours arranged by your cruise line.

For what it is worth, unless you decide to visit very off the beaten track areas with little or no facilities or points of interest you will encounter your fair share of your fellow cruise ship passengers no matter what tours or excursions you take. Tourists go where there are things to see and do it is like the often misquote line from Field of Dreams - “If you build it they will come”.

Swimming with the dolphins is a controversial activity so you might want to google what is proponents and opponents have to stay. As you have already found out it is an expensive activity - there’s no way around that. Most swim with the dolphin operators have contracts with the cruise ship companies that stipulate you’ll pay the same price regardless of whether you book the excursion though the cruise line or on your own. Only you can decide whether or not the cost is “worth it”.
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Jan 7th, 2018, 06:43 AM
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I’m surprised no one has sent you to the Cruise Critic forums yet. https://boards.cruisecritic.com/ You can read through the boards without registering.

When you decide on which ship/itinerary, you can register and join a “roll call” with other passengers on your ship. Other travelers with children often will post to see if other kids will be on the ship. I would encourage your girls to go to the children’s program on the first day to get acquainted. If there aren’t that many children in the program on the first day, still encourage them to attend the next day, when other kids will have learned about it. My kids enjoyed the programs on any ship we sailed.

You can also connect with others who may do a private group tour of a destination. Just be sure you allow for plenty of time to get back to the ship – it doesn’t wait for anyone. Another option is to ask for taxi tour – there are usually lots of taxis at the cruise ship docks. Just have an idea of what you want to see ahead of time, how long it takes, and check out the prices people have paid for these on cruise critic.

When we visited San Juan, we just walked around the area that led up to the Fort San Juan, which is a US National Park https://www.nps.gov/saju/index.htm (you can use the US Federal Recreation/Senior passes for this park) or search for Self Guided Walking Tours of Old San Juan.

Enjoy.
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Jan 8th, 2018, 08:11 AM
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GBelle, the very 1st response recommended cruisecritic.
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Jan 15th, 2018, 02:30 PM
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Hi TB,

> is it easy enough to get around these islands if we wanted to, say, rent a car and get away from the crowds?
Yes.
Can we find private excursions and, if so, are they typically less expensive
Yes and Yes
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Jan 17th, 2018, 01:55 PM
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Tracy, nobody can force you to buy tours from the cruise company. They are more expensive, and crowded, and not suitable for 8-year-olds. Just go on your own - walk, take a taxi, a local tour... If you learn to navigate Cruise Critic, there is a page by ports with plenty of advices and local guides' names.

Also, as this is your first cruise... generally, they do not allow to take food off the ship on shore, unless packaged, like small boxes of cereal from the buffet. You can bring food in the cabin. Bring empty water bottles to fill them in the buffet to take with you ashore. You can also come back on the ship for lunch and rest and go off the ship. Don't miss the time of ship's take-off, it may be different from local time, also you should be back at least 30 minutes earlier.

Dayenu (Faina)
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Jan 19th, 2018, 01:31 AM
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It is so easy to do your own excursions, In San Juan there is a free trolley that you an hop on and hop off to see the various sites.
Hop Aboard the Free Trolley in Old San Juan | Puerto Rico Day Trips Travel Guide As of 11/17 they were still down but check before you sail

In St Martin instead of staying on the Dutch side you can taxi over to Marigot on the French side of the island which
is very pretty
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Jan 19th, 2018, 08:05 AM
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Well, the French side of St. Martin was very pretty, but it was decimated by hurricanes this summer, and I don't think you can count on much being open yet over there. You'll still likely see a lot of construction, and I don't know which beaches came through better and which still need some sand replenishment. You don't say when this cruise will be, but I suspect that by summer things will be much more normal. St. Maarten is a small island, and you can easily rent a car, or you can just hire a taxi to take you to a good beach and pick you up in a few hours. Though Loterie Farm, which you can also visit privately, is a great place to visit. When I visited St. Maarten on a cruise last August, I just grabbed a taxi in Phillipsburg and went over to Marigot for a few hours. It was easy and cost about $20. Then I did the same thing on the way back. (The fares are fixed in St. Maarten, but I can't remember specifically how much it was.)

But as everyone else has confirmed, you definitely do not need to book shore excursions through your ship. I rarely do unless it's something too difficult to arrange on my own.
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Jan 21st, 2018, 05:57 PM
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I can't imagine why anyone would book a shore excursion on those islands. But they are big money-makers! In touring the Greek islands, the only stop we scheduled a private tour was in Turkey with a tour to Ephesus. All the others (Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Rhodes, Patmos) were very easily navigated on our own. Before coming to this decision, however, we read extensively about the islands, and would suggest you do the same. Cannot imagine scheduling tours on any of the Caribbean islands, but for ease with the kids, look into Tours By Locals, a Vancouver B.C. company offering private tours all over. They are priced well under excursions offered by the cruisellines.
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Jan 23rd, 2018, 08:44 AM
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For San Juan, it is easy to get from your cruise ship to Old San Juan where you can wander on your own. No reason to book an excursion for that. Now if you are looking for something further away, such as the rain forest, a tour might be good if you are on limited time. As you know, Puerto Rico was pretty devastated by Maria and I am not sure what the rain forest looks like now. I think I heard that the landscape has been significantly altered.
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