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How to Save Money on Cruise Shore Excursions

Cancun dolphin
A 50% discount can save hundreds of dollars on a single excursion.
How to save money on cruise shore excursions is as simple as shopping for bargains -- but only in the right places.

Most shore excursions cost between $50 and $200 per person. Some of them cost even more.

If a family of four paid $100 apiece, that's $400 out of pocket. Aggressive shoppers may find discounts as much as 25 or even 50 percent on some excursions if they make the right effort.

Look at it this way: If five hours of shopping leads to a $100 discount, the effort is worth $20 an hour.

Cruise planners have three major sources of excursions:

  • The cruise lines, which market excursions but buy them from local operators.
  • National excursion companies, which also market excursions and buy locally.
  • Local operators.

Here are five effective ways to lower the cost of the final excursion bill and still ensure that the trips on land are fun, exciting, and worthwhile.

1. Start Shopping Before the Trip


Review the ports of call through the cruise line website and review the excursions it is offering in each port.

Then use online search engines to review excursions and prices available in each port. For example, use the search term “Bahamas shore excursions" to find what is available in the Bahamas. Use longer phrases such as “Bahamas snorkeling shore excursion" to narrow down results.

The top results usually consist of cruise line listings and national excursion marketing companies. Local operators are often on the second and third pages of the results.

2. Pick 1 Favorite Excursion


Every major port of call has a wide range of possible excursions, ranging from jet skiing, to snorkeling, to visiting ancient ruins and much more.

Start by picking the one excursion that everyone will enjoy the most on the entire cruise. After taking the next step below, consider whether to add others.

3. Set a Budget for All Excursions


El Morro fort
Cruise passengers can create their own excursions to places such as the El Morro fort in Old San Juan.
Set a firm excursion budget BEFORE going on the trip.

Impulsively buying excursions on the trip is like shopping for groceries while hungry. It may lead to temptations that drive up the total cost and result in big regrets later.

Once the budget is set, take some time to look up the costs of each excursion on your excursion shopping list. First check the prices on the cruise line website and then search for the national and local operators that provide the exact same excursions.

Review these sources several times or more for at least weeks if not months in advance. The best travel planner I know does this research over a period of months and saves hundreds of dollars on both excursions and cruises.

4. When Possible, Go Local


Cruise lines often charge higher rates for their excursions because they are providing ease, accessibility and reliability. Sometimes, this is exactly what the traveler is looking for, and they are willing to pay for it.

They also have to pass on part of their rates to the local operators that provide the excursions. The cruise line profits from the difference.

People willing to venture out will oftentimes find more adventure and lower prices in the local options.

Travelers wanting to rent bicycles can usually find a cheaper bike rental shop than the ship's offering if they walk just a little bit farther inland after reaching shore -- or if they already know the price and location of the rental shop if they do their research before going on the cruise..

Tourists wishing to visit a monument, museum or historical landmark also may find cheaper taxis or buses to take them to their destination if they know where they want to go and are willing to research the rates for local transportation. For example, we visited one major cruise port attraction by spending $1 on a bus versus $10 for a taxi and $40 for a cruise excursion.

5. Check for Last-Minute Deals


Even some excursion operators offer discounts and special deals. They often are available for brief periods of time and show up on their websites unannounced. It pays to bookmark those sites and return to them every now and then to look for those discounts.

An example is Dolphin Discovery, the largest operator of swimming with the dolphins facilities in the Caribbean.

It recently offered a two for the price of one discount that was available for only three days. The terms:

  • This offer is valid until September 23rd and you can choose the date of your swim.
  • Valid for our Dolphin Encounter, Dolphin Swim Adventure and Dolphin Royal Swim programs.
  • Valid when booking 7 days in advance.

The fact that the discount was offered in September raises an important point about saving money on excursions.

Deals are more likely to be available during less popular months for Caribbean vacations such as September and less likely during more popular months. The most expensive dolphin deal is $199. For a family of four, a 50 percent discount will result in saving $400.

So anyone who likes doing excursions and wants to keep their costs down may want to take their vacation during months when discounts are more likely.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Tips   Cruise Tips   

March 10, 2020
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