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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.
Cruises offer tourists a seemingly endless amount of entertainment while on the water, causing many passengers to forget they are even at sea.

Shore excursions can seem equally packed and somewhat daunting, with masses of brochures and activities from which to choose.

The cruise line excursions are rarely included in the cruise's price and can add a big tab to the bill at the end of the trip. Some of the more popular excursions cost up to $200 per person.

With a family of four, it’s entirely possible to spend more money on a single excursion than the cost of one cruise line ticket.

Here are four 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 By Picking 1 Excursion


At every port of call, there are a wide range of possible excursions, ranging from jet skiing, to snorkeling, to visiting ancient ruins.

It can make picking just one or even a few seem daunting. The temptation can be to just do them all, and to do them through the cruise line, making for a heavy tab and exhausted travelers at the end of the trip.

Start by picking the one excursion that everyone will enjoy the most. After taking the next step below, consider whether to add any more.

2 Set a Budget for All Excursions


Don’t just set a budget for excursions. Set the budget BEFORE going on the trip.

Making such decisions while 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 Web site and then search for the local operators that provide the exact same excursions.

3. When Possible, Go Local


Cruise lines often charge high rates for their excursions because they are also 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 often times 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 can 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.

Cruises usually offer a snorkeling excursion, but snorkeling gear can almost always be rented locally from the public beaches, and usually at a much cheaper price.

4. 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 Web sites 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 a 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 Bateman contributed to this article.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Tips   

January 29, 2013
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