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San Juan Excursion Tips

San Juan kayaking
© Puerto Rico Tourism Company
Traveling to San Juan, P.R. either as a port of call or a point of departure for a southern Caribbean cruise can determine what a visitor is able to experience in this very historical city.

For obvious reasons, if San Juan is a stop-over destination, cruisers have a limited amount of time, allowing about 8-9 hours to sample what San Juan has to offer.

Research the Excursions

It can be incredibly beneficial to research the vast selection of activities available, decide with your traveling companions which are most appealing and prioritize the choices. Keep in mind age appropriateness of the excursion, level of activity, and costs should be considered factors in the final decision.

For example, visiting the Bacardi Rum Factory would not be a suitable excursion for a family traveling with small children, and climbing the old wobbly steps at the El Morro Fort may not be enjoyable for elderly adults who are physically challenged.

Each cruise company offers information on their Web sites regarding the numerous excursions each ship has available to their passengers. For first time cruisers, this is the easiest and most convenient way to familiarize themselves with the excursion. It includes tour time information, costs, age restrictions and rated activity levels. Once on board, guests are able to reserve whatever excursions were decided upon for each port of call.

The advantage of booking through the cruise ship is the guarantee and security in knowing that the excursion company is responsible for ensuring that each passenger will be transferred to and from the ship in plenty of time to meet embarkation requirements.

Since the cruise ship works closely with a representative of the excursion company, if there is a delay in returning to the ship before departure, it is less likely the participant will be left on the dock while the ship sails off into the sunset. Groups are larger through the cruise ship tours and thus, more difficult for the ship to leave without an accurate passenger count. Size of the tour group can be an advantage and a disadvantage.

Larger tour groups are not the only disadvantage to reserving excursions through the cruise ship. Price of the excursions typically tend to be higher. The cruise company receives a portion of each purchased ticket as their commission.

So although a guarantee is inclusive, it is adjusted accordingly in the ticket price. This can really add up if there are several travelers doing the excursions.

Booking Excursions on Your Own

In an effort to control expenses, and having cruised previously, I decided to book our excursions independent of the cruise company. It is important to read as much as possible about the excursion or tour company. Read other travelers' reviews, know the cancellation policies and investigate available discounts.

Several tour companies usually offer the same package, so gaining as much information as possible is crucial to a successful excursion. The tour operator must have a positive reputation.

Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about reserving outside the cruise company. What if this tour company was a scam? What if we missed the ship's required return times and were left stranded, bags filled with souvenirs of San Juan?

On the contrary, it was very organized and no detail left unattended. In fact, the excursion companies use the exact procedures regardless of whether the customer is from a ship, an independent traveler or a guest from a nearby hotel or resort.

Our group met right off the ship's dock, were taken to our chosen excursion and returned promptly in time for our scheduled embarkation. Things ran smoothly and we saved money, allowing us more cash for more excursions and shopping.

If San Juan is the embarkation city for a start of a cruise, and the opportunity lends itself, it is advantageous to arrive a day or two prior to the cruise date. This allows the traveler to experience the unlimited local restaurants, markets, shops and casinos, as well as tour the rainforests, botanical gardens and historical points of interest.

Be it a walking tour through Old San Juan, snorkeling, kayaking or shopping, arriving pre-cruise allows the flexibility to spends as much time doing whatever the traveler wants to do -- without the time constraints.

As an added bonus, most major hotel chains not only offer pre-cruise special hotel rates, but also offer shuttle to all the ships.

Arriving early eliminates the stress and worry of flight delays or cancellations because there is a cushion of time to adjust flights accordingly.

It is a great way to begin your vacation on the sea.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Ports   

August 02, 2016

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