Cruise and Beach Destinations
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Puerto Rico

How to Book San Juan Shore Excursions

San Juan kayaking
© Puerto Rico Tourism Company

San Juan shore excursions offer great historical and cultural attractions that easily fill an entire day.

Traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico, 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 an embarkation port, cruisers may have no more than eight to nine hours to sample what the city has to offer between the time they arrive at the airport and the time they leave on the cruise.

Research the Excursions

A little research will show which excursions are most appealing and have a higher priority. Keep in mind costs, age appropriateness and level of activity as factors in the final decision.

For example, visiting the Bacardi Rum Factory is probably not a suitable excursion for a family traveling with small children. Elderly adults who are physically challenged may not enjoy climbing the old wobbly steps at the El Morro Fort.

Booking Excursions Via the Cruise Line

Each cruise company has lists on their websites with the many excursions each ship has to offer. For first time cruisers, this is the easiest and most convenient way to familiarize themselves with the excursion.

The lists usually include tour times, costs, age restrictions and rated activity levels. Once on board, guests are able to reserve their favorite choices at the excursion desk, which is usually in the main lobby.

Although cruise passengers can book excursions directly with a tour operator, they will find an advantage of booking through the cruise line. Cruise lines take on the responsibility of making sure each passenger is transferred to and from the ship in enough time to meet embarkation schedules.

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 independently 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.

Bacardi Rum Distillery
The Bacardi rum distillery is a popular shore excursion, but it is not appropriate for young children. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

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.

Embarkation Port Advantages

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 embarkation. (Otherwise, leave a day or two after the end of the cruise.) 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.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
March 24, 2023

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