Best Off-Shore Excursions and Tours

Photo: Windstar Cruises Mykonos © WINDSTAR CRUISES

By - November 1, 2018

CRUISE SHIPS OFFER A WORLD of onboard entertainment, from live performances to gaming and friendly competitions, but part of the joy in taking a cruise is seeing the world and experiencing new places while exploring ashore. Although it’s entirely possible to head out on your own once the ship docks in its destination, booking a ship-sponsored tour or even booking through an independent tour operator proves a great, stress-free way to make the most of your time in port.

At one time, booking a shore excursion through the cruise company meant waiting in long lines and getting shuttled between tour buses by tour leaders wielding bright umbrellas or megaphones. Fortunately, those days are long gone, and many savvy cruise operators now offer boutique shore excursions and rare experiences available exclusively to cruise attendees.

Shore excursions today are just as likely to include a lunch inside a local’s home as they are to take guests behind the scenes of the world’s most elusive sites, like Windstar Cruises’ Evening in Ephesus tour. This tour allows a select number of guests to dine privately inside the monumental Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey, in a courtyard illuminated with flickering white lights and echoing with the sounds of the Aegean Chamber Orchestra.

Princess Cruises prides itself on variety, as proven by its Helsinki offerings. Not only can guests choose to join a group of 40 to drive through the countryside and end up at a homecooked lunch inside an authentic Finnish home, but they can also opt for a private driver to take them and a party of up to six guests anywhere they please for a half- or full-day private tour of the area.

The shore excursions designed by Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection have become known for their unique-to-the-destination offerings and altruistic itineraries. The company partnered with EatWith for its Do as the Locals Do excursions to offer cruisers an opportunity to dine one on one with locals in their homes, and the cruise line also frequently partners with local charities to give guests the chance to give back while on board. Guests traveling on Uniworld’s India’s Golden Triangle and the Sacred Ganges cruise have the option to participate in a five-day ME to WE pre-cruise extension that combines volunteering with sightseeing.

Disney Cruise Line’s shore excursions include a number of adults-only options and active options for families, but its signature experiences stand out for cruisers looking for truly bespoke encounters. In Newcastle, England, families with children ages 5 and up may book the Broom Class Is in Session excursion that takes guests on a tour of Alnwick Castle (used as Hogwarts in the films Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) before a 30-minute broomstick training session for blossoming wizards and witches.