10 Things Not to Do on a Cruise Shore Excursion

December 7, 2016
Cruise ship anchored off the coast of Madeira island

The day has arrived for that cruise excursion you've been eagerly anticipating. You can finally check zip-lining through the rainforest or sailing a luxury sailboat to a private beach off your bucket list. Before you grab your fanny pack, slip on sunglasses and head over to your meeting location, there are a few things you should -- or shouldn't -- do to ensure maximum fun and minimum facepalms.

Most shore tour prep can be done before your cruise. From packing the right shoes to reading the fine print, you can eliminate your chances of unwanted surprises. (Wait, lunch isn't included?) But even experienced cruisers make mistakes. Instead of telling you what to do to prevent them, we've put together a list of 10 things not to do on a shore excursion. Avoid committing these don'ts, and you can enjoy a worry- and embarrassment-free day in port.

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1. Dress inappropriately

"No shoes, no shirt, no problems" is a fine lyric to live by if you're on the ship's pool deck or spending a day at the beach, but shore excursions require a little more effort when it comes to dressing appropriately. What you wear not only depends on the weather, but also the activity. Opt for sneakers instead of sandals on a tour that involves a lot of walking, or bring something to cover your knees and shoulders if you'll be visiting churches and mosques. Additionally, remove any valuable jewelry before heading into port. We've heard horror stories of cruisers damaging their bling or -- even worse -- losing it.

2. Forget essentials

You'll be away from the ship for several hours during your excursion, so the last thing you want is to be without sunscreen or sunglasses on some private island miles away from any convenience stores. Pack a small bag of essentials (sunscreen, bug spray, medications) to hold you for the day. Also, think ahead: Prone to blisters? Bring some antibiotic ointment and bandages.

Close up shot of an American passport

3. Bring your passport

Unless your tour requires a passport, leave yours on the ship. We recommend bringing your driver's license as a form of ID instead. You don't want to risk losing your passport ashore. In the event of an injury or other unexpected event that forces you to stay in port, the cruise line will bring all your stuff (documents included) to you so you're not left stranded. 

4. Carry wads of cash

Regardless of the shore excursion you're taking, it's always smart to have a little cash on you for emergencies, tips and shopping. But there's no need to bring a roll of hundreds unless you plan to purchase an entire market stall. Bring some cash (we find $50 or so usually suffices) and a credit card. If you're in a country that requires you to exchange currency, bring a debit card. ATMs offer better exchange rates than banks and currency-conversion centers.

5. Be clueless about the port

Do your research before you go. Especially if you book an independent excursion, you should have a good grasp on your whereabouts and feel comfortable getting around on your own in each port. Familiarize yourself with the country's culture, be aware of any dress codes, and find out what language the locals speak. If it's not your native tongue, go the extra mile and learn a few common words or phrases, such as "Hello," "Thank you" and "One round of shots, please!"

Life ring on beach

6. Ignore the safety talk

Guides are required to give safety briefings at the beginning of any tour -- think scuba diving and ATV riding -- that could result in injury if rules are not followed. Ignore them, and you could end up hurting yourself or someone else -- without even realizing you were doing anything wrong in the first place. Their main goal is to prevent both minor and catastrophic injuries, but there are a number of other reasons you should listen closely. This is also the time to get insider tips on how to make the most out of your activity.

7. Show up late

We get it: You paid for your tour and want to get the most out of the experience. But that does not entitle you to return to your group "whenever you're ready" (particularly if that means late). If your guide only gives you one hour to roam around town, make sure you wrap up shopping, picture-taking or whatever you're doing several minutes before you're supposed to be back. It's rude to keep your fellow cruisers waiting, and it's not fair to your guide, whose job it is to make sure all passengers arrive back to the ship safely and on time.

8. Push yourself over the limit

Shore excursions aren't the time for "Rocky" moments. If you feel tired or the activity is more strenuous than you anticipated, don't feel pressured to continue. Pushing yourself over the limit can cause injury and put a damper on the rest of your cruise.

Woman checking her watch on the beach

9. Lose track of time

It's five o'clock somewhere, but you're still swigging back tequila sunrises at the all-inclusive resort while your ship sails off into the sunset. If your tour includes free time afterward, make sure you keep a close eye on your watch -- and alcohol intake. Missing your ship is the worst-case scenario, but you also don't want to be the last one onboard. Bear in mind: If you arrived to the port via tender boat, you'll need to leave even earlier. Also, be mindful that the local time in port may differ from your ship's clock if the port is in a different time zone.

10. Skip the fine print

You shouldn't be surprised to learn lunch is not included on your excursion, so don't be stuck without grub (or at least money to buy some in port) after you've worked up an appetite. At the end of all the flowery lingo that persuaded you to book the excursion in the first place, there's usually a line that says something like "Approximately eight hours" or "Lunch not included" or some other stipulation you need to know. It's important not to skip over these details. Know the caveats ahead of time so you can plan your day accordingly. A tour spanning eight hours might mean you only have 30 minutes to get ready for dinner, in which case you should consider bumping up your dining time or making a new reservation.

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