Top Shore Excursions

Want to know what to do in port? Take our expert’s advice and don’t miss these key attractions for cruise ports around the world.

When deciding on a cruise, bear in mind that a big part of your vacation is going to be spent in port. It’s therefore advisable to familiarize yourself with the ports of call on your itinerary before you embark on your trip. I spent more than 15 years aboard a variety of major cruise lines, putting together shore excursions for passengers, and each port, no matter where you are in the world, has something great—that’s why ships call in these ports in the first place!

I suggest spending a few port days on your own and the other couple of days on a specially organized excursion. The type of excursion offered depends on your destination, but rest assured there will be one or two things that you will just have to try. Whether walking on a glacier, dog sledding through the forest, going on safari in Africa or exploring ancient ruins, be sure to take that unique excursion. It will make your trip!

There are a few advantages to going on a shore excursion arranged by the cruise company. Most importantly, all tour operators are required to abide by the cruise line’s strict requirements, which is an important part of your safety, especially in a foreign country. Using local guides and exploring on your own is just as much fun, however, if it’s a major trip, I would suggest sticking with the cruise line’s excursions. Find a good balance between the two.

Bahamas, Mexico and Caribbean Cruises

From Mayan ruins to explore, dolphins and stingrays to swim with, shipwrecks and coral reefs to dive near, white sandy beaches to lounge on and plenty of margaritas and piña coladas to drink, each destination has its own unique flavor. Go cave tubing in Belize or hiking in the rainforest on a canopy tour through the Costa Rican treetops. You can also try an off-road safari, catamaran trip or an all-day booze cruise in Cozumel.

Although there are a wealth of outdoor activities, there are a lot of other things to do in the Caribbean. The region is known for incredible duty-free shopping, restaurants, bars, parties and beaches. If you happen to call in Tortola (BVI), be sure to try a “Pain Killer.” Made from locally distilled Pusser’s Rum, you can choose your level of pain killer, from 1 to 4. The higher the number, the stronger the drink. So if working on your tan with a cocktail in hand is what you have in mind, this is the right place.

Alaska Cruises

Alaska is one location where you don’t have to be ashore to enjoy the sights. However, some amazing excursions are offered. Take a helicopter glacier tour or a float plane up to Taku Glacier Lodge for an incredible feast, enjoy salmon bakes or pan for gold—all are great family tours. If you’re feeling energetic, Alaska is one of the best places to go hiking, white water rafting, kayaking, whale watching or fishing.

Alaska is also a great place to shop for unusual items, including artwork, giftware and jewelry. You’ll see beautifully carved totem poles in many towns, as well as in local taverns and authentic saloons. Many Alaskan towns, born as a result of the gold rush, have preserved a lot of original historical structures and buildings.  

A word of advice: Try the Alaskan seafood, and definitely go on a salmon bake. Salmon is one of Alaska’s biggest industries, and they sure know how to serve it: from smoked salmon chowder and salmon steaks, to tinned and barbecued salmon. It’s delicious, but then so are the Alaskan king crab legs! The northern state even has its own brew of beer: Alaskan Amber, one of several from the Alaskan Brewing Company.

Next: European Cruises: Scandinavia, the Baltics, the Mediterranean

European Cruises

Scandinavian Ports

Scandinavian countries are well known for watch making, Swedish crystal, Nordic knitwear, tomtars, trolls, vikings and gnomes. The shopping is amazing, as is the culture and history.

Sailing into Stockholm is a magnificent sight, as the pilot expertly navigates the ship between the many small islands that make up the city. Stockholm is home to the Royal Palace; the Vasa Museum, featuring an original 17th century warship; the villa of Carl Milles, Sweden’s most famous sculptor; and plenty of Swedish crystal stores filled with Swarovski, Kosta Boda and Orrefors masterpieces.

Copenhagen is home to Tivoli Gardens, an inspiration for Disneyland; the original Little Mermaid statue, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story; and the Carlsberg brewery. There’s also shopping at the House of Amber

While in Helsinki, be sure to check out the saunas, the origins of which have been traced back to the Finnish. And then there is Norway, home of the Vikings. Oslo is a fascinating city to explore with its culture and long history. Visit Vigeland Sculpture Park with more than 200 sculptures all created by one man.

Baltic Ports

Let’s not forget the Baltic, Russia in particular. The Hermitage Museum proudly stretches along the river banks of Saint Petersburg and houses one of the world’s largest art collections. Catherine Palace, the Grand Palace and numerous other royal dwellings are scattered around the city, the architecture reminiscent of the Tsar era with its elaborate décor.

Mediterranean Ports

The Mediterranean ports have a lot of historical attractions and not-to-be-missed excursions, as well as magnificent shopping and designer wear. Visit the leaning tower of Pisa; the ancient ruins of Ephesus, Olympia and the Colosseum; take a tour of Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces in Barcelona; or try your luck in a Monte Carlo casino. Your choices are nearly endless, so do your research.

Next: Hawaiian and South America Cruises

Hawaiian Cruises

Aloha! Welcome to Hawaii. Think luaus, grass skirts, leis and fire dancers, and of course some of the world’s best beaches. Taking a cruise around the islands is a treat; exploring them is even better. Rich in volcanoes, rainforests, lush foliage, fruit and flowers, the Hawaiian Islands are a treasure. Take a helicopter ride over an active volcano, start the day on top of the world atop the 10,023-foot high Haleakala volcano, go whale watching, swim in waterfalls and eat your way through a macadamia nut factory before stopping at Hilo Hattie to pick up your Hawaiian souvenirs and Kona coffee.

Tee off in the tropics on some of the world’s best golf courses with breathtaking views, then swim with sea turtles before heading back into town for a traditional Hawaiian luau.  

South American Cruises

There’s a vast difference between the northern and southern parts of South America, especially in the terrain. The farther south you go, the more desolate it becomes. Ushuaia is the most southern city in the world and close enough to Antarctica to take a short trip to the bottom of the earth. Argentina is known for breeding horses and Ushuaia's Riding Club is the perfect place to begin your journey across Tierra del Fuego and ride alongside the slopes of Mount Susana towards the Beagle Channel. If you enjoy riding, you won’t find a more breathtaking backdrop.

South America is filled with ancient treasures, wonders of the world, different cultures and amazing people. Whether you are in Brazil during Carnivale, sailing down the Amazon to Manaus, or making the trek 8,000 feet up to Machu Picchu, you’ll discover a whole new world.

Construction of the mountaintop city, hidden between two mountains, began in 1460. Machu Picchu wasn’t known outside the Inca world until 1911; today, it’s one of the most significant symbols of the ancient Inca Empire and a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary. When considering a visit, note that there is a lot of walking and a fair amount of hiking to get to the ruins. The air is also thinner at such an altitude.

If you’re a wine drinker, be sure to indulge in some Chilean and Argentine wines. Renowned vineyards are scattered over the continent, producing some of the world’s best wines. Argentina is also known for its high-grade meat and incredible steakhouses, so you’ll be in for a real culinary treat.

Destinations: Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, South America, Caribbean

Themes: Cruises

Activities: Hiking, Horseback Riding, Museums, Scuba Diving, Sightseeing, Snorkeling