Some cruise ship shore excursions just don’t live up to the hype. The pictures and description of the activity might look amazing, but in reality it could leave you wanting more.
You only have a few hours to spend in each port of call, so picking an excursion that disappoints can cause both regret and serious FOMO over what else the destination had to offer.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard cruise travelers compare their days onshore when back at the ship, only to see a couple wish they had chosen something more “brag-worthy”.
In this article I will give my subjective opinion on which shore excursions aren’t as great as they seem in the brochure or website. You might disagree with my analysis, but all of these points are based on experience and on feedback from other cruise travelers.
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Some of the most amazing memories you create on your cruise will happen at shore, so avoiding the overrated activities will not only save you time and money, it might just save your vacation.
Related: 10 rules for booking shore excursions
1. Ship-offered beach escapes
Who doesn’t love a beach day while on a cruise, right? And after you see on the cruise line’s website that the ship will arrange transportation to the beach it seems like a winner.
So why is it on my overrated list? Because you can simply hire a local driver to take you to that exact same beach for a fraction of the cost and without having to wait for rides. Additionally, a perk of hiring a local taxi driver is that they actually know the area. They might even point you to a better beach or a better spot at the beach that most of the tourists don’t know about.
Some people don’t realize that most of the beaches in the Bahamas and Caribbean are free to the public, so you don’t have to actually pay for access. This is a common misconception especially in the Mexican Riviera as well, where long stretches of beaches are open to all, even if hotel operators prefer you don’t know that.
The only advantage of booking a beach escape through the ship is that they will actually wait for you if something happens. But if you’re mindful of your time and hire a driver to bring you back to the ship you will save money and be able to use your time in port with more flexibility.
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2. Glass-bottom boat tours
I was very excited the first time I booked a glass-bottom boat tour in the Caribbean. The concept itself is pretty enticing. You get to see all kinds of marine wild-life from the comfort of a boat. But in reality, the fish are usually too far from the boat, the glass is usually scratched and hard to see through, and you don’t see as much marine life and coral as you would think.
One of the problems is that this large boat tends to scare some of the fish away, as its loud motor roars through the pristine waters.
The glass-bottom boat I was on showed its age all too well. The etched glass made it hard to see the vibrancy of color that you would see if you were snorkeling in the same waters. Additionally, because you’re in a boat, naturally you remain at the surface of the water, and often the coral, fish, or sea turtles will be a dozen feet or more below the boat.
Bumping heads with someone on a crowded boat as we tried to squint and see if it was a fish or rock we saw was also not ideal. Your experience may be different than mine, but glass-bottom boat tours are overrated in my book.
3. Large group parasailing
There’s nothing like the feeling of flying high above the beach on a parasailing excursion. It’s a combination of a thrill ride and chill ride.
The problem comes into play when you booked a parasailing excursion with a large group. This means you will be spending a majority of the time just sitting on the boat watching someone else have all the fun. And sure that can be a fun experience as well. Just know what you’re getting into.
If you’re in a group of twelve and each couple is in the air for about 8-10 minutes, you will spend the better part of an hour getting nothing more than a boat ride.
So, if you’d rather make the most of your time and for the money you spend on your excursion, I would recommend at least finding a smaller group. This might mean booking your excursion from a 3rd party, and as this activity can be quite pricey that might be a good idea anyway.
4. Bus tours that are mostly bus
The problem with this one is that you won’t always realize the tour will be spent mostly on the bus. Any time you see labels like “Panoramic Sightseeing” or “City Overview Tour” it very well could be that you will have to take most of your pictures through a bus window.
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Now, this might be exactly what you wanted, but one problem I’ve experienced with bus tours is that even when they do make stops, you’re rushed right back onto the bus and to the next “sight to see”. If you’re disabled and not able to walk for long distances this could be the perfect excursion for you. But for those who really want to immerse themselves in a port of call I don’t recommend bus tours, and I’ve had my fair share of them.
I have many blurry photos on my hard drive from bus tours, as I tried to grab a quick shot from a bus driving by a point of interest at 40 miles-per-hour.
If you really want to get an overview of a city you can hire a driver who can take you and your group to the main points of interest while allowing you to spend as much time as you would like at each spot.
When I was in St. Maarten I hired a taxi driver for a tour of the island and it was a wonderful experience. Not only was he full of useful knowledge of the history of St. Maarten but he allowed us to stop and enjoy a few sites along the way.
5. Shopping excursions
This one might be tempting for those of you who love to shop while on vacation. And yes, some ports of call in the Caribbean can offer fantastic shopping experiences. You just don’t need to book an excursion to shop there.
Believe me, it’s not hard to find the hot shopping spots when you’re in port.
The local residents of any cruise port want you to shop in their city. They will be all too happy to inform you of great shopping locations.
A shopping excursion will not necessarily take you to some unknown quadrants of the port of call that no one else knows about. Even a local taxi driver can point you in the right direction and take you to all of the best shopping locations in town.
6. Excursions too far from the cruise port
Some of the best shore excursions you will see on a cruise line’s website or app may be quite a distance from the port. If you’re in Costa Maya, Mexico you will see some wonderful Mayan ruin excursions you can enjoy. The only problem is that they are about an hour away or more. Now, this might fit fine into your port of call schedule, but that’s two hours of driving on a bus, with a limited amount of time at the actual excursion site.
When planning a shore excursion on a cruise always account for your travels to and from a destination. I’ve done the hour bus ride to Chacchoben before and while it was an incredible place to see, the transportation time meant I couldn’t do anything else in Costa Maya that day.
Some shore excursions might be totally worth the long drive. Just realize that might be the only activity you can enjoy in port.
7. Museum tours
It boggles my mind why someone would want to book an excursion to get a tour of a local museum when they can just walk into the museum and do it themselves. Cruise lines make a few extra dollars when passengers sign up for these tours, but they are very much overrated in my experience.
If you do some research on a port of call and find a museum you want to see, go see it! You don’t need permission or a shore excursion ticket to explore the many wonderful museums in the world.
It’s easy to find transportation to the museum from the cruise port on your own, and most museums offer pre-recorded audio tours in English. As a side note, many cities have free museums you can enjoy as well if you’re cruising on a budget.
8. Horseback riding excursions
I might get some heat for this one, but hear me out. Not every horseback riding experience is the same. The kind of excursions I’m calling overrated are the head-to-rear, single file, stay on the boring path “adventures” being sold by some lines.
If you like staring at the rear end of a horse while riding a horse you can’t even really control as it rides the same path it has ridden a thousand times then sure, this might be for you. And if you’ve never ridden a horse before this could a gentle way to break you in. But to any real horse enthusiast the experience is usually lack-luster.
I’ve seen some horseback riding excursions along the beach or in the countryside that offered a much better user-experience so I’m not saying all of these excursions are overrated. Just know what you’re getting before you book and read those reviews thoroughly.
9. Segway tours
Segways are a lot of fun, and they are still fairly popular after all these years. Contrary to some TikTok videos you might have seen, they are easy for most people to handle.
So, why are these tours overrated? On top of being overly expensive when booked through a cruise line, it’s hard to really immerse yourself in a city and experience the tour when you’re more concerned about maneuvering and avoiding potholes in the sidewalk.
These tours are also often very short, and they feel even shorter when some of the time has to be spent getting trained on how to use the self-righting machines.
Additionally, you won’t get to see certain parts of a destination due to the limitation of Segways. Stairs and steep hillsides are no-go’s for these transportation gizmos.
While it looks like a lot of fun to ride around in a Segway, combining it with a city tour is just not a great blend in my opinion.
But if you really want to ride a Segway, you can rent one on your own for much cheaper than booking through the cruise line.
10. Port tours you could have done yourself for free
Many first-time cruisers are afraid to venture off on their own when it comes to shore excursions. While it does feel safer to book something through the cruise line, there are many instances when you can have an even better experience on shore and not have to pay a premium.
As I already mentioned above, beach escapes and shopping excursions can all be done on your own. Some of the best times I’ve had in port have been just walking around the downtown area and experiencing the vibe and culture of a city.
One of the things I really enjoyed during my trip to Barcelona, Spain was how many free tours are offered around the city. This is one of the first things I did in Barcelona and it was fantastic. I tipped the guide at the end and still saved a ton of cash over booking a paid tour.
Read our 10 rules for booking shore excursions if you’d like more insight on this topic.
What shore excursion have you taken that you would call “overrated”? Let us know with a comment below so you can save us from the same mistake.