The simple trick that will save you hundreds of pounds on a cruise

When it comes to cruises, official outings can be reassuring – Getty

Forget tips, cocktails and pampering spa treatments. One of the easiest ways to rack up a huge bill on a cruise vacation is with excursions.

It’s easy to be tempted, especially with the impressive range of tours on offer, but the cost (often in the hundreds) can be a proverbial thorn in the tail.

Granted, cruise lines have introduced cheaper options to counter criticism, and there are perks to booking with your cruise line. Official excursions ensure peace of mind, with companies sure to be reputable and passengers guaranteed not to be left behind.

Another unique selling point of cruise ship trips can be the exclusive packages they offer, from special concerts in private palaces to after-hours admission to famous attractions.

But in most cases, with a little planning, passengers can take a DIY approach to land-based exploration that saves money without sacrificing the experience.

First, guests should do their research before sailing. There is plenty of material online, with a key resource being the cruise review site Cruise Critic, which features passenger reviews of countless shore excursions.

Exploring destinations like Venice without official excursions can save you big - REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

Exploring destinations like Venice without official excursions can save you big – REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

Aside from the official cruise options, guests can book with independent tour companies who will pick them up from the port. Alternatively, they can opt for tours with local taxi drivers or simply switch to public transport.

The main specialist shore excursion companies are Venture Ashore and Viator, which claim to be up to 60 percent cheaper than the cruise lines. Crucially, both companies promise to get passengers back to the ship in a timely manner, but if the unthinkable happens and the ship leaves without them, they pledge to get customers to the next port of call.

In many ports, especially some European destinations and the Caribbean, local tour guides and taxi drivers gather at the end of the gangway or port entrance to offer tours.

Intrepid passengers wanting to create their own itinerary will need to plan ahead and check where the ship will dock so they know how far it is from the city and local traffic routes. Ports generally have a staffed information desk with maps and details of nearby attractions, with advice on how best to reach them.

How much you can save on trips from five major ports

Monte Carlo is best explored on foot - Getty

Monte Carlo is best explored on foot – Getty

Civitavecchia, Italy: Save £80

This is the port to Rome and fleets of buses depart for the 90-minute journey to the Italian capital, but it’s quicker and cheaper to take the train.

Holland America Line ( offers an On Your Own: Rome by Train option that transfers passengers for the hour-long rail journey from the ship to the Civitavecchia train station, where they can travel on their own for 6.5 hours are. Guests are accompanied on the bus and train by an attendant who can help with any questions. It costs from £90 per person ($109).

But guests wanting to explore on their own can save around £80 per person by taking the port shuttle bus or walking from the ship to the train station, which isn’t far. Fares to Rome start from around £8.50 per person round trip when booked in advance (see

Monte Carlo: Save £100

The pocket-sized principality is ideal for exploring on foot, although the hilly roads can make it arduous.

Windstar Cruises ( offers a 4.5-hour bus and walking tour of Old Monaco and its main attractions for £123 per person ($149).

But passengers traveling alone can walk from the port to the Monte Carlo Casino in about 20 minutes, or catch one of the red hop-on hop-off buses that stop at the port. The hour-long round trip costs from £20 per person ( and saves over £100 per person.

St. John’s, Antigua: Save £70

Touring colorful St. John's is just as enjoyable with a local cab driver as it is with a big company - Getty

Touring colorful St. John’s is just as enjoyable with a local cab driver as it is with a big company – Getty

Island tours are popular for those wanting to visit Nelson’s Dockyard and admire some of the Caribbean island’s famous 365 beaches. Cruise ships dock in the center of the capital, St. John’s, where taxi drivers throng to greet passengers as they disembark at Heritage Quay.

Norwegian Cruise Line ( offers a 3-hour island cruise including a visit to Nelson’s Dockyard for £91 per person.

But Antiguan taxi drivers, who are also qualified tour guides, offer half-day tours for about £21 per person ($25), saving £70 per person.

Livorno, Italy: Save £50

The Italian city is a key gateway to the Renaissance splendor of Florence and the nearby city of Pisa.

Princess Cruises ( offers a 10-hour tour of Florence and Pisa, visiting the main attractions and including a three-course lunch, from £182 per person ($219.95).

Although lunch is not included, Venture Ashore ( offers an 8-hour tour of both cities’ top attractions, with prices starting at £107 per person. Set aside £25 for lunch and still save £50.

Dubrovnik, Croatia: Save £110

The Croatian city walls lend themselves to a variety of historical and active excursions.

Azamara ( runs a quad bike tour, lasting just over four hours, to the top of Mount Srd overlooking Dubrovnik, stopping in the village of Bosanka for a snack of local cheese and ham Region. It costs from £196 per person.

But shore excursion company Viator ( offers a 4-hour Dubrovnik Countryside and Arboretum quad bike tour, including brunch and drinks, from £84 per person, a saving of over £110.

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