15 Cruise Excursions That Are Totally Worth Doing

The real fun starts when the ship stops.

female tourist exploring maya beach Thailand
Updated June 5, 2024
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First-time cruisers are usually excited about all the relaxation and indulgence onboard the ship, but they may not realize that the excursions are one of the best parts of cruising.

Whether it’s a tour of a new city, an afternoon of adventure, or a day spent shopping in a charming town, cruise excursions let you explore several cities or countries in just a few days.

On big cruise ships, there are seemingly endless options for on-shore entertainment. Here are 15 cruise excursions that could step up your travel game.

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Wildlife tours

Rixie/Adobe safari vehicle in Masai Mara Kenya

While on a cruise, you may find yourself in an area where there’s wildlife you won’t spot anywhere else. Maybe you’re in Maine with the puffins or Alaska with the moose. Going on a wildlife tour gives you a safe opportunity to see these animals in their natural habitat.

Water sports excursions

EpicStockMedia/Adobe man windsurfing in blue water

From snorkeling to surfing, sometimes you want a shore excursion that gets you off the ship but not out of the water. These excursions show you some of the most interesting perspectives of the area, particularly when you’re in the Caribbean with impressive marine life.

Sporting excursions

Aleksey/Adobe man riding bicycle at sunset

If you feel like an active excursion where you’ll get to see the area while also getting a workout, look into booking sporting excursions like horseback riding, biking, or kayaking. Most of these activities are geared toward all levels, including beginners, so you won’t feel left behind, even if it’s your first time on a horse or in a kayak.

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Adventure excursions

phpetrunina14/Adobe people having atv ride in woods

For those who crave adrenaline, there are adventure excursions that will give you a different look at the world around you. From ziplining high above the rainforest to going on an ATV ride in the desert, you’ll get your heart pumping with excitement.

Sight-seeing tours

M-Production/Adobe Female tourist touring old town

If you’re traveling to a new-to-you city, use the cruise to experience a cliff notes version of the area. Sign up for an excursion that includes a walking tour or bus tour that will show you all the highlights of the city before returning to the ship.

Food tours

FornStudio/Adobe japanese man grilling meat stew

The food on the cruise ship may be delicious (and included!), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore the unique dishes available off the ship. Whether you’re on a Mediterranean cruise and you stop for a pasta-making class in Italy or you dine on a freshly grilled catch in Colombia, experiencing the diversity of the local food is part of the fun on a cruise.

Museum and cultural tours

tsuguliev/Adobe students visiting gallery museum with guide

Imagine hopping off your cruise to see Michaelangelo’s David in Florence. If you’re in the vicinity of some of the world’s best museums, then it’s worth getting off the ship and experiencing the culture for yourself.

Whale watching

Andrea Izzotti/Adobe whale in pacific ocean baja california

Depending on the time of year, you can take whale-watching trips to see these majestic creatures everywhere from the coast of Maine to Los Cabos, Mexico. Just make sure your trip aligns with when they’re most likely to be in the area’s waters.

Ancient attractions tours

TravelT/Adobe Temple of Kukulcan during day

Are you fascinated by the ancient world? Consider excursions to see the Mayan ruins while you’re on a cruise in Mexico or stopping at the pyramids while on a Nile River cruise. This is truly combining the best of old and new.

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Wine tasting

Carlo/Adobe friends talking and drinking in winery

When your cruise happens to dock near an intriguing wine region, see if there’s a wine-tasting excursion or class to experience. Sipping on wine in the area where it’s produced helps you understand the story and provenance on a deeper level.

Cultural performance

VIAR PRO studio/Adobe female ballet dancer performing on stage

It can be hard to fit in a cultural performance when you only have but so many hours in a day. But if you hit an afternoon matinee, you can generally get to the performance and back on the ship with plenty of time to spare.

Beach trip

Song_about_summer/Adobe couple on the beach at sunset

Yes, there’s probably a pool and deck on the ship, but there’s nothing like laying in the sun and sand and relaxing with a book in hand. Many cruise ships have excursions where you can spend the day off the ship and on the beach. This could include a day pass to a local resort — food and drink included.

Sailing excursion

Image'in/Adobe sailboat sailing under beautiful sunset

You’re already on the water, why do you need to get on a different boat? There’s something different and magical about an afternoon or evening spent on a sailboat. It’s more intimate and rugged than a cruise ship, and you feel like you’re one with the water.

Helicopter tours

PhotoSpirit/Adobe New York Statue of Liberty helicopter tour

For a splurge-worthy excursion, book a helicopter tour. In places like Hawaii or Alaska where the landscape can quickly get treacherous, a helicopter ride can offer once-in-a-lifetime views.

Ghost tours

james_pintar/Adobe Historic Bonaventure Cemetery

Ghost tours aren’t just for Halloween! If you’re near a major city, chances are there’s a ghost tour. These quirky tours are a great way to learn more about a town’s history without doing a traditional guided walking tour.

Bottom line

Mariusz Blach/Adobe Luxury cruise ship leaving port at sunset

When you’re booking a cruise, make a note of whether the shore excursions are included. Generally, on larger commercial ships, you’ll have to pay for each shore excursion individually.

But, on smaller, higher-end ships, daily shore excursions may be included with your booking rate. Either way, make sure you know ahead of time, so your cruise travel budget won’t veer off course. Just make sure to bring your favorite travel credit card.

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Heather Bien

Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.