You've seen the promotions "Save 25% off all shore excursions for 48 hours only". Is this a value? Is it safe? You've probably also been encouraged to "book your shore excursions early before they sell out". What does this all mean? What should you do?
When Should You Buy Your Shore Excursion?
It is best to buy your shore excursions on-board your ship from the cruise line's shore excursions desk. Cruise lines will try to sell their own excursions online when you fill out your pre-departure paperwork and retrieve your eDocs (tickets printed at home). Often the messaging is that shore excursions "sell-out" and you should "book now". Generally, shore excursions rarely sell-out – there is little reason to book early.
Book your shore excursions during the ship's sailing. This allows you to talk to the experienced team at the shore excursions desk about which ones are best. Also, you can check to see if the weather is going to be acceptable for your chosen shore excursion. If the ship can't make the port call due to weather or some unforeseen circumstance, the cruise line will refund your money. However, they will not refund your money if the weather is not perfect or if you have second thoughts and you just don't feel like going. The best advice is to wait until the last minute to make your buying decision.
Should you buy third party shore excursions?
Cruise lines have reputations to up-hold, including providing a safe environment for their guests. As such, they certify their shore excursions to be insured, bonded and regulated by local governing bodies. Reputable outfitters will seek to do business with cruise lines and strive to provide a pleasurable experience. In addition, cruise lines will not leave the pier when their guests are late arriving to the pier from a cruise line provided shore excursion. The same cannot be said for vendors with cardboard signs pleading for your business at the pier. The best place to buy a shore excursion is onboard the cruise ship itself.
The best advice is to wait until you are on the ship to book your shore excursion. You may find other passengers with a great recommendation, or that on a particular day you might feel like getting a spa treatment rather than hitting white-water rapids.