While Disney Cruise Line has some amazing excursions, sometimes the official ones don’t work into your plans. Maybe they’re sold out, maybe they aren’t going where you want to go, maybe they’re too expensive, maybe there’s another reason! Don’t worry, you can plan something on your own and still have a great time. Here are 10 of my favorite things to do when not on an official Disney Excursion.
One word of caution – the absolute most important thing you need to do when you’re in a port on your own is to be back to the ship on time. Whereas the Captain will wait as long as he can for a delayed Disney excursion, this is not the case when you are on your own. Whether you get caught in traffic, your transportation breaks down, you have the local time zone wrong, it doesn’t matter! That ship will absolutely leave without you. Build yourself lots of wiggle room at the end. I like to double the amount of time it takes me to get somewhere at a minimum. If I’m an hour away, I would give myself at least two hours to get back. Even if I was only 10 minutes away I wouldn’t cut it closer than 30 minutes. If you’re relying on trains, remember trains break down. Don’t take the last train of the day no matter how early it gets you back! Be overly cautious.
And one word of advice! Google is your friend. Check reviews for resorts you may visit, suppliers you may book through, excursions you may try. Find out if the beach you are thinking about visiting is clothing optional if that matters to you. We live in the golden age of the internet. Use the power for good, not evil.
1. Walking – Many ports are conducive to just getting off and walking around on your own! The ship often docks right downtown, so getting off and sightseeing is super easy. We try to get some time to walk around in town even if we do have an excursion booked. If we have an afternoon excursion, we try to get off and walk around to see the local sights in the morning, or vice versa if it’s a morning excursion. It’s one of our favorite ways to explore! You can do some souvenir shopping, stop in local markets, eat at a local restaurant, or take as many pictures as is humanly possible. Your choice! Rick Steves has a great walking tour app for many cities if you want a more guided approach.
2. Trains, Subways, Taxis, and Busses – If the ship doesn’t dock within walking distance of where we want to go, we look at taxis or public transportation. In most cities in Europe, public transportation is super easy to use, cheap, and efficient. We’ve taken the train from Civitavecchia to Rome a few times. Once we arrived, we did subways and public busses. It’s incredibly cheap compared to one of Disney’s excursions. In Villefranche, we walk to the train station and go to Monte Carlo or Nice for the day. One time we spent a few hours in both cities! Most Caribbean cities don’t have great public transportation options, so in that case we take taxis to our preferred destination like a local beach or restaurant. Or ice cream shop. That’s valid.
3. Hop On Hop Off Bus – Hop On Hop Off busses are a great way to see a city. We spent one slightly rainy day Liverpool, taking the bus around the city and seeing the sights. We got off a few times at landmarks we wanted to see, and got back on another bus when we were ready. Hop on Hop Off busses are all over! We’ve done them in London and Vancouver as well!
4. Resort Day Pass – For warmer climates, a resort day pass is a relaxing way to spend a day. In Cozumel, for example, there are all kinds of resorts that love having day guests. Paradise Beach, Mr. Sanchos, and Nacchi Cocom to name a few! In Nassau you could try Melia, Atlantis (they do sell out), or even Sandals Royal Bahamian if you only have adults in your group. Some day passes are all inclusive, others have a minimal entry fee and request you spend a certain amount on food. Do a little research on which one appeals to you and grab a taxi after you get off the ship. Be firm on where you want to go. Many taxi drivers will try to talk you out of where you want to go and take you to a different resort where they’ll make a little more money by taking you there.
5. Private Charter – Another good option for a warmer climate is chartering a boat. I’m not talking about sailing your own boat, unless you can do that sort of thing. I mean getting a whole boat with crew to yourself! We’ve done it a few times when we were splitting it with our family. It’s a great way to go see places like Stingray City in Grand Cayman, or the Baths in Virgin Gorda from Tortola. While the boats aren’t usually anything to write home about, it’s wonderful to have them just for your group. And they can customize the itinerary to your needs, or change the itinerary on the fly based on weather and what you would like to do! The safest way to charter a boat is to check reviews and do it online before you sail, but you can often find boat drivers right on the dock and negotiate a great price with the captain. That’s certainly riskier for availability though.
6. Private Car – We also love hiring a private car and driver. Disney has some options for that, but they often sell out and whoa – they are expensive. Google and reviews can help you find a good company to hire on your own. We loved one we used on our British Isles cruise this summer. I feel like we got to see more that day than we did almost any other day. And it was all things we asked to see; we weren’t stuck going somewhere we weren’t excited about because the group was. The driver had water for us in the car, Wi-Fi on board, and recommendations for meals when we stopped. I highly recommend it!
7. Split a Private Tour – If a private tour (or charter or car as mentioned above) is too rich for your blood, consider splitting it with some fellow cruisers. You may find some likeminded cruisers in your Facebook cruise group, or you may already have friends on the ship. You may be surprised by how reasonable some of these things can be when it’s not charged per person (or when additional people pay a lower price) and you split the cost. Price that out compared to booking a regular excursion and you may find the price is similar for what could be a better, more tailored to your interests, kind of experience.
8. Book Directly with a Supplier – We have resorted to booking directly with a supplier when the same experience with Disney has sold out or because the age restrictions were different when booked direct. In Ketchikan, we booked directly with a kayak company for no other reason than we waited too long to book it with Disney and it was sold out. It ended up being a great experience and even saved us a little money. When our kids were too young to book a Segway excursion with Disney, we learned that the actual companies had lower age limits and we could book directly with them. After our first Segway experience in Malta, booked through the exact company that Disney was using but on our own, we fell in love with Segways and have now done them all over the world. If you book directly with a company, you’re taking a risk that you could still have to pay if the ship doesn’t dock, but most companies will give you a refund. We ran into one company in Geiranger, Norway, who was threatening not to give any refunds when Disney didn’t/couldn’t dock, until several cruisers in our Facebook group banded together and made them realize they didn’t want those kind of reviews on Trip Advisor.
9. Book with a Company that Sells Excursions – There are a few companies out there that sell excursions similar to any cruise line. One of my favorites is ShoreTrips. With ShoreTrips, you enter which ship you will be on and what date you’ll be in ports and it will return a list of excursions available–With reviews! You’ll find most of the prices are quite good as well.
10. Google Top 10 Things to Do – When we’re not sure what we want to do in a port, we google “Top 10 Things to Do in _____” filling in the blank with the city we are visiting. TripAdvisor keeps a great list of things to do in most cities. It’s hard to get through all ten without finding something that appeals to you!
How about you? What are some of your favorite things to do in ports on your own?
Tammy Whiting is the owner of Storybook Destinations. Did you know Storybook Destinations offers a complimentary subscription to TouringPlans with qualified Disney and Universal bookings? Click here for a no-obligation quote on your next vacation.