How to Pick the Best Disney Cruise Line Port Adventures

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t_logo_fbWith so many options offered, many cruisers are frustrated trying to find the best Disney Cruise Line port adventures. Because no one person would ever have the time or money to try them all, we’d like to offer up some tips to help you sort through your options.

What are you actually getting for your money?

Take a hard look at the description of your excursion. It is just transportation to a destination and back? Is there a meal included? Many Caribbean beach excursions are simply putting you on a bus and driving you to the sand. You’ll return to the ship with everyone else, regardless of when you’re ready to go. For parties of more than 2 people, you may be better off taking a taxi to your destination (don’t forget to budget for the round trip and gratuity). As an example, the St. Martin Beach Bash Tour consists of transportation to the beach and fruit punch, and will run a family of four nearly $150 for two hours on the beach. We suggest taking a taxi to Maho Beach to see something truly extraordinary and saving your real beach time for Castaway Cay.

Is the excursion something you can arrange on your own?

Many port adventures will take you to local tourist destinations. You may be able to book these directly and save some money.

Is there more information about the location online?

If you’re considering doing a tourist activity like visiting a local attraction, look up its web site online. You’ll usually get more information about what it really is than in a short paragraph from Disney. Moreover, you’ll probably find some good reviews online.

How much of my excursion is actually spent at the destination?

There are many port adventures where half or more of your time is spent getting to your destination and back to the ship. We think you should consider these carefully before booking them. For instance, the six hour Kohunlich ruins excursion includes a bus ride of two hours each way to arrive at the pyramid. You need to ask yourself if four hours on a bus is worth it for you. The total transportation time is included in the description of the excursion, or ask at the Port Adventures desk.

Is the excursion something I can only do in one port?

We definitely see the value in booking something like a sled dog experience in Alaska. Believe us, we’ve tried it with the poodle at home, and she’s having none of it. On the other hand, dolphin encounters are both ubiquitous and expensive in the Caribbean, and for our money, you’re better off spending time at Discovery Cove before or after your cruise. On the other hand, while you can find sting rays in many ports, too, we think the price and convenience of Castaway Ray’s Sting Ray Adventure¬†on Castaway Cay is worth the money either alone or as part of bundle of excursions on the island.

Is there a language barrier I’d have to handle on my own?

English is the lingua franca of the Caribbean (and we hear in Alaska as well). Northern Europe is also friendly to English-speakers (though it’s always polite to ask first and learn at least hello, good bye, please, and thank you in the native tongue of any country you visit). Italy, Spain, and the rest of the Mediterranean can be another story if you’re on your own. In these cases, a port excursions with an English-speaking guide may be the most convenient way to see the sights.

Avoid city tours by bus in the Caribbean

We realize these are popular and usually not terribly expensive. They’re also not great way to visit any place. If you enjoy seeing the city as it passes you through a bus window and 5-minutes drop offs to take photos with six other tour buses, by all means book one. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The biggest advantage to booking through Disney

Without a doubt the best reason to book an excursion through Disney is that if it’s delayed for any reason, the boat won’t leave port without you. Believe us, we’ve heard folks being paged onboard as the ship is ready to sail away and it’s a little scary. Other conveniences are a pre-determined price and less need to carry local currency with you in port.

The advantages of booking on your own or skipping port excursions altogether

If saving money or being on your own schedule is important to you, we suggest you consider booking your excursions or even just popping off the ship for a few photos and walking around and then going back onboard. Your lunch will be free onboard, you can sleep in if you like, and there are far fewer people in the spa, pools, and in line for the AquaDuck/Dunk.

What’s important to you when choosing a port adventure? Talk about it in the comments.

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Laurel Stewart

Laurel has been visiting Walt Disney World since 1971 when she was negative-15 years old and running the Disney races since 2007. Her favorite attraction is Big Thunder Mountain.

9 thoughts on “How to Pick the Best Disney Cruise Line Port Adventures

  • April 10, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Great post! We’re booked on our 3rd DCL cruise in September (aboard the Fantasy) and I’m spending a lot of time “himming and hawing” about Port Adventures. I’m torn between booking with DCL and booking something local.

  • April 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Another important reason to book on your own is to avoid crowds and ‘forced stops’. When the cruise ship tour bus pulls in, a huge group of people enters the attraction/site and suddenly everything is crowded and clogged. It’s worse when you’re a part of the mess! And bathroom stops on a cruise ship tour are a nightmare: imagine waiting for 30-60 bladders to empty! But the worst are the forced shopping stops. The cruise ship tours will always bring you to some overpriced tourist trap of shopping and you’ll be forced to spend time in the store area, whether or not you want to. if you’re lucky, it’s some cute outdoor street. If you’re unlucky, it’s some kind of ‘factory’ where you have to watch a ‘presentation’ and then be solicited for ages.

    For these reasons (and for cost reasons) we always avoid cruise ship tours unless there are tight time considerations (for example, doing Pompeii and the Amalfi Drive when docked in Naples) or there really is no other way to get there cheaply (such as our European cruise last summer where the Italian private tours wanted a mint to do anything – double the cost for our family of 4).

    • April 11, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Good point about the “shopping stops.”

  • April 10, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Is there any way you could put an image in this story? I would love to add it to my Disney Cruise planning Pintrest board, but can not as there are no images.


    • April 11, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      Unfortunately I’m traveling right now, so the logo’s the best I can do. I’ll remember our pinning readers in the future.

  • April 10, 2014 at 11:40 am

    My first cruise we booked all our excursions through the boat. Our 2nd cruise we did half through the boat- the ones that weren’t available except through the boat- and half on our own. This last cruise was short, we just walked to the closest beach and chilled.

    I’d definitely look through the ship’s tours and then google and use tripadvisor to see if you can find the ones that interest you for cheaper. Also bring a watch, and be conservative in your planning for the time it takes to return to the ship.

  • April 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Regarding Point Number Two: You have to be careful when booking Port Adventures outside of what Disney Cruise Line offers. Only with official Port Adventures will DCL hold the boat if you’re late getting back to the ship.

  • April 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Many tour operators have an exclusive agreement with DCL, and when you try to book through them directly if you tell them you are on a DCL ship they will not let you book with them. We tried to book our dolphin excursion independently and could not.

    I ALWAYS book my scuba trips independently to avoid the cruise-ship crowds.

    Also in my opinion the best stingray tour hands-down is the one on Grand Cayman. These rays are not kept in an enclosure, but are wild ones that follow the boats to the sandbar when they hear them coming. I have done both the ‘sandbar’ (4 foot) and Stingray City (15 foot) ones and as a diver the 15 foot one is much better because you don’t have so much sand being kicked up in the shallow water. Even snorkelers can float at the top and someone will bring the rays to you. And if you are lucky, Psycho, the resident green moray eel will make an appearance as well.

    • April 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      We’ve had good luck seeing random rays in the snorkel lagoon at Castaway Cay. It’s pretty cool.


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