Excursions are a highlight of cruising. The average cruise is going to stop at 4 islands on a 7-day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. Beaches are going to be a popular destination for most. But this is a perfect time to explore the island. And that’s where excursions come in.
This is where things get tricky. The first thing is to figure out what there is to do on an island. With that in mind, starting with this article, I’m going to talk about some of the things you can do on islands you’ll visit on an Eastern Caribbean cruise. Then we’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of booking an excursion yourself vs through the cruise line.
First Up, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has some great places to visit. Most cruise ships pull into port in San Juan. Downtown is literally across the street. So doing a walking excursion through historic downtown will only cost you the energy to walk around. But be warned; it’s a hilly place. So you’ll definitely get your exercise. The good news is the way back is all downhill. So you can relax.
Puerto Rico is 3,515 square miles making it the 3rd largest island in the United States. So there’s plenty to do. From rain forest to rum factories, there’s so much to see, you’ll have to make sure you don’t get back to the ship late.
So what else is there to do in Puerto Rico?
Downtown San Juan
If walking isn’t your thing or your ship is only giving you half a day on the island, a bus tour of the island is a great alternative. You’ll see historic buildings including the capitol and your tour guide will provide details you won’t get doing a tour on your own.
These tours are easy to find. As soon as you get off the ship, the buses will be lined up waiting to show you the town. You’ll have opportunities to get off the bus (it’s a small bus to keep it intimate) and explore. When you get to the capitol building, take the time to go inside and bring your camera. Marble, marble everywhere. It’s a truly impressive sight both inside and out.
El Yunque National Rainforest
Fun fact: Did you know that El Yunque National Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service? Within this lush area, you’ll discover 240 plant species found only on this island. Bring you binoculars; bird watching a treat. You won’t want to miss the woodpeckers, green-breasted mangos and Puerto Rican parrots.
Since we’re talking about birds, head over to the Yokahú Observation Tower situated 1,575 ft above the island for a bird’s eye view of Puerto Rico (too much with the bird pun?). Make sure you have your camera. Because you will definitely want to share theses breathtaking views on Instagram.
If you’re the active type, this is where you’ll want to be. Imagine yourself ziplining through the El Yunque forest, hiking, or even horseback riding in El Yunque’s foothills.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan
For history lovers, take a tour of Castillo San Felipe and nearby Fortín San Juan de la Cruz. I won’t give you the details here before it is much more interesting when the tour guide explains it.
So instead, I’ll tell you what you need in order to get the most out of your visit. It’s hot in Puerto Rico. And you’ll feel it in the inner courtyard when the sun is out. Recommend gear is loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and, of course, shorts. For the ladies, you might want to forgo skirts and dresses. It can get windy.
And since it’s hot, you’ll want to carry a water bottle on you too.
For those that like the outdoors, Puerto Rico is an awesome place for hiking. I already talked about the hiking in El Yunque National Rainforest. But that’s not the only place to enjoy hiking.
Guánica State Forest
Even though it’s called a forest, it’s actually a dessert-like forest with 10 trails that will wind you down to remote beaches. And like just about everything in Puerto Rico, have your camera ready. Because the spectacular views you’ll see once you get to the beaches and the rocky coastline are sites you’ll want to document for everyone who couldn’t see it in person. These trails are good for experienced and non-experienced hikers alike.
If you want to see what makes Puerto Rico one of the most beautiful places to visit, hike the Guajataca Forest. The limestone features you’ll see leading to the beautiful coastline will make you wonder why anyone would want to live in an urban jungle.
No one is going to mistake you for John Wayne, but at least you can pretend. Instead of galloping through the wild west, you’ll be taking a relaxing trot through mountains, countrysides, and beaches. And don’t worry if you’re not if you’ve never ridden a horse before. There are horseback riding adventures for everyone from children to adults, single people, and couples.
Where To Purchase Excursions
This is where things become highly subjective.
There are basically two places where you can book excursions. Through the cruise line or on your own. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Arranging your own excursion has many benefits. First and foremost, you can compare prices, review tour companies, and check reviews. It gives you the flexibility to do things according to your schedule. Booking excursions yourself is a good way to save money and be in control of what you’ll do at port.
But there is a downside. We’ll discuss it in more detail below, but here’s what you need to know. Booking excursions when cruising means you have to be aware of one crucial thing – it’s on you to get back to the ship on time. If you miss your all aboard time, the ship will not wait for you. You’ll have to get to your next port of call at your own expense.
Booking Through the Cruise Line
Booking through the cruise line is going to be more expensive than doing it yourself. And while you can compare available excursions, it’s nowhere near as extensive as the options you can get on your own.
However, there is one huge advantage to booking through the cruise line. The ship sets the all aboard time because it has to keep on schedule. If the ship leaves late, it has to push the engines harder to make up time. That means greater fuel consumption. Put another way, it’s going to cost a lot of money if they don’t leave on time.
With that in mind, if your excursion is late for any reason – flat tire, traffic, etc, the ship must wait for the excursion to return. So while booking an excursion through the cruise line is more expensive, you could look at it as an insurance policy. Your options won’t be as extensive and the cost will be higher. But that’s a lot cheaper than having to pay out of pocket to get to the next port.
Regardless of which way you choose to pay for your excursions, the important thing to do is to plan ahead. Know which port of call you want to take your excursion on. Then decide which one on that island you would like to experience.
Here’s a pro tip: Don’t do an excursion at every port of call. Not only will you save money, you won’t burn yourself out either.
So plan ahead, dress accordingly and enjoy your excursion!