Today cruise lines’ shore excursions go well beyond the “three-hour tour.” They have become a part of the cruise experience, ranging from eco-friendly and more interactive to ones that involve volunteerism. And customization of shore excursions for groups continues to grow. Overall, shore excursions have become more experiential in nature, and now more options exist for cruise guests who might have some accessibility challenges.


Celebrity Cruises, for instance, has a community outreach program that allows cruise guests to participate in meaningful community volunteer work. One shore excursion option in St. John involves the Virgin Islands National Park and Community Foundation.

Climbing a waterfall in Jamaica.

Crystal Cruises has expanded its You Care, We Care voluntourism excursions this year, and these special shore excursions allow hands-on opportunities for guests (as well as crew) to aid communities in need. On Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity voyages in Alaska, Hawaii, Africa and the Pacific Coast, these outings include immersive education about the cultures visited. This year You Care, We Care volunteers bonded with young burn victims at Lima, Peru’s Anquiem Burn Rehabilitation Center over card games, arts and crafts and a musical jam session.  They also helped with garden revitalization, building restoration and recreational activities at villages and orphanages in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Lautoka, Fiji; Marigot Bayin St. Maarten; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. By the way, Crystal Cruises’ You Care, We Care voluntourism shore excursions are complimentary.

Holland America Line’s Cruise with Purpose program was launched summer of 2009 in Juneau, Alaska with the “Whales & Glaciers Citizen Science Adventure” and operated by Gastineau Guiding, one of the line’s long time tours operator partners.  Cruise with Purpose tours are offered on select itineraries including Alaska, Europe, Grand Voyages, Mexico, Australia and the Caribbean/Panama Canal. These shore excursions allow Holland America Line guests to turn their vacation into more of a “give-and-take” opportunity – combining a chance to make a difference to society, animal welfare, economic growth or the environment with traditional tour content.

Whale Watching and Other Options

Swimming with sting rays in Grand Cayman Island.

We tend to think of more traditional shore excursions that are specific to certain areas, but once again, with globalization and more unique destinations, options abound. For instance, MSC Cruises offers whale watching experiences on their Canada and New England sailings. In Halifax and Nova Scotia one excursion is “Bay of Fundy Whale & Wildlife Watching,”  which has a 90-100% success rate of sighting whales (no guarantees, of course.) The Bay of Fundy is a natural, wild environment, and the smaller minke whales and huge finback whales are the most commonly seen from later June to October, while humpbacks generally arrive late summer.


Customization of shore excursions for groups continues to evolve. Most cruise lines have a special department handling this, and back in 2005 Holland America Line led the way offering customized shore excursion tours for groups.  The more guests involved, usually the more cost effective with the “magic number” ranging from 25 to 40 or 50 guests, depending on the customized tour involved.  A few other cruise lines offering customized shore excursions include Royal Caribbean International, MSC Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines.


In addition to customization options available, for members in your group that might have some accessibility concerns it’s wise to work with the cruise line’s department handling special needs. For instance, Celebrity Cruises has its Access Department; other cruise lines have a devoted department just handling these areas.  While sailing on Celebrity Equinox in the Caribbean last December, I ran across several tours that were accessible in many of the ports the ship visited. One was “Easy St. Thomas,” a tour designed specifically for guests in wheelchairs. Another was “Accessible Dominica and Rainforest Drive.” I took this tour, not realizing it was an accessible one, and it was tremendous for all guests. Overall, it’s good to reach out to the cruise line’s department handling special needs, even when it comes to shore excursions.

More Exclusivity

Alaskan Moose  (Holland America Line Photo)

Recently Crystal Cruises’ announced its new Private Adventure Option, bringing customized excursions to a new level with even more exclusivity. Private Adventure Option is designed for groups of two, four or six guests to reserve a personal guide and private vehicle for a shoreside itinerary that has already been set up by Crystal Cruises’ Land Programs teams along with their worldwide tour operators. It’s an option for guests who would prefer to experience a group excursion with a more private feel. This new option will launch Aug. 14 on the Crystal Serenity and Sept. 13 on the Crystal Symphony. Costs will run about 25% higher than group tour fare, but vary according to the other factors involved – sites visited, guide costs, the excursion length and vehicle size.

Holland America Line’s “Medallion Collection Tours” provide exclusive experiences with a more in-depth perspective for its most discerning cruise guests.  With a first-class style, these provide access to sights and events normally not readily available and are perfect for smaller groups.

With more options to consider, arranging some extra group shore excursions is another way to customize and elevate your group members’ cruise experience.