One of the biggest unknowns when you cruise with Royal Caribbean are the excursions.
Every port your ship docks at there are a wealth of opportunities to disembark and enjoy an exciting day out on a hosted excursion.
But which one to choose? There are SO many. Some are very similar, some you wonder if it’s suitable for a family, some sound great but you wonder if it will be all it’s cracked up to be.
Of course you don’t HAVE to go on any excursions. You can just disembark and do your own thing. Or you can stay onboard and enjoy the ship with next to no one on there!
But we’ve found the excursions do add to the experience.; giving us the chance to do something we’d probably never have the opportunity to do otherwise.
So here are a few I’ve been on while cruising in the Caribbean to give you some idea of what’s available. There are some things I would have done differently had I know beforehand what lay ahead, so hopefully these will help someone do exactly that!
Dolphin encounter in the Bahamas
We opted for this excursion because it’s one of my daughter’s dreams. She is animal obsessed and the thought of being within kissing distance of a dolphin is right up there on her bucket list.
The photo above is the sight you’re greeted with as you approach the Bahamas on the cruise ship. It’s really quite spectacular. And that huge building is where the dolphin encounter happens – it’s the famed Atlantis Hotel.
When you disembark, the hotel is a short minibus journey away and then you walk through the huge Atlantis complex to Dolphin Cay where it’s on with your wetsuit, into a short safety talk and then out to meet your dolphin. Note, you are not allowed to take cameras in with you into the water.
To be honest it’s very regimented and while you’re in the water as a small group (maybe 8 or so people) there are lots of other groups around you doing the same thing.
So we got to meet our dolphin (a youngster called Sandz) who performed for us, shook our hand, gave us a kiss and a hug etc.
Mia adored it but it felt a bit impersonal and rushed for me.
You’re then guided to the exit through the gift shop where you can buy photographs taken by the staff there during your experience. They are VERY expensive (about £35 for a CD of 12-15 photos).
After you are allowed to explore the hotel which has loads to see and do in its grounds, including an amazing aqua park (at extra cost), The Dig, a sunken ruins teeming with marine life and Predator Lagoon, which speaks for itself!
Snorkelling in St Thomas
We decided to try out the ‘Fastcat’ Catamaran two-island snorkelling excursion at the last minute and had no real idea of what to expect. I think it was possibly one of our favourite trips!
Once the ship docks, the 63ft catamaran is a short walk away where you embark with a whole bunch of others and speed off into the sunshine.
Actually you’re speeding off to one of the Virgin Islands’ best beaches!
First off you suit up with snorkels and masks and it’s in the crystal clear water you go to swim with the fishes, so to speak.
Mia and I managed to swim with a turtle, a real highlight.
On the way back there’s another stop at the secluded and very beautiful Honeymoon Beach where you can kick back and chill out while the kids play on the water’s edge and the crew dish out cups of very delicious and rather potent pineapple rum drinks.
The whole adventure lasted about four hours and we loved every minute of it. The great thing is it’s suitable for ages 4 to 85!
Horse riding in St Maarten
Another biggie on my daughter’s bucket list is horse riding in the sea. And just look at where she got to do it!
It’s quite a drive across the island to get to the riding stables and when we arrived I was a bit taken aback by the power plant staring us in the face!
Not really what I was expecting on such a beautiful island.
The stables are very rough and ready but the staff love their horses and are fabulous with visitors as this is a ride for absolute beginners too.
After getting our helmets on and saddling up we headed out into the scenic coastal trail and then down onto the beach for a dip in the ocean.
Note: It’s recommended you wear long trousers and closed toe shoes but we found it OK in shorts. But you will get wet so take a towel or a change of clothes (there are lockers available)! It’s also fine to take your camera along, but again, it will get wet! If you don’t take a camera they do have a photographer on site who will sell you a memory stick of your personalised photos for around £20.
Horse Riding in Jamaica
Again, the big draw here is that you get to ride your horse in the Caribbean Sea. I mean right up to your waist in the sea! And the sea is the most beautiful, vivid blue.
The stables we visited were very basic and a bit rough and ready, but the instructors knew their stuff and were helpful and friendly (one instructor took my camera for me and offered to take loads of photos of our group).
The ride was split into two; first off you ride through the countryside surrounding the stables, up rough ground and down steep inclines. It’s tough going in parts but you only walk so it’s suitable for any ability rider.
Then you get back to the stable, dismount, take your shoes off, put a waist float on, the horse loses its saddle and then it’s time to ride in the sea.
And let me tell you, it’s really quite hard work trying to stay on that horse’s back!
Brilliant fun though and a real high moment.
The day is rounded off with a BBQ of jerk chicken and rice and a chance to dry out in the sunshine.
Climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica
This was one of those ‘I can’t believe I did that’ moments.
This excursion was actually tagged onto the end of the horse riding above. You are driven to the falls by minibus and essentially have to climb the falls hand in hand with your group!
You need to wear decent water shoes (Crocs with a back on them are OK) and if you want to take photos you will need a waterproof case for your phone or a small waterproof camera. You do not want to be taking your expensive dSLR on here.
The famous waterfall cascades down giant terraced rocks like a giant staircase. It’s surrounded by lush vegetation and is quite sheltered from the fierce sun. It’s about 180 feet high and 600 feet long and has become a popular tourist attraction where you are led up the falls with the aid of a guide in a kind of long snake of people all holding hands.
It takes about an hour to climb with stops every now and again for photos (as witnessed above!), a bit of singing and videos taken by the guides.
I really really loved this excursion but it did feel very commercial as you are constantly being asked to buy something (including the video they take which is given the hard sell).
If you don’t want it say no and walk on by.
Private Island in Haiti
If all that seems like far too much effort for you, how about kicking back and chilling out on your own private island?
Malfini Beach is a beautiful beach with sun chairs and very basic toilet and basic food and drinks and that’s about it.
You are whisked away on a small boat which takes about 15-20 minutes to get there, leaving the hustle and bustle behind.
You get to sip rum from a hollowed out coconut, swim in the lagoon and admire the private homes dotted into the lush mountainside.
It’s a real kick back and chill out excursion (you can go for either a morning or an afternoon). Possibly not one to take children on as they could get bored and ruin your relaxation!
Airboat ride in the Everglades
Once your cruise is over and your return flight doesn’t leave until quite late in the day (and you’ve docked back at port at 8am) this is a great way to end your holiday on a high.
Your airboat captain will take you on a tour of the famed Everglades giving you insight into their history and the flora and fauna that live there.
We also got to see a little ‘show’ from one of the Gator Boys (apparently on TV) as he wrangled a gator on land. Bare foot. Shudder.
Note: It gets very very hot and you’re out in the open a lot, so lots of water, lots of suncream and a hat.
The coach will also return you to either Miami Airport or Fort Lauderdale depending on where your next journey departs.
So, from all of these trips I’ve distilled a few (hopefully) useful tips if you think you fancy booking an excursion when you set sail with Royal Caribbean.
1. Do your research before you sail.
Investigate reviews of the excursions, find out what you would need to take, what the age limits are etc. It’s much much harder to find out this information once you’re onboard as you will be distracted and unlikely to have fast internet access.
2. Weigh up the pros and cons
If you like to know exactly how much it will cost, that you will be back at the ship in plenty of time for it leaving port and you don’t like to go it alone, a ship excursion will probably be for you. Even if your group is late, the ship will wait for you.
However if you like to be a bit adventurous and don’t want to be tied to a group in a mini bus then you can go off exploring on your own. Again, do your research: Where can you go, what you can see and what sort of transport can take you there.
3. Know what to take
Ask a member of the reservation team if you’re not sure and try to ask someone who has actually been on the tour you’re booked on. You are likely to be off the ship for some time so make sure you take essentials (suncream, hat, water, passport, tickets, money) and anything else you think you’ll need to see you through the day.
4. Chill out
Some excursions can feel very commercial and like you’re being shepherding around. Which is going to happen when there are a lot of people to move off the ship, to their excursion and back again.
Go with the flow. Enjoy what you’ve paid to do. Look out the window of your mini bus/coach and enjoy the local scenery around you.
Visit here for more information about booking Royal Caribbean shore excursions.
I am a Royal Caribbean ambassador and have now been on three of their cruise ships. However all opinions here are my own and designed to help and inform.