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Port days and shore excursions are a huge part of the cruise experience. In fact, most people will choose their cruise based on the destinations it visits. But how do you make the most of your port days? What do you need to know about shore excursions? Is it OK to just stay on board the ship? Don’t worry, I’ve got it all covered. I did all the hard research for you during my recent trip on board the stunning new Sky Princess ship.
Port Days & Shore Excursions – What You Need to Know
How Port Days Work
Port days are great for getting a taster of a city/country. You have a day or two to soak up the atmosphere and culture and decide what you think of the place. Then if you like, you can always revisit.
You have a few options when it comes to port days. You can either book yourself a shore excursion (which we’ll talk about in more depth later), stay on the ship for the day, explore the port city by yourself or even a mix of both.
When it comes to port days there is a set first disembarkation time. Sometimes as early as 7.30am. But you can disembark at any time after the start time. However, the earlier you disembark, the less likely that there will be queues. When Sky Princess stopped at Kotor, Montenegro I left the ship around 9.00am and there were no queues for the tender boat.
There will also be a set time that you must embark by. Definitely take note of that if you’re heading off the ship, the last thing anyone needs to worry about is missing their ship.
Depending on the port you might be able to simply walk off the ship and into the port city, like Tallinn, Estonia. Other cities you can walk off the ship but you’ll need to get public transport or a taxi into the centre of the city, like Dublin, Ireland.
At some ports you’ll need to get what they call a “tender boat” to the port city like Kotor, Montenegro. I quite liked this as it gives you a great view of the ship, but it can lead to queues at time.
Before you disembark the ship they’ll usually swipe your card or tap your OceanMedallion™ and give you the time of final embarkation, then you’re free to head off ship and start exploring.
Staying on Board During a Port Day
Ok, so I know that the whole point of a cruise for most people is to see multiple destinations, BUT, some people take cruises for the ship and the R&R. Honestly, I don’t blame them. Having experienced the Sky Princess, I totally understand the appeal of booking a cruise solely to enjoy the ship.
So, with that in mind, during my port day in Kotor, Montenegro I decided to spend half the day in the city and then come back early to enjoy the ship while the majority of people were still exploring Kotor.
My time on the ship while everyone else was in Kotor was INCREDIBLE. It felt like I had the ship to myself, I certainly had the hot tub to myself! I grabbed a frozen margarita and a slice of pizza, chatted to the staff and lounged around by the pool. It was glorious.
If you do choose to stay on board during a port day it’s a GREAT time to book a spa treatment as there is usually more availability. It’s also a great time to enjoy the relaxing adult-only areas of the ship such as The Sanctuary on Sky Princess.
You can simply wander around the ship and enjoy the peace and quiet, or maybe order some room service on the MedallionClass™ app. If you’ve got any work to do, it’s the perfect time to get that done without any distractions.
Also, there is no shame in staying on board the ship during a port day. You can enjoy your trip any which way you want to. Just because a stop is on the itinerary doesn’t mean you have to get off the ship. The ship is like a floating city in itself anyway. I could have stayed on the Sky Princess for weeks without getting off and I would never have gotten bored.
Everything You Need to Know About Shore Excursions
Make sure to do your research about your port destination in advance. That way you can pick the perfect shore excursion for you. Ideally you should book in advance to make sure that you get your chosen shore excursion, sometimes popular ones will book up quickly.
However, you can still book pretty much right up until the day before your port day. If you are on a Princess Cruises MedallionClass™ ship then you can book your shore excursions via the MedallionClass™ app.
Read all about the MedallionClass™ app and benefits – HERE.
If you’re on a Princess Cruise I highly recommend that you use the official tours recommended by Princess. I used to think differently as I knew you could save money booking by yourself. HOWEVER, the official companies endorsed by Princess Cruises will always make sure to get you back on time for final embarkation.
Plus Princess Cruises offer a sort of price match guarantee. If you find a cheaper excursion elsewhere then Princess Cruises will give you 110% of the price difference in the form of on-board credit.
Booking via your cruise company is safer and gives you peace of mind. You don’t want to be one of those people who ends up running to catch their cruise ship.
If you do book a shore excursion the buses will be waiting for you when you arrive at port. The buses are usually branded and will have a sign on the front of them saying which tour they are for. If you’re not sure ask one of the ground staff at the port and they can point you in the right direction.
In some ports you’ll find crowds of local guides and tour operators waiting for you, trying to convince you to join their tour. This can be off-putting, but remember, this is how they make their living. Just smile, politely say “No, thank you!” and move on to your pre-booked tour.
Before your shore excursion make sure that you’re prepared – pack snacks, a bottle of water, sunscreen and any other essentials that you’ll need for the day. Side note, you’re not allowed to take coffee cups off the ship and into port. I found that out the hard way.
I had one coffee for me and one for a friend (who was already at port) so I had to neck my one and just dump the other one. VERY SAD TIMES. So, please, learn from my mistake – don’t let my wasted coffee be in vain!
Always make sure that you have some local currency with you too. There will be an ATM on board your ship or there is usually one close to the port. Most places take card now, but cash can come in handy for tips and is still a necessity in some ports.
My Port Day in Kotor, Montengero
During my trip on board the Sky Princess we visited Kotor, Montenegro. Like I mentioned before, I had already decided to spend half the day in port and half the day relaxing back on the ship.
I disembarked around 9am, hopped on the tender boat and headed into the winding streets of Kotor. My first stop was the hike up to the fortress (Castle of San Giovanni) which probably took me about 3hrs round trip. There was an €8 entrance fee which had to be paid in cash (I told you cash would come in handy).
The hike itself could be done in 2hrs if you weren’t stopping for photos, but I was, of course. There were a couple of stalls along the way selling refreshments. Cats sat around lazily watching hikers huffing and puffing their way up hundreds of stone stairs.
The views of Kotor and our ship, the Sky Princess, from the various viewpoints were phenomenal. Sure, I was sweating profusely and my legs were like jelly, but it was definitely worth it.
After I was finished the hike I had a coffee and then explored the old town a bit. But then I wanted my alone time on the ship. Everyone else was heading out on boats or for a longer hike, but not me, I was off to catch me a tender boat back to the ship.
Check out the full list of shore excursions available with Princess Cruises in Kotor, Montenegro – HERE.
When I was back on the ship I chilled out in the hot tub with incredible views of Montenegro behind me. Then I grabbed a slice of pizza and a frozen margarita and chilled on the sun loungers. After that I checked out the lunch buffet before heading back to chill in my cabin. It was so relaxing.
I think I got the best of both worlds by exploring the port city of Kotor and also heading back to ship early to enjoy the peace and quiet.
So, in short, port days and shore excursions are a great way to get a taster of a new city or country. But they are also great for a chilled out day on the ship. How you choose to spent your port day is entirely up to you. No mater what you decide I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I certainly loved my experiences both on board and in port with Princess Cruises.
DISCLAIMER – My trip on board the Sky Princess was sponsored by Princess Cruises. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are, as always, my own.
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