Cruises are some of the best vacation values around. A mostly inclusive cruise can cost as little as around $100 per person per day. However, budget minded cruisers can be overwhelmed when they see the cost of excursions offered by the cruise lines. What they may not realize is that there are activities they can do in some ports that are free or nearly free. The cruise lines simply don’t do a good job of providing that information to passengers ahead of time. Most of the information that they supply details the excursions that they sell. Lets face it, those excursions make a lot of money for the cruise lines, so they really don’t have too much incentive for supplying passengers with “free” things they can do in port.
For passengers who feel more comfortable in an escorted tour or who want to see extensive sights and attractions with out fear of being left behind, the ship’s shore excursions are definitely the best option. However, if passengers just want to see a few sights and not spend much money on shore, they can often find a few inexpensive things to do in port. I’m starting a series here at cruise talk to help passengers enjoy their port stays with-out the expense of an extensive excursion. To get us started, here a few free or nearly free attractions that I can recommend for Mexican Riviera, Alaska and Hawaii cruises.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexican Riviera: Take the ship’s tender into town. There are often local musicians playing right at the marina where the tender lands. You can then walk around the market and the little shops right there in the marina area where you might see a sea lion or two. There are also many colorful fishing boats and water taxis for hire. If you want to spend a little money, for around $10 per person you can take a glass bottom boat out to the Lovers Beach/Lands End rock formation. Negotiate your price with your driver and be sure to specify where you want to go, and if you just want a tour or a drop-off and pick-up. You’ll probably see not only reef fish through the glass bottom but also some sea lions out on the rocks. If you are fairly mobile you can get dropped off at the lover’s beach and schedule a pick-up by the same driver. If it is rough and you are not highly mobile, just enjoy the tour and skip the beach. If there are any kind of waves it is very difficult to get in and out of the water taxis right on the beach. There are some local guys that help people in an out, but they expect to be tipped about a $1 per person.
Another option in Cabo is to simply enjoy the lovely views right from the ship. From the ship’s anchor position in the cruise you’ll see the emblematic El Arco at Land’s End and the lovely beaches surrounding the bay. You’ll probably also see sailing ships and para sailors.
Acapulco, Mexican Riviera: The Ft San Diego Museum is right across from the cruise ship docks in Acapulco. The museum features an expansive collection of Mexican history artifacts from the pre-Columbian times, conquest, and recent Mexican history. Displays highlight every aspect of Mexican life and culture from religious practices to trade goods. The museum is free on Sunday and also free for students with ID. Regular admission is just $30 pesos, or about $3 US per person. There is also a small fee if wish to take pictures. The fort/museum, just an easy walk across the street from the cruise terminal, also offers spectacular photo opportunities to capture a shot of your ship against the backdrop of Acapulco bay.
Zihuatenjo/Ixtapa, Mexican Riviera: If you don’t mind missing the mega resort town of Ixtapa, you can easily enjoy the beauty and charm of the smaller, more intimate Zihuatenjo without a ship’s tour. Your ship will most likely anchor in the scenic bay in Zihuatenjo. My husband and son did what they call the “Tender Tour of the Bay.” This is the “tour” where a passenger can enjoy the scenery of the bay by simply riding the ship’s tender into the port and then riding it right back to the ship. This bay is really beautiful and the round trip ride takes about 20 minutes.
Again, once passengers are back on the ship they a can enjoy lovely views all day long of the beaches and hills of Zihuatenjo. Should you want to actually go into town, Zihuatenajo has several markets for souvenir shopping and beach front cafes for a quick refreshment. There is a beach that is accessible right in town, however the water is not clear as the immediate area gets run-off from a city drainage canal. The more pristine beaches are reachable via either water taxis or auto taxis. Rates are reasonable to either location, but make sure you understand the price. Land taxis may be as much as $18 total, but water taxis can be a little as $3 per person.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexican Riviera If you just want to do a bit of souvenir shopping there is a market right at the port area. There you’ll find the typical collection of souvenir items including sombreros, doll, t-shirts, cover-ups, blankets, place mats and Mexican crafts.
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii Maui is one of the most beautiful Hawaiian isles. There are many different ways to see the island included car rental, private tour and ships tour. But if you need to save on excursion expenses, you can simply enjoy the quaint charm of the town of Lahaina. The ships tenders dock right at the huge banyan tree that dominates the water front area. From here there is shopping galore. Every thing from chic boutiques to budget oriented souvenir shops like the Hawaiian chain ABC Stores. If you enjoy window shopping and browsing, you may not even spend a penny here. However, if something catches you eye, you fulfill your souvenir needs for the trip right here. A bit more of a challenging walk from the center of town are the Hilo Hatties shop and the Lahiana Cannery Mall.
Ketchikan, Alaska In Ketchikan, the historic Creek Street, once a red light district build right over the water near the mouth of a creek, is an easy walk from the cruise ports. This charming tourist attractions features brightly painted wooden stilt buildings that now house gift and snack shops. After a walk along the boardwalk there passengers can walk up the hill on the street where that same creek runs, then possibly make there way up to the Totem Heritage Center. There is a small admission charge of $5 during the summer months. But even if you don’t go in, you can see a few of the exterior totems. The Cape Fox Lodge Hotel is up on the hill that overlooks the harbor. Passengers can make there way up there by either walking or taking small funicular elevator. There is supposed to be a charge for the little funicular but often they don’t have anyone one to collect, passengers can just press the button an go. From the hotel passengers can enjoy the rustic and native decor and take a nice panoramic photo of their ship as it waits in port area.
Juneau, Alaska Juneau is filled with so many gift shops near the pier area that when you exit the ship you may think that you’ve accidentally entered a mall on Christmas Eve. If you just want to pick up a few inexpensive souvenirs or fine jewelry and furs, you need not wander far. However, if you to learn a bit more about the state you are visiting, take a bit of time and make your way in any easy walk over to the Alaska State Museum. Admission is just $5 for those over 18, and under 18 are admitted free. The museum has collections that document Alaska’s natural history, political and commercial history. I enjoyed this museum both in 1993 as a honeymoon tourist and in 2007 with my then 10 year old son. My favorite part was the exhibit of Native Alaskan clothing and Kayaks.
We very much welcome you insight into the free or nearly free activities you can do in port. Please join the discussion in our forum or add you comments to the article if you have any further ideas or suggestions.