One of the best reasons to take a cruise vacation with the family is the chance to explore multiple destinations during your trip. Every island or city stop offers countless ways to sightsee and experience the local culture and food. Whether you prefer arranging your port activities through the cruise line or you enjoy booking budget-friendly things on your own that avoid busloads of tourists, here are some fun cruise excursions you didn’t know you can take.
Resort Excursions Booked On Your Own
If you travel often, some cruise excursions have a been-there-done-that vibe. If your brood won’t sit still during an hours-long island tour and you’ve already swam with dolphins, we’ve rounded up some unique adventures for you. Don’t forget: If you do opt to book cruise ship excursions on your own, be sure to carefully vet vendors and be absolutely certain that you’ll make it back to the ship on time, because your ship will not wait for you if you’re late.
Port Canaveral, Florida – NASCAR Racing Experience
If your cruise ship has an overnight port stop in Port Canaveral, book a bucket-list adventure by taking your kids for a thrilling spin on the Daytona Speedway. The NASCAR Racing Experience offers a Junior Ride-Along program for children under 100 pounds.
Daytona is about a 60-minute drive from port, and several cruise lines offer a tour of the facility as an excursion, but you can reserve this fabulous family adventure on your own. And if your family is big into motorsports, consider staying overnight at The Daytona, located right across the street from the track. The hotel is packed with racing memorabilia, including vintage race cars, plus the new ONE DAYTONA outdoor complex features many great restaurants and shopping. Family packages for ride-alongs and Speedway tours can be purchased through the Speedway, too.
Bermuda – Hartley’s Helmet Diving
Does your family love Finding Nemo? If so, Hartley’s Helmet Diving in Bermuda will offer tons of fun. It’s actually an undersea walk, not a dive, so children aged five and up can participate—even if they can’t swim yet. You’ll take an enjoyable 30-minute boat ride to the reef, and then suit up in square helmets (your head stays dry!), plus knee pads and wetsuits before climbing down the boat’s ladder. You’ll spend about 30 minutes walking on the ocean floor to pet and feed fish and other creatures, and learn about sea life.
Barbados – Ultimate Shipwreck Snorkel
Got any wannabe pirates in your family? They’ll love the Ultimate Shipwreck Snorkel in Barbados. A 25-minute boat ride from the Bridgetown port takes you to calm waters, where you’ll snorkel and see sea turtles and puffer fish in their natural habitat. Then, explore five shipwrecks at Carlisle Bay Marine Park, where you’ll catch a glimpse of sea horses, rays, octopus, reef squid and more sea life. Onboard beverages are served afterwards, followed by a Barbadian barbecue buffet lunch and return transportation to the pier.
Ketchikan, Alaska – Adventure Kart Expedition
Sure, your gang will love the spectacular scenery during an Alaskan cruise. But if you’re stopping in Ketchikan, why not book an adrenalin-infused Adventure Kart Expedition. After a 30-minute coach ride, you’ll hop into a rugged Tomcar for a 14-mile back country tour through old logging roads in the Tongass National Forest. Your family will love learning about the area’s history, and snacks with water are included.
Related: Best Cruise Ports, Ranked
Beach Resort Day Passes
There are increasing numbers of swanky hotels in the Caribbean offering day passes, and many include food, drinks, kids’ club activities, Wi-Fi and non-motorized water sports in the price. With discounted rates for children under 12 (and many offering free entry for kids under 3), day passes are a great option for cruising families that don’t want to fork over full price for an ordinary beach excursion (or who don’t want to take a taxi ride to a driver-recommended beach that turns out not to have bathrooms or food available—the horror!). Although you can purchase passes up until the day you arrive in port, we recommend reserving them in advance, especially if you’ll be traveling during busy times such as spring break or a holiday period.
Nassau, Bahamas – Melia Nassau Beach
If your family has already experienced a day at Atlantis, you might want to try something different on a visit to Nassau, Bahamas. Instead, take a 20-minute cab ride to one of the prettiest beaches in the Bahamas to spend the day at Melia Nassau Beach. A day pass includes all food and alcoholic drinks, plus use of two adults-only and one family pool. Waterfront sports equipment such as stand-up paddleboards, ocean kayaks and snorkel gear is also part of the deal, or you can rent additional equipment such as jet skis. Wi-Fi, lounge chairs and towels are all provided.
Jamaica – Jewel Runaway Bay Beach Resort
Located close to the cruise ports in Ocho Rios and Falmouth, the family-friendly Jewel Runaway Bay Beach Resort features two pools plus a waterpark with 10 splash-tastic attractions. Lounge in a hammock under a swaying palm tree, build sandcastles on the beach or swim in the clear ocean. Bonus: Parents will love the Sunken Treasure swim-up bar, also included in the pass. You can rent snorkelling equipment or bring your own. Purchase a day pass directly through the resort or book your visit through ResortForADay.com, where unlimited food and all beverages (hello, frothy cocktails!) are included, as well as a round-trip shuttle from the pier.
San Juan, Puerto Rico – Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
Take a five-minute taxi ride from the San Juan pier and spend the day along 500 feet of Atlantic oceanfront on Condado Beach at the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. The property offers beach, pool and whirlpool access to day pass holders, along with towels, lounge chairs and umbrellas. There are three pools, plus a waterslide and cascading waterfalls. If the sun is shining too brightly, take the kids inside for a break in the children’s game room (while parents can take their own break in the sauna or onsite casino). Food and drinks are not included, but some booking options, such as ResortForADay.com, offer a food and beverage credit as a perk.
St. Lucia – Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa
The day pass at the four-star Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa in St. Lucia, located on the gorgeous Reduit Beach, can be purchased through ResortForADay.com and includes the choice of a half-day pass for anyone six years old and up at the Splash Island Water Park—the largest inflatable water park on the island—the use of two non-motorized water sports or a 20-minute massage (if mom or dad cares to sneak away). Lunch and four beverages per person are also part of the deal, as is free Wi-Fi.
Resort Excursions Booked Through Your Cruise Line
While visits to island resorts may be pricier through your cruise line’s shore excursion desk than what you can find on your own, ship-organized day trips always include round-trip transportation. That means you’re sure never to be racing back to your ship or worse, miss it altogether as it sails away to the next port! Here are two fabulous options.
Mahogany Bay, Roatán, Honduras – Carnival Cruise Line
If you love white sandy beaches and clear turquoise water, you’ll love Carnival Cruise Line’s excursion to the Mayan Princess Resort. This all-inclusive property—located about 45 minutes from the pier—provides lounge chairs, towels, showers, beach club buffet and beverages, along with all the resort’s facilities. Kids will love the Mayan pool with waterfalls, and parents will enjoy the jacuzzi surrounded by tropical gardens.
10. Mazatlán, Mexico – Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line has the perfect way to enjoy the port of Mazatlán. After a relaxing coastal drive, enjoy a day at a luxurious all-inclusive resort where your children can splash around at the beach or poolside waterslides or enjoy a day at the kids club with the resort’s entertainment staff, while parents can participate in pool games, dance lessons and volleyball matches. Or, hang out at the pool and then enjoy the buffet or beach barbecue lunch—including beverages and cocktails.
Montreal-based Wendy Helfenbaum is a journalist, content strategist and TV producer who writes for dozens of digital and print magazines, as well as many brands. Wendy loves cruising, adventure travel and venturing off the beaten path with her husband and teenage son, and she can pack a carry-on bag like nobody’s business. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum.