It was long in coming. The children had been talking about it since the reservation was made. It was the day of our shore excursion. We were going to swim with sea turtles, and nothing would top this.
I didn’t realize how unprepared I was for this jaunt on Blackbeard’s Revenge, the pirate ship we would board. The selection of our shore excursion had been made somewhat in haste, but the experience seemed easy enough. In hindsight, though, there might have been another shore excursion better suited for our family.
Had I simply asked myself a few questions, things would have been better. It’s possible that I would have selected an entirely different excursion. So to help you plan ahead and avoid uncomfortable mistakes like the ones I made, here are a few considerations for selecting your shore excursion.
CAN YOU COMPLY WITH AN EARLY DEPARTURE AND/OR PARTICIPATE FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME?
My family is not known for arriving in a timely fashion, and morning events that require my children to be present tend to be a burden. The actual feat of arousing a teenager from slumber, feeding a sprouting boy, confining a grade-schooler for grooming, and also managing my own appearance is not something easily accomplished before noon.
In addition, I can tire somewhat easily due to a health condition. Stress, stimulating surroundings, and physical activity have a limit with me. I can be happy and fully engaged for a number of hours, but once I hit that wall, it is done. Is it really a good idea for me to volunteer to tread water for hours in the ocean?
These are some of the things I should have considered when I booked our time with the turtles. We were required to be on our turtle trek at an hour that felt like daybreak. It made for a rough start. I felt exhausted before we even began. My children were no better off. Their manner seemed to carry over from the previous evening’s pirate party on Deck Eleven. Luckily, we were actually boarding a pirate ship, and their disagreeable manner wasn’t entirely out of place. However, as I played captain to a crew that verged on mutiny that morning, it occurred to me that this choice might not have been our best choice.
Different excursions require different times of departure. They also run for varying amounts of time. Some adventures last a full day. Some are only a couple hours. Most require early rising. Think over carefully whether your ideal vacation includes waking up to an alarm clock and being on someone else’s schedule for a day.
IS MOTION SICKNESS A POTENTIAL PITFALL?
I have struggled with motion sickness since I was very young. It isn’t a debilitating situation in most cases, but it is something that I deal with on occasion. I was reminded of this when our pirate ship began bouncing at great heights over choppy waters en route to our turtle cove. The remedies at my disposal were rum and peanut butter crackers…not exactly the help I would normally seek out. As I was forced to consider “unloading” off the side of a rebounding vessel, I realized that I should have thought this through.
There are quite a few excursions that present similar possibilities. There are bumpy bus rides over rough roads and cable cars swaying in the air. As I have now explained, I personally discovered volatile voyages on small sea vessels. Should you decide to brave one of these, at least be prepared with appropriate medication or some other type of remedy to ease discomfort.
ARE YOU OUTNUMBERED AND IN NEED OF A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT?
I am one mommy with two hands and three children. If I don’t run a tight ship, it becomes quite easy for me to lose sight of my kids and lose control of a situation. In a world full of strangers, dangers, and free-swimming sharks, an activity within a confined space would have been a better pick for us. Instead, I chose the Atlantic Ocean. I recalled this minor detail when one child swam doggedly after a tour leader who left her behind and my youngest child swam into deep waters alone and beyond reach. I was with neither of them as I was still in the boat with my third child who needed a bit more coaxing to enter the cold, watery expanse. I was one person needing to be in three places. Naturally, I found this stressful.
This is primarily a consideration for parents with multiple children. Some families take an unpredictable environment in stride. Others need more structure and a sense of security to enjoy themselves. It’s wise to consider which excursion can provide the most fun without making you feel stretched beyond your limits.
DO YOU HAVE THE PHYSICAL STRENGTH AND/OR SKILLS REQUIRED?
Being the daughter of a lifeguard, I have always considered myself a strong swimmer. My children are strong swimmers as well, but none of us are very familiar with snorkeling. I was surprised at the incredible awkwardness that snorkeling gear presents.
My son, in particular, had an incredibly difficult time. His mask was either fogging up or filling up. Not being able to reach bottom and get his head very high out of the water, we both struggled to adjust his gear every time. After his sputtering and choking and countless attempts to “try again,” he was finally exhausted and reduced to tears. It was a bit heartbreaking for him to return to the boat defeated simply because he couldn’t master his snorkel gear.
Many shore excursions require a degree of physical exertion. A few require a specific skill set, and this is often indicated when choosing an excursion. If you have young children, older persons, or individuals with some type of challenged condition, this is a critical consideration. It could mean the difference between a magical moment and a “tragical” moment.
ARE THERE ANY FEAR FACTORS TO FACE?
I used to fear putting my hand in the goldfish tank in the chance that a goldfish might swim too close to my fingers. Imagine my reaction to being immersed in the world’s largest fish tank, looking ahead through my snorkel mask, and spotting an entire school of needle nose fish swimming straight towards me. As you can probably guess, the entire cove was notified of the incident when I shot my head out of the water and screamed, “Ah! They almost touched me! Make them go away!” I confess it was not my most graceful moment.
Adventure usually involves a bit of the “unknown,” and the “unknown” usually brings on an element of fear. Sometimes the fear can be thrilling, especially once it is conquered. Other times it just makes for an unpleasant situation. When picking a shore excursion, it is of great importance to consider which side of the line your family will fall.
DOES THE POTENTIAL OF NUDITY PRESENT A PROBLEM?
My approach to parenting can be lax at times, but not when it comes to nudity. Some degree of cover is needed for me to remain in my comfort zone as a parent. Thankfully, there were no topless “mermaids” in the turtle cove for my tween son to oogle. Had we discovered any, I would have found myself squirming and wishing for a quick retreat back to our cruise ship.
Different countries hold different cultural practices. A common one is partial nudity on beaches. And since many of the shore excursions involve waterside activity, it is not uncommon to come across a degree of nudity during certain port adventures. Once again, the potential of it is usually indicated when your excursion is chosen. And if nudity doesn’t bother you, feel free to proceed. If it does bother you, you may want to keep browsing for another option. Otherwise, there may be some browsing of a nature you hadn’t originally intended.
WILL THERE BE AN EXTRA COST IN FOOD, TIPS, AND SOUVENIRS?
At the end of our sea turtle search, we were all loaded back onto our pirate ship. Rum and peanut butter crackers were passed around. Everyone had a tattoo slapped onto his body, and we were the happiest crew to sail the seas until our captain had his deckhands model their merchandise for us. Suddenly my youngest daughter felt her life would cease to exist if she didn’t get the tank top to prove she had become an official pirate of Blackbeard’s Revenge. Aside from the humble amount of money I had brought for tipping those deckhands, I was empty-handed. It had never occurred to me that I would be presented with a shopping opportunity in between hunting for sea turtles and eating peanut butter crackers. All the same, it was there. I was unprepared, and my budding scallywag returned to our cruise ship with naught. Her temporary tattoo might as well have read, “My mom went on a sea turtle excursion, and all I got was this lousy tattoo.” If it didn’t actually say that, her face certainly did.
Be prepared for hidden costs. On a cruise we get used to the idea that most everything is included in our initial payment. It is easy to overlook the fact that excursions incur expenses of their own. It is common practice to tip the leaders of your port adventure. In some cases, you are also expected to purchase your own food during your time in port. And, as I found out, you will most likely discover a shopping opportunity to gather souvenirs.
A shore excursion is a truly fantastic way to experience any particular port. In most cases you get an adequate take on the local culture, history, or geography. Considering the issues discussed can help you make a wiser choice in terms of which excursion is a good fit. You are certain to have an experience that is unforgettable. It’s best if it is remembered for the right reasons.