At the age of 24, I went on my first cruise. More than anything else, I was excited to dig deep into each destination country and experience the culture and atmosphere. Much to my dismay, just about every port was built up to reflect North America and it became extremely difficult to truly grasp what the country was like.
Everywhere I went, there seemed to be sunscreen smothered North Americans and people trying to sell me souvenirs that I really didn't want to buy. I knew that this was not a true representation of the the country, or even the city that I was in, and I craved to find something richer, beyond the visage in front of me.
Thankfully I came prepared to branch out beyond the ports and I learned some tips along the way, for how to experience cruise destinations less like a tourist and more like a local.
Here are my best tips to get a more enriching experience out of each cruise port that you visit:
1. Do your research.
Before you go on your trip, look up the country's local destinations and activities that are of interest to you. Use the Google search engine, Pinterest or hashtags/location on Instagram, to help you pick locations or stops that you want to visit at each port. Be sure to verify that they are within a reasonable distance from where your ship will port. Feel free to check out some of my Pinterest boards for location pins and ideas on what to save for your own Pinterest boards.
2. Don't go on paid excursions.
The first thing that I want to say is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to go on a cruise's paid excursion. If that's what you are interested in doing, go for it! Some of the adventures and experiences that are offered are incredible and would make for a fantastic time away, but if you are looking for something beyond an "average tourist experience," paying big bucks to participate in an activity with other sunburned, lanyard wearing tourists won't get you a true sense of the country. When you participate in excursions, they often take up many hours of your day in port, limiting you to the things that you are able to experience beyond that one experience.
3. Don't be afraid to wander around.
**Before you do this, make sure to do your research** Some locations can be more dangerous than others. If you plan to wander, research the area before your trip or ask about safety from an information desk during your travels. Wandering around the shops can be a nice way to spend the day, if you are looking to buy things, but these shops are mainly there to cater to the tourists.
One of my favourite places to wander around in was Mexico, just beyond the shops and into the streets. Taking in the colours and structures of the homes, as well as watching the locals passing by in their day to to day lives, proved to be much more interesting to me. Curious exploration can sometimes lead you to some pretty, unknown locations, away from the hustle bustle.
4. Take a taxi or public transit.
For a real travel experience, I highly suggest taking public transit. Again, it is VERY important to know for sure that the public transit you are taking is legit and safe. That being said, there are few better ways to experience a location than by doing it alongside the locals. Almost always, public transit is a much cheaper option than any other form of transport.
When travelling in Grand Cayman, we were offered a taxi for almost $40 USD. To get to that same location, with the experience of sharing a transit van with strangers and taking a few extra stops, it cost us $2.50 USD. If that's not a great deal, I don't know what is! If public transit isn't for you, there are still plenty of options to get around. Between a personal taxi or a shared van with friends or other cruise guests, there are plenty of ways to explore locations beyond simply travelling on foot.
** Once more, I want to emphasize the importance of only taking legit and safe transit. During my trip, having done the research, I felt safe during all of our local transportation methods. If for some reason you do not feel safe, I would suggest to go with your gut instinct and perhaps look for another method to get to your destination.**
5. Talk to the locals.
What better way to understand a place and it's people than to get to know some of the locals of that city? The people who live there are most often very friendly and are also great resources. When you start chatting with them, they are more likely to share about their lives, their interests and it's a unique way to better understand the culture. Even walking the streets, if you are looking to find information or the location of someplace, most pedestrians seem to be more than happy to help or give advice.
6. Taste the food.
Be sure to ask around locally, about where you can find some "authentic" food for that location. When you go somewhere new, if you use all of your senses, it helps you to better experience where you are and it creates more vivid memories. You can see, smell hear and feel, but until you taste food from that location, I feel that something is missing from your overall experience.
7. Take it easy - relax.
There is no sense in being uptight or rushing to fit in everything you had planned. In order to truly get a sense of your surroundings, try not to stress, rush or worry. If you are panicked or preoccupied, you will be less likely to enjoy the moment, which is the reason why you came in the first place. Take a second to exhale and look around; the people living there don't seem uptight or concerned and neither should you be.
If you are considering going on a cruise in the next little while, take a look at Travelocity for both cruise trips as well as suggestions of things to do at your ports. For more cruise trip package options be sure to look into Pacific Holidays or Cruise Direct. If you have any questions about taking a cruise or would like to hear some recommendations about cruising, be sure to get in touch, I'd love to offer some insight.