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November 14, 2005

Off the Boat

As a major part of any cruising experience is enjoying the best of exotic locales, understanding what each destination has to offer is a key to choosing the cruise that's right for you. Once you've decided on an itinerary, advanced planning of your shore time can make the difference between having experiences that you'll remember for a lifetime and just wandering around.

Choosing the right ports.

The only way to make informed decisions is to educate yourself about what's out there. You can learn a great deal from web research and your travel agent, but we've just been introduced to an essential new tool: port DVDs designed specifically for cruisers, available from Port Videos Online.

Each DVD or video is packed with up to 90 minutes of the best "Must-See" and "Must-Do" attractions, activities, and shore trips in the world's most popular ports. Produced for cruisers by people who love cruising, they are invaluable in planning time ashore or making a decision on which destinations to visit next. (They also makes a great gifts for friends about to cruise!)

$19.95 (including shipping) gets you up to speed on a dozen different ports in a cruising region of your choice--a good investment for getting the most of a vacation most of us will spend thousands of dollars on.

Once you get there.

Your choices are to explore on your own or take a packaged shore excursion. Cruise line-sponsored excursions come with the guarantee that you'll never miss the boat if you're late getting back, but they also tend to be over-priced, crowded and often sold-out.

Port Promotions offers direct booking of excursions in ports around the world. Some of these go to the same places that cruise lines do at a lower cost; and some are with smaller operators that can take you off the beaten path.

Other good sources for learning about independent operators are web communities like Cruise Mates and Cruise Addicts, as you can ask people who have been there about their first-hand experience. I found a little company called Barrett Adventures in Montego Bay this way, and our hike up pristine Mayfield Falls (away from the swarming crowds at Dunn's, where the ship's tour went) is my most-vivid memory of the entire trip.

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