One of the highest rated places to spend a day while your cruise is I. Freeport, Grand Bahama Island is the Grand Lucayan resort. What is it like spending your day there, and is it worth it?
Royal Caribbean is in negotiations to purchase this resort as the centerpiece for a massive new project, but in the meantime the resort is in a state of limbo as most of it remains shutdown.
Nonetheless, the Grand Lucayan is a compelling choice for a shore excursion for families looking to spend the day by the beach or pool.
The Grand Lucayan resort has a long history as the premier hotel on Grand Bahama Island, but lapses in ownership combined with hurricane damage have left the resort in a less than ideal situation. The resort is owned by the Bahamian government at the moment, although Royal Caribbean has intentions to purchase the resort and transform it into a new world-class destination with a one-of-a-kind hotel, convention center, water adventure park and more.
In the meantime, the Grand Lucayan is split among two resorts: The Grand Lucayan and Lighthouse Pointe at Grand Lucayan. Currently, only Lighthouse Pointe is open.
Cruise ship passengers can purchase an all-inclusive day pass to the resort by calling the resort directly. At the time we visited, the day pass rate is $75 per adult, and $65 for kids.
The all inclusive option includes food and drinks at all the restaurants at Lighthouse Pointe, house wines by the glass, local beers, and bottled beers and some premium liquors.
Perrier Water, Vitamin water, Gatorade, Wine by the bottle, and top shelf brands are not included.
You also have to pay for a taxi to get to or from the resort, which costs about $35 each way.
Like most hotels that offer a day pass, you check-in at the front desk and are given wristbands for use during the day.
The two big things that the Grand Lucayan offers is a large infinity pool and sprawling beach.
There is also a lap pool and hot tub you can use. Kids are not allowed in the hot tub.
The beach was manicured and groomed, with little debris around. While it was overcast on the day we visited, the ocean was lovely and the sand at the beach was powdery soft.
There are lots of chairs and umbrellas near the pool, and a few chairs under palapas at the beach. On the day we visited, there was no waiter service, but there is a nearby bar that opened at 11am to get drinks and food.
The pool bar has a menu of burgers, wings, fish and salads to choose from. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food.
All the food and drinks we ordered were included with the all inclusive option, so it was just a matter of signing off for what we ordered for the pool bar's record keeping.
Being a day guest, the resort delivered exactly what it advertised: a relaxing day by the pool or beach with food and drinks to enjoy.
Clearly the resort is in need of upkeep, and in the case of the other side of the resort, a major gutting and rework. It sounds like if Royal Caribbean completes the deal to purchase the resort, that will be in the plan.
On our visit, it was quite strange that there were barely any other guests around at all. For the first hour or two, we did not see anyone else at the beach or pool.
By the time we departed the resort, we saw perhaps 10 other guests in total. That is not a bad thing, as we got to enjoy the facilities without any crowds, chair hogs, or large groups. But if you are looking for a lively party atmosphere, it was not there.
Like any all inclusive option, the question comes up of getting your money's worth. I enjoyed the facilities, but I am quite certain we did not break even on the food or drink included.
Overall, I was happy with our time hanging by the pool, and walking by the ocean. Our ship's time in port (7:00am to 3:30pm) made for a short visit, but it was a nice day.
The cruise industry is undergoing a lot of changes that will fundamentally change how we approach cruises, and how we plan and book shore excursions is going to be among the most impactful.
While Royal Caribbean has not divulged its full list of new rules guests can expect when cruises resume in North America, limitations on shore excursions are a likely component to the cruise that could see big changes.
There are two compelling reasons to believe changes to how guests book and take shore excursions are coming, and what you should be doing now to prepare for it.
Over the summer, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings created the Healthy Sail Panel of health experts to create a framework for cruises to operate safely.
Five of the recommendations deal specifically with shore excursions, and a limitation on what tours guests can do is a major part of panel's recommendations.
Once guests get on a cruise, if the multi-layered approach to mitigating the spread of the virus does its job, that means the only real way to potentially introduce the virus on the ship is during port calls.
The panel recommends "during the initial return to sailing", any cruise line only allow guests to get off of a cruise ship if they, "participate in cruise line-sponsored or verified excursions as a way of limiting potential exposures in the destinations they visit."
Not only that, the Panel recommends should even go to the length of offering indoor excursions only if physical distancing, use of masks, and other recommended protective measures can be implemented.
What this all means is there are going to be limited shore excursions during the initial restart of cruises, and more competition among guests for tickets for tours.
It should be noted that Royal Caribbean has not yet formalized these Healthy Sail Panel recommendations into cruise line rules, but considering how heavily the cruise industry is leaning on the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations as their basis for being allowed to restart cruises, it is more likely (than unlikely) that these will become rules.
The other big reason why you should expect a change in shore excursions is based on the first cruises that restarted in Europe.
Similar to the Healthy Sail Panel, MSC Cruises laid out a series of new rules and protocols aimed to keep guests safe onboard the ships, as well as prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes requiring guests only go ashore as part of an organized MSC Cruises’ excursion.
Both of these examples are important because the European cruises that have restarted sailing have largely been viewed as a success, due to the stringent new rules.
What you can do now
Shore excursions have always been a major part of the overall cruise experience, and in the next few months, how you approach planning tours is likely to change.
First and foremost, I would recommend not booking any shore excursions through a third party company until Royal Caribbean clearly specifies its plans for shore excursions. If you feel compelled to still book a tour, be sure you can cancel for a full refund.
Next, you will want to keep an eye on the Cruise Planner site, where you can pre-book shore excursions prior to the sailing beginning. If guests are going to be limited to cruise line tours, demand for them is sure to rise and that means excursions are likely to sell out faster than before.
Conversely, the other factor that may reduce the need to book tours as soon as possible is the fact Royal Caribbean will sail with a limited capacity initially.
Each ship will have its own capacity (which has not been divulged by the cruise line), but less people on a ship means less competition than what we may be used to with shore excursion bookings.
Nonetheless, it is a good idea to plan ahead more than ever for shore excursions. Not only will it allow you to guard against a tour selling out, you will also be able to take advantage of pre-cruise sales that discount the shore excursion's onboard price.
The first sailings back will visit Perfect Day at CocoCay only, but eventually cruises will stop at other ports of call, and this strategy will be important.
Limited tours are not forever
If you are reading all of this and upset at the changes, take solace in the fact these protocols are not intended to be in place indefinitely.
Royal Caribbean and the Healthy Sail Panel have said many of the new protocols are intended to be temporary, and when conditions around the world improve, these protocols can be relaxed and/or removed entirely.
The Healthy Sail Panel was sure to note the limitation in shore excursions was only meant for the initial return to sailing.
Universal Studios Orlando announced it will officially re-open to the public on June 5, 2020.
The popular Orlando theme park is a partner of Royal Caribbean International, with many vacation packages and shore excursions offered by the cruise line.
Universal Orlando released a statement on Friday that Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay will open to the public on June 5th.
The theme park reopening was approved by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
With the announcement comes new protocols, as well as a reminder for all guests to adhere to CDC guidelines and the guidance of health officials. Specifically, guests and team members must wear face coverings and undergo temperature checks. Those with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will not be able to enter.
Other protocols include:
Staggered parking in the parking garage.
Daily limit on park attendance, as well as limit on people on each attraction.
Virtual lines will be available for select attractions.
Social distancing will be enforced throughout the parks including within attraction queues and at restaurants. Increased cleaning and disinfection of food locations, ride vehicles, and other “touch points.”
Cashless payments and “no touch” policies where possible.
Should you book your shore excursions through Royal Caribbean, or should you book tours on your own? There are advantages to both strategies, as well as important considerations to be aware of as well.
There is a good argument to be made for doing either one, so here is what you need to know about booking shore excursions and if you are better off going through the cruise line.
Why you should book an excursion through Royal Caribbean
Booking your shore excursion through the cruise line provides the safety net of knowing a few important facts about any tour you choose.
Tours are vetted
Royal Caribbean stands behind the excursions they offer, which means they have certified the tour operator provides the proper equipment, performs the tour in a safe environment with proper gear, as well as providing an authentic experience.
If you are doing a tour that involves boats, airplanes or helicopters, the knowledge that Royal Caribbean stands behind this tour provides some guests with the good feeling that the operator has been properly vetted for safety.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to book a shore excursion through the cruise ship is the promise if the tour runs late or is delayed, Royal Caribbean will get you back on the ship.
Royal Caribbean coordinates with the tour operators around the ship's schedule to minimize any risk of the ship needing to leave for the next destination without you onboard.
When you book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, they guarantee that if your tour is delayed, the ship will wait for you. In the unlikely event that your tour is significantly delayed, and the ship cannot wait, Royal Caribbean will make all the arrangements for you to return to the ship at no expense to you.
If you tour on your own, the ship will not wait, as it is your responsibility to be onboard before the ship's scheduled departure time.
Booking a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean is super simple, with a one-stop shop for browsing tours via the Cruise Planner site.
You can view all the options in one place, and compare tour options before booking. You can even apply onboard credit towards a particular excursion!
As a consumer, it is very nice to have one place to see all the options presented in an easy-to-understand manner.
Why you should book excursions independently or tour on your own
Greater variety of choices
No matter what Royal Caribbean does, they can never match the amount of options you can consider by booking a tour independently or booking a shore excursion on your own.
In every port you visit, there are a multitude of tour operators available beyond what the cruise line can offer. Moreover, you may simply want to walk around on your own and forgo an organized tour. Either way, you will find more options and combinations if you book on your own than through the cruise line.
In the Caribbean, one of my favorite family excursions is to book an all-inclusive resort day pass [link contains affiliate link, which costs you nothing extra!]. Not only are most of these unavailable through Royal Caribbean, they are great values and a lot of fun.
In general, you may be able to save money by booking similar tours to what the cruise line offers because there is "middle man". Royal Caribbean sells these tours, but they are operated by someone else, and that means Royal Caribbean is getting a cut of the profits.
With so many tour operators competing to offer similar excursions, booking a shore excursion through a third party means you may be able to find a lower price for the same trek.
As long as you research the company you are working with, and provide yourself enough time to get back to the ship on time, it can make a lot of sense to book an independent shore excursion that would otherwise cost you more money onboard.
Shore excursions sold by the cruise ship have a tendency to be large groups, which means you move at the group pace instead of your own.
By booking an independent tour, you may be able to find a tour with a smaller group or even a private tour all together. This means you may be able to see more, or at the very least get around at a faster pace.
Moreover, going with a private guide you can get more personalized information about where you are going, as well as catering to what you want.
It should be noted that Royal Caribbean does offer its own brand of private shore excursions, known as Private Journeys.
You prefer to walk around on your own
In some ports, getting around is very easy without any tour at all.
If your ship visits a city where you dock very close to the downtown area, it may be quite simple to bring a walking tour and explore on your own. Not only will this be cheaper than any tour, it allows you to easily get around to visit shops, museums, cafes or historic monuments.
Not all ports may qualify for this, but places like San Francisco, Old San Juan or Barcelona are excellent ports of call to go the DIY route.
One of the most popular shore excursions in Nassau, Bahamas is the Blue Lagoon Beach Day tour. I decided to check it out for myself and see what it offers.
Blue Lagoon is a private island that is about a 30 minute boat ride away from where the cruise ships tender in Nassau. It is located just off the coast of Paradise Island, which is home to Atlantis Resort and many extremely extravagant mansions.
Blue Lagoon offers a variety of options for booking a visit to their island. There is a basic beach day pass, dolphin swim combo, stingray encounter, Segway and more. I counted nine different tours that take you to Blue Lagoon.
Ultimately, I settled on the VIP Blue Lagoon Island Beach Day since I did not want to do any of the animal encounters or other tours.
The VIP tour came out to $120.99 per person. I believe the non-VIP tour would have cost around $88.
Check-in for the tour was on the pier in Nassau where the ship docks. Since I had the VIP tour, I was taken out of the regular line and escorted ahead of everyone else to a ferry that was waiting to take us to the island.
On the ferry, VIP members were given a bottle of water and a granola bar snack.
As we arrived to the island, the crew instructed VIP guests to debark first, ahead of everyone else.
Blue Lagoon is made up of a variety of beaches that you can visit at your leisure. The dolphin, stingray, shark and sea lion encounters are all on the east side of the island. Even if you do not have an encounter scheduled, you can walk around the area and see the animals.
Our VIP guide escorted us to a private beach area that was a short walk away on the northwest side of the island.
There, we found a pristine beach with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas to enjoy.
The VIP tour provides unlimited bottled water, mimosas and fruit punch to enjoy.
The beach was beautiful and very private, although the rockiness of it made swimming and wading beyond your waist impossible.
VIP guests are free to wander the island and enjoy any of the other beaches. Snorkeling equipment rental is included with the VIP pass.
A BBQ island buffet is included with the VIP pass, and served just outside the beach in a shaded area with picnic table seating.
The buffet lunch consisted of salad, fried fish, steak, BBQ chicken, plantains and corn on the cob.
The other beaches offer different ocean depths and views. Some are better for swimming, others better for wading and others suitable for snorkeling.
You have the option to add onto your beach pass to add an animal encounter, aqua park or other tour.
As advertised, Blue Lagoon is indeed a beautiful and serene island to spend the day and delivers a relaxing beach day option.
There was plenty of seating, and the service provided to VIP guests was excellent.
I was disappointed to find the VIP beach to be too rocky to swim. In fact, it was too rocky to even walk very deep in and I noticed only a few brave guests venturing across the rocks to get waist deep.
Of course, I could leave the VIP beach and enjoy a rock-free beach elsewhere, but it seems to be a waste of paying for the VIP perks.
I think Blue Lagoon is a good choice for someone who wants to do an animal encounter, or some other type of tour, and combine it with a great beach day.
Cozumel is known for a great many fun ways to spend your day, including time relaxing at the beach or pool with a drink in hand. The El Cozumeleño resort is one such offering, and it has quickly risen to the top of my favorite places in Cozumel for a beach break.
After first visiting over a year ago, I wanted to check back in to see how well it stacks up these days.
El Cozumeleño sells day passes [link contains affiliate link, which costs you nothing extra!] to its resort that can be purchased online, and it offers guests unlimited access to the resort grounds, food, drink and activities.
The hotel is located on the north end of Cozumel, and is about a 10-15 minute taxi ride from where Royal Caribbean docks its cruise ships at the International Pier. The posted price for 1-4 people to get to El Cozumeleño is $16.
Once you arrive at the resort, you will check-in and receive a welcome drink. It should be noted that a form of payment and identification will be kept at the front desk during your stay.
Towels are available to rent for an additional charge ($5 per towel).
The resort itself is sprawling, with two pool areas, a long beach, and multiple dining venues to enjoy.
One of my favorite features of the resort are the hammocks near the beach, which are not only extremely comfortable, but a prime napping spot.
During our visit, a storm had passed through the area the night before, so the ocean was a bit more stirred up that on my previous visit. The result was the surf was quite strong and the beach a bit worse for wear. Throughout the day, the resort staff worked to clean and reticulate the beach.
By far, the pool area is the primary focus of the resort. While many visitors enjoy time at the beach, the resort's pools are as massive as they are lovely to see.
The pool has a variety of depths, and the north end pools are much shallower and welcoming for younger children.
Your day pass is good from morning through the afternoon and into the early evening, so breakfast and lunch are part of the admission fee.
Your day pass includes:
Pool access, with swim-up bar
Chairs & Lounge Chairs
Unlimited drinks (alcohol & non alcohol)
Non-motorized water sports including snorkeling equipment & Kayaking
Children ́s activities center
Children’s wading pool
Complimentary Wi-Fi service in lobby
There is a large buffet dining venue between the two pool areas that serves meals and snacks throughout the day.
In the morning, the buffet features typical breakfast fare, along with an omelet station.
At lunch, the offerings change to a traditional Mexican lunch with grilled meats and vegetables available on demand.
In addition to the sit down options, waiters are happy to bring food and drink to your chair by the pool or beach as you need it. The wait staff roam the grounds and regularly check if you need anything else.
The food menu is a mix of Mexican favorites and American food. Ceviche, pizza, salsa, guacamole, quesadillas and more are available and unlimited too.
Likewise, there is a good assortment of beverages to enjoy. The selection of beer and liquors is limited in terms of brands (Dos Equis beer, and typically one type of liquor).
When I visited El Cozumeleño in 2018, I loved the balance of price, offerings and service, and it seems like the resort maintains that equilibrium quite well.
There are no shortage of great day pass resorts in Cozumel, so what makes El Cozumeleño stand out is the ample space, good food and drink, along with attentive service.
The resort looks great, and it feels like a step above your average resort. It is no Ritz Carlton by any means, but the staff do a great job maintaining it.
Some of our readers have reported during busier times of the year (popular holidays), chairs go quickly and are often claimed by resort guests earlier in the day. While I have not experienced this in my two visits, it is worth noting if you plan a visit over a holiday season.
At the time of our visit, the price was $69.00 per adult and $40.00 for children aged 3-11 years old (2 and under are free).
A major component to a cruise vacation is exploring and enjoying the ports of call your cruise ship will visit. With so many great activities and tours available on shore, you will definitely want to do it all without spending a fortune.
Booking that tour that looks amazing does not mean you have to pay top dollar, so we have a few ways you can save money on cruise excursions.
Make plans on your own
The first place cruisers look for shore excursions is to book something with the cruise line. While there is nothing wrong with booking a tour through the cruise line, often this is the most expensive option.
While booking a shore excursion through the cruise line comes with some advantages, such as the quality of the tour and guarantee to get back to the ship, booking a tour on your own provides far greater flexibility and money saving opportunities.
Booking an independent excursion or tour guide usually will cost less than with the cruise line, since you can customize where you go and there is no "middle man" taking a cut of the cost.
You could also skip an organized tour all together and rent a car, hop on a bus, or simply walk around on your own.
Regardless of which manner you do something in port outside of the cruise line, be sure to manage your time well and do proper research into reputability of anyone you hire.
In addition to making plans on your own to tour, another option is to book tours through a third-party shore excursion provider.
Sometimes referred to as shore excursion specialists, these providers are similar to the cruise lines in that they offer pre-packaged tours with reputable operators, but are often priced much less. Exact savings will vary, so be sure to shop around and compare prices.
Besides price, they offer certain guarantees in what is offered, refunds, and assurances that may put your mind at ease when it comes to doing something outside of Royal Caribbean.
There are many different excursion brokers out there, but here are a few of the ones we have heard good things about:
Resort For A Day [Note, this link contains an affiliate link. I earn from qualifying purchases that costs you nothing extra]
If you are looking to book a shore excursion through Royal Caribbean, take advantage of pre-cruise discounts offered by the cruise line in the months leading up the cruise.
Every few weeks, Royal Caribbean offers sales via its Cruise Planner site that discount select shore excursions. These may not be giant sales, but every dollar saved adds up.
Head over to Royal Caribbean's site to book shore excursions and see if any discounts apply to you. Be sure to check back periodically to see if there is has been a price drop.
Save on excursions at NextCruise
If you happen to book another cruise while onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise at the NextCruise office, you can qualify for up to 10% off future shore excursions when you pre-plan them onboard.
You can talk to the NextCruise staff member about details, but usually it offers 5% off the first two excursions and 10% off three or more excursions.
Take the bus
One of the largest sources of cost in any excursion is the transportation to get to and from an area. While many guests opt for taxis, do not overlook public buses.
The "chariot of the people" is available in many ports you will visit, and will cost a fraction of private transportation.
Prior to the cruise, look up bus schedules and pick up locations. Be sure to have proper bus fare, as well as return service. The bottom line is, a bus ride can save a ton of money.
Great value: hop on, hop off buses
Regardless if you book this through Royal Caribbean or on your own, a very popular and affordable way to see a city is a hop on, hop off bus.
These buses/trolleys/trams run a regular route throughout the city and admission allows you unlimited rides during the day. These types of buses are usually very inexpensive, and a very affordable way to get around town and see many different sites without paying for a private tour.
An added benefit is these hop on, hop off rides tend to be narrated too, so you can still learn about the city you are visiting while onboard.
This may sound like an odd tip, but one way to save on a shore excursion is not to book one at all!
Generally speaking, I think exploring the ports your ship visits is a fantastic idea, however, sometimes it may make more sense to stay on your ship while in port for a few reasons.
First, the port you are visiting may not offer a tour or activity that really jumps out at you. Some ports offer very few activities, or perhaps the price is too high for what you want to do. There is no reason to book a tour just for the sake of doing something.
Second, if you stay onboard your ship in one port, that means more money in your vacation budget to do something in a different port. After all, one awesome tour is better than a couple of mediocre ones.
Third, staying onboard the ship is a fun experience in and of itself because the ship is typically so empty, that it feels like you have the venues to yourself. The pools, hot tubs and dining venues will be open and nearly empty! It is a fun feeling enjoying these areas without the usual crowd.
What is your best shore excursion money-saving tip? Can you recommend any good strategies for making your vacation dollar go further? Share your tips, tricks and questions in the comments below!
Of the popular activities to try while a cruise ship is visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico, going to the beach is in the upper echelon of choices. The Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino offers day passes (Link contains affiliate link, which means I get paid a finders fee, but no additional cost to you) to purchase, where guests can enjoy access to the resort grounds and I decided to try it out on a recent visit with my family.
The Marriott advertises itself as a great choice for families of all ages to enjoy time under a palm tree at the beach, or at one of their three pools. Given the fact it can get quite warm in San Juan, the idea of relaxing in the water sounded like a great idea.
The Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is located in an area of San Juan known as Condado Beach. It is a very short taxi ride away from where the cruise ships dock in Old San Juan, and perhaps a 5 to 7 minute ride from when you enter the taxi to when you exit it.
We purchased a day pass in advance from Resortforaday, and the website advertised you have access to the resort from 9am to 5pm with the pass, but when we arrived, the staff informed us we could stay as late as 11pm.
Upon arrival, you check-in at the front desk and pay the remaining balance due for the day pass. You are then given wrist bands that must be worn during your visit. There is a vigilant amount of security guards who monitor all entry and exit points of the resort to prevent people from accessing the Marriott who are not guests.
Here is exactly what is included with your day pass:
$20 food & beverage credit per adult pass
20% discount on nail, massage & body treatments at on-site spa
Beach access, pool access, whirlpool access
Lounge chairs, umbrellas, beach & pool towels
Outdoor shower for casual clean up
Bathrooms available for changing
Walking down to the pool and beach area, you will find multiple pools and even a water slide to enjoy.
Each pool area features plenty of seating, and the resort's tall buildings tend to cast a shadow on part of the pool area. This means you should be able to find seating in the shade or in the sun.
There is a swim up bar in one of the pools, and waiter service that is fairly easy to flag down when needed.
The water slide was a big hit with my kids, who relished going down it all the time.
Of course, beach access is also available and the walk from the pool and resort to the beach is a mere few steps.
While the Marriott is not an all-inclusive, it does include $20 food & beverage credit per adult pass purchased. You will find pretty standard hotel food and drink, although I was happy to find some local craft beers available on the menu.
Our family enjoyed our visit to the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino because it was exactly what we wanted: a place to enjoy time at the beach or pool, where the kids could splash and play to their hearts' content and my wife and I could relax while watching them.
Day passes are not a popular offering in San Juan, so options are limited, but I think we were satisfied with the choice to come to the Marriott. The taxi ride from the port was extremely short, and the resort amenities are exactly what I think most want in a day pass visit. There was plenty of seating (we arrived after lunch), and the resort is well-maintained.
We paid $60 per adult, which does include that $20 food and beverage credit. So essentially, $40 each to spend a few hours at the resort. That is a pretty good value for access to the resort.
The food is not anything special, and we relegated ourselves to drinks and snacks. We figured it would be best to spend money on a meal back in Old San Juan. I think most people visiting are interested in essentially a beach or pool day, with snacks and drinks mixed in as well.
Overall, if you are looking for some time in the water while visiting San Juan, the Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino fits the bill for a fun option. While it may not rank among my favorite day pass resorts in all of the Caribbean, it met every expectation I had for it. Families should find this to be a good value for spending a few hours beachside or poolside.