Your cruise will likely stop at several ports. When it does, you are free to do what you like. You can go for a walk around town, hire a taxi, or go on an organized trip, also known as a shore excursion.
Shore excursions can either be independent, meaning that you find a provider on your own and book the trip on your own, or organized through the cruise lines.
Most people, especially first time cruisers, book their shore excursions through the cruise line. There are three major reasons for this:
1. Your Convenience - The cruise lines have done the legwork for you. You book online beforehand, or from your cabin, and know for sure you'll get the tour you want
2. Your Confidence - If your independent bus tour breaks down and you are stuck by the side of the road, the ship will leave without you (after all, they don't know where you are). If you are on a cruise line tour and something happens, they will hold the ship
3. Your Safety - An independent may be great, but it can be hard to tell. Cruise lines do business with their tour operators all the time, and they know who to work with. The lines can't officially say their tours are safer because that would potentially constitute both slander and an implied warranty. However, overall they really are safer. Of the three most tragic accidents of the past few years (bus tour in Chile, two float plane accidents in Alaska) all three were run by independent agents.
That said, independent tours are cheaper.
Private Shore Excursions allow you to travel with your party alone and, in many cases, to fully customize your tour. For groups of 4 or more, we can usually arrange a private shore excursion for less than the cost of a large cruise line tour.
Small Group Shore Excursions generally range in size from 2-20 people, providing a more personalized experience than the large excursions offered by the cruise lines.