However, in big cities like Athens, Rome and Florence -- which are far from the port -- it may make more sense to spring for a tour. It is also wiser to take a shore excursion in any third world country or in foreign ports, where language and customs might prove to be barriers. For example, in Brunei, you would definitely want to take the guided tour to sites like the biggest mosque in Asia -- Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. You'd probably never find it on your own. And, without guidance, you may not realize the necessity to respect local customs by covering your body from head to toe in long pants, long skirts and long sleeves. (Don't laugh -- this happened on a recent visit. Luckily, the locals are used to this and have a few robes on-hand to loan visitors.) In Tunis, you might not wish to participate in the aggressive haggling, conducted by the taxi drivers at the pier. Opt instead, for a ship-arranged tour to the souk or ancient Carthage.
The third option is the hybrid: book your own tour in advance through a local provider. You can often save money by eliminating the cruise-line middleman, or customize the trip to your interests. However, remember that, while the cruise ship will wait for any late-returning, ship-sponsored tours, you run the risk of getting stranded in port if your independent tour gets stuck in traffic and is late returning to the pier.
Travelling with kids? Check out our tips for the Best Shore Excursions for Kids
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