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A Day in The Life: Shore Excursion Staff (Job Description)

The shore excursion department is by far one of the best jobs I had while working on a cruise ship. You are essentially the go-to person for everything shore excursion related. You need to know all the features and attractions, and most important excursions, in each and every port of call. One of the main perks, in my opinion, is the ability to try almost every excursion available for FREE.

You are the face of the shore excursion department and passengers trust that you know everything that is to know about the ports of call, even though it might be your first contract onboard and the only route you know is from your cabin to work and the crew mess; perhaps the bar as well; but that’s only if the watertight door is open. If it’s closed, PANIC!

Watertight Door Cruise Ship
Watertight Door on a Cruise Ship – Source: SeaNet

One of the main reasons people go on cruise ships is to explore the ports of call, and they expect you to know everything but how can you know the ports of call if you just started?

In order to gain product knowledge, you will be “required” to go on the most popular excursions first, the ones that the majority of the passengers ask about. Working in the Caribbean? Be prepared to go on sightseeing tours, snorkeling tours, and food-tasting tours. Working on a ship based in Europe? You will most likely have a call in the port of Civitavecchia, where for sure you will “have to” go to Rome.

Rome and the Colosseum tour - Shore Excursion
A 10-hour tour – Rome and the Colosseum

After you have been to the most popular excursions first, you can then choose which ones to go after, but that will depend on your schedule and the tour’s time, as well as the discretion of your manager. I can guarantee that working in the excursions department, you will get to travel while getting paid. Getting paid to go on excursions that guests pay a lot of money to go. For many guests, this is once in a lifetime experience, while for you it can be a once-a-week, or cruise, experience.

I had the privilege to visit many awesome places, including the Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, the Colosseum in Rome, the Pyramids of Egypt, wine tasting at a winery in Tuscany, swimming in the clear blue waters of Bermuda, just to name a few.

All of these places where people spend tons of money to go I went there for FREE and didn’t have to pay a dime because I was part of the best job you can get onboard.

What are the Job Requirements for Shore Excursion Staff?

Sales Background

Handing credit card - Shore Excursion Job Cruise Ship

You definitely need to have some sales background. You will be selling an excursion, a product to the customer but worry not, the selling portion is only part of the equation.

The main reason people come on cruise ships is to travel and see the world, so when you go to sell this product to the customer, they are already inclined to buy it from you. All the sales onboard are warm leads, meaning the customer comes to you seeking information.

Your job is to explain it very well, use your own experiences from the tour, if you have already done this tour, and convince the guest to walk away with not just a tour but a lifetime experience. Guests will often come back to book more excursions if they had a great time on an excursion you recommended.

Customer Service

handshake - Shore Excursion Job Cruise Ship

That goes without saying. Working on a cruise ship is all about the customer experience. Every crew member that’s hired goes to extensive safety and customer service training in the first weeks onboard. The majority of customers will have a great experience on the excursions but you will always have a few that did not enjoy it, had some issues with equipment while on the tour or they will say the guide was “rude” and so on. I could probably write a book on the excuses I heard from guests. They all come to you expecting something, ALWAYS! Most of them want a free cruise because you “ruined” their vacation and the “only reason” they came onboard was to see whatever they didn’t get to see, so be prepared.

When a situation like this occurs, you have to be patient and use your best customer service skills to turn around the situation. A big part of your job will be customer service related and damage control.

Speaking More than One Language

flags from different countries - Shore Excursion Job Cruise Ship

Speaking more than one language can be the decisive factor in getting a position as shore excursion staff. Cruise ships are scattered around the world and visit almost every country in the globe and have an international clientele that speaks many languages. If your ship’s homeport is in Barcelona, expect the majority of the guests to speak Spanish.

The most common languages spoken onboard are German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Russian, Mandarin, and Japanese. Having a second language it’s an essential part of the job but don’t get discouraged if you only speak English. It’s still possible to get a job without it but it will be a little harder and you might only work on ships based in the US market.

Caribbean beach - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Does the Caribbean work for you?

Cruise ship Pride of America anchored

If you are a US citizen or green-card holder, you can apply to work for Norwegian Cruise Line on the Pride of America.

Normally the Shore Excursion has its own department, all under the supervision of the hotel director. The department size will depend on the size of the ship and itinerary but you should expect to have a manager and an assistant manager. You can expect your contracts to last between five to six months with normally five to six-week vacation in between contracts. As a rule of thumb, you should expect to have one week off for every month worked.

How the Guests Book the Shore Excursions?

Handing credit card - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Cruise lines want to make it easy for guests to book excursions and guests have many options to book it, both before and during the cruise. There’s a lot of information on the cruise line’s website, including videos and reviews from past customers.


Guests can book excursions directly on the company’s website or via phone. Guests can call the cruise line’s call center and make reservations. Once booked, tickets are delivered to their stateroom and they don’t even have to see your face unless there’s an issue.


  • From their stateroom TV
  • From Kiosks around the ship
  • From the company’s App, if available.
  • By filling out an order form found at the Shore Excursions desk
  • By asking their Butler, who in turn will book the excursion.
  • By booking directly with you at the Shore Excursion desk.

Some guests already know what they want to see and what they want to do. These are the guests most likely to book either pre-cruise or onboard directly via the app, order form, and with you. They usually don’t ask many questions and know what they want. There are always those guests who have no clue where they are, or where they are going, and then come to you asking all the questions possible. One of the questions I hated to hear was “What’s the best tour?” on a cruise with more than 100 excursions available. It gets tiring explaining the same things over and over.

What Does a Shore Excursion Staff Do?

Staff ready for work - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Ready for another port day!

The job of a shore excursion staff goes beyond just selling excursions. There’s a whole new part of the job that happens behind the scenes. In no particular order, here are some key aspects of the job:

Download and Prepare Tickets

Holding tickets at the office - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Tickets Ready to be Delivered!

Guests that book their excursions pre-cruise will have their tickets delivered directly to their stateroom once they board the ship. By booking excursions online, the guests can sometimes get a discount if booked well in advance, as well as guaranteeing that they will have a spot on their desired excursion.

The process involves downloading a file sent by Shoreside into the company’s system (Fidelio Cruise for most companies) containing all the excursions booked online or over the phone, pre-cruise. Once downloaded into the system for the next voyage (this step is normally done 2-3 days before the next cruise) you have to print the tickets, place them in designated envelopes and deliver them to the guest’s stateroom at the beginning of the next cruise but before the guests are onboard.

Tour Dispatch

Sun Rising Port of Livorno - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Buses Ready for an Early Tour Dispatch in the Port of Livorno, Italy.

This is a BIG step and a very important part of the job. You can avoid many issues and guest complaints by having a good and organized dispatch.

You will have tour dispatches every day the ship is in port. When the ship arrives in the port of call, shore excursions are one of the first people getting off the ship. Early arrival means an early day for you.

The ship mostly arrives on ports in the morning and normally you are up one hour before the ship docks. One example of an early arrival was when the ship called into the port of Livorno, with a scheduled arrival of 6 am. We had to be up at 5 am to get our stuff ready to be off the ship and to meet the guests at the dispatch location, which was both ashore and inside the ship, normally on the ship’s theater if onboard. The bulk of the tours departing Livorno were mainly to Florence and Cinque Terre, which was about one hour and a half away from Livorno.

Shore Excursion Cinque Terre
Escorting a tour to Cinque Terre with the wife.

The main job during dispatch is to gather all the guests that booked excursions and essentially make sure they get on the right excursion. Some ports are busier than others, so there’s a little short window of time that you need to get the guests from the ship to shore and into the correct excursion, making sure tours are not departing late. Tours dispatches can get very overwhelming and frustrating if not planned properly. The last thing you want is to have guests screaming in your face because they missed or were booked on the wrong excursion.

The only drawback of working in the excursions department is the early mornings. Going out to the crew bar at night sounds fun but not so fun the next morning, when you have to be up at 6 am, ready to deal with the guests. Enjoy the crew bar but don’t hang out too late.

Video from Tour Dispatch – Costa Cruises Career’s Channel Youtube

Other Side Duties

Behind The Scenes Ship Tour - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Leading a Behind The Scenes Ship Tour.

There could be additional duties assigned to you besides the job of a shore excursion staff. You could be chosen to participate in the crew welfare committee, Lead a Behind The Scenes tour for the guests, safety committee, or be chosen to randomly interact with guests to collect feedback on their cruise. This will vary from company to company.

What’s a Typical Day Like?

A typical day for the excursion department varies depending on which day of the cruise it is. Forget about the days of the week because once onboard, your calendar will be based on the days of the cruise, such as embarkation, debarkation, sea day, and port day. Instead of saying “Which day of the week it is?” you will be saying “It’s tomorrow sea day or sea day two?.”

I have divided the timeline into four different days that you will experience while onboard.

Embarkation Day

Crew welcoming passengers - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Source: Royal Caribbean

Ah, everyone’s favorite( and not so favorite) day of the cruise. This is the day most crew love to hate. You love it because that’s the day you might get a morning off, not having to wake up early, having a chance to do some shopping at the homeport to buy things you normally can’t get in the ports of call. You hate it because you might have to work debark, turn around, and work embarkation.

Embarkation day is when all the guests come onboard and flock to the excursion desk to book tours. The days are long and you are on your feet the whole time, dealing with the guest’s questions and issues, often repeating yourself constantly, with fewer breaks. It’s one of the busiest days for the Shore Excursions department and the overall ship.

Sea Day

Ship sailing out of Kauai - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Sailing out of Nawiliwili, Kauai.

As the name implies, sea day is the day that the ship is sailing 24 hours and you’re basically stuck onboard. Usually, If you have a sea day before the first port of call, expect to be just as long and busy as the embarkation day. The guests are stuck onboard with you and they have nowhere to go. The majority of your bookings will happen on sea days.

The shore excursions desk it’s usually open the whole day the only close for a few hours for an afternoon break. One example when I was working on the Norwegian Escape, the excursions desk hours ranged from nine to two (9 am to 2 pm)  and from five to nine(5 pm to 9 pm). We had rotations starting at 11:30 AM for half an hour lunch break. Besides that, you are essentially on your feet the whole day, answering questions about excursions, selling some tours, and preparing for the next port of call. Some ships have multiple sea days in a row, meaning more work for you.  In theory, more sea days mean more work most of the time.

Port Day

Shore Excursion Staff
Tour Dispatch in Roatan, Honduras.

When the ship docks, the Excursions staff it’s one of the first people off the ship. We have to be up and ready typically one hour before the ship arrives in port, to get ready for the dispatch procedures and make sure there are no issues with cancelations, either due to weather or tour operator issues.  Once all the tours are out and on their way, most of the shore excursion staff will have part of the day off until the desk onboard opens back again. Opening hours will depend on the ship and company. Some open at 6 pm, some earlier. Regardless of opening time, the earlier you finish a tour dispatch, the more time you will have to enjoy the port.

Let’s assume the desk reopens at 5 pm. Once all the tours are dispatched and gone, say by 9 am, you don’t have to come back to the ship to work until 5 pm, giving you a good chunk of time to explore the port, go on excursions, or just go to sleep. There’s always one staff that is assigned an all-day duty.

All Day Duty on Port Days

Shorex Staff Private Island
Working on NCL’s Private Island – Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.

All-day duty(ADD for short) means that you are working essentially all day while the ship is in port. As part of the shore excursions staff, you are in charge of making sure that all excursions are back, reporting excursions that are late coming back, to notify the excursion’s manager if any issue arises with an excursion, and notify the bridge that all tours are back. You are also in charge of delivering tickets booked onboard via the automated kiosks, the onboard app, or via a dropbox, where guests can fill out a form, requesting a tour to be booked when the desk is closed.

The all-day duty person cannot leave the port area for the whole day. You will be carrying a radio and the all-day duty phone, in case someone from shipboard management needs to get hold of you while the desk is closed.

The all-day duty person is off when the ship set sail. The staff that had part of the day off works at the desk in the evening, while the all-day duty person has the evening off to either enjoy one of the shows offered onboard, have a nice meal at one of the ship’s restaurants, or simply relax and enjoy the time off.

The all-day duty position is assigned on a rotation basis. For example, if you are in a port, let’s use one of my favorites, Naples in Italy, and you have the duty shift, you cannot go out and see Naples but on the next cruise you will most likely not have the ADD duty that day, and will be free to explore the best Naples has to offer, like it’s delicious pizzas!

Eating pizza in Naples, Italy - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Enjoying a nice pizza in Naples, Italy!

Last Day of the Cruise

cart full of Luggages - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Image by Tony Prats from Pixabay

The last day of the cruise is usually not very busy. The only tours left to sell are the debark tours. On this day, you are preparing for the next cruise, making sure that everything is ready for the debark tours and that all tickets booked pre-cruise are ready to be delivered on the next day, which will be the embarkation day. The number of customers coming to the excursion’s desk will be minimal, giving you a much-needed break before the next passengers embark.

Debark Day

Debark day - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Source: Photo by Alain Pham on Unsplash

Usually, debark days are short because fewer people go on these tours. The dispatch time takes roughly two hours to complete but again, that will depend on which ship and itinerary you are working on.

Debark tours give the guests an option to pick up at a drop-off location either at a predetermined hotel or airport at the end of their tour. The luggage is held on the same bus the guests are on, giving them more time to explore the port instead of worrying about where to store their luggage.

For most companies, the debark time is around 9 AM and by this time everyone must be off the ship. A lot of guests don’t book their flights until later in the day, sometimes late at night, so this is a good option for guests to maximize their time while not being bored at the airport or having to drag their luggage around.

How Much Does a Shore Excursion Staff Make?

Dollars - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Image by Brett Hondow from Pixabay

Salaries can vary greatly from company to company. Some companies pay better than others, while some companies have better perks and commission structures. Overall, you want to consider the whole package before deciding if a position is right for you.

Below you will find an approximate monthly salary:

  • Shorex Manager

    Between $3,000 – $5,000

  • Asst Shorex Manager

    Between $2,500 – $3,500

  • Shorex Staff

    Between $1,500 – $2,500

salary - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff

The position of Shore Excursion is not a tipped position but It’s not uncommon to receive tips from guests for a job well done. I have many times received tips from guests for lending an extra hand, like getting extra space on a tour when there was no more space available, or just by suggesting an excursion that the guest ended up really having a great time.  

You will have a fixed salary paid monthly but for most companies, you can request a cash advance, paid in the middle of the month for up to 50% of your salary.

Some companies provide a commission structure, while others might not have one in place. The commission structure sometimes can be a bit confusing, like a crazy math calculation created by shoreside and varies from ship to ship and from cruise to cruise, based on last year’s revenue. Sometimes you can work your ass off and not reach the commission target and when that happens, you don’t get a commission.  My recommendation is not to count on the commission and treat it as a surprise bonus that you can spend on the crew bar or ashore at the beach, cafe, etc.

As I mentioned earlier, the commission can vary from company to company and even in the same company, it varies from ship to ship and itinerary. Some itineraries are a gold mine for commissions. Alaska and Europe are ports where the majority of the guests go on excursions, so you have better chances of making a good commission on these ports. To have an idea, during my time at NCL, a typical cruise would bring around $50-$100 a cruise in commission. The most I ever made in commission was $215 on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise.

What to Pack Cruise Ship

Cruise ship life is very exciting and visiting awesome locations around the world is just one of the many benefits of working on a cruise ship. If this is your first time going to work on a cruise ship, you might be wondering what you need to pack for a cruise ship contract. This post might just be what you are looking for.

Do We Really Get to Go on Excursions?

Blue Hawaiian Kauai
Ready for a flight over the island of Kauai

You WILL and SHOULD take every opportunity to go on an excursion when time permits. If you are just starting in this position, your manager will most likely focus on sending you on the most popular excursions to get acquainted with the details of it. You will be surprised at how many questions you get from guests that are very specific and only someone that went on that excursion will be able to answer it but once you go on the excursions, you will have a different set of eyes and will be able to answer even the most specific questions.

Hanalei Bay Kauai
Hanalei Bay Kauai

When you go on an excursion, your first responsibility is to take this opportunity to learn all you can about the specific tour, try to anticipate what guests might ask you about it, and see potential issues that can arise in the future.

Take every chance you can to go and enjoy the tours. That’s why you are here =)

Segway Tour Nassau Bahamas
Segway Tour Nassau Bahamas
Machu Pichu tour - Cruise Ship Job Shore Excursion Staff
Machu Pichu, Peru

Final Words

Working as a shore excursion staff, you get to see the world. How many people can say that their job is to go on excursions around the world, seeing awesome places while helping someone make a lifelong memory? We don’t sell tours, we sell experiences of a lifetime!

A ship is safe in the harbor but thats not what ships are built for.

John A. Shedd