Make sure you check out all the options before booking a tour, writes Isobel Marriner.

Shore tours can be the highlight of your cruise; a chance to stretch your sea-legs and get to know the port you are visiting.

But it's worth taking a few things into consideration when choosing your excursions.

1. Book early, especially if you're on a budget.

The cheaper tours can sell out fast. Your first stop when choosing a shore tour - even before you get on board - should be the ship's website.


2. Be flexible.

Once on board you may spot a tour you like better or that is more suitable. The shore tours staff can usually make the change for you.

3. Don't miss the show.

Most ships will screen a package of filmed highlights early on in the cruise and this is often the best way to find the perfect trip. This will also often screen as a loop on the ship's TV channel, so keep an eye out there, too.

4. Read the ship's newsletter.

Sometimes new tours are advertised at the last minute and this may be the place to spot them. We were on the first tour party to visit Pele Island off the coast of Vanuatu with P&O and it was a real stunner.

5. Be sensible.

Tour descriptions will include a fitness recommendation. If you are unsteady on your feet, or unfit, don't plump for the rainforest rope walk or other high-energy adventure. There will be other options. By the same token, if you're prone to seasickness, best go for a dry-land tour. A bumpy catamaran ride to the Barrier Reef brought up some bad memories for quite a few in our party from the stately Queen Mary 2. However, the rewards were well worth it.

6. Don't dismiss the highlights tours.

They may sound like a bit of a whistlestop, but sometimes it's the perfect way to get an overview of the port/country you are visiting. Favourites have been Vila, with its slightly dishevelled charm, and the Isle of Pines, where we snooped around the French prison.

7. Be polite.

The ship's staff do all they can to ensure the tours run smoothly - and it's a massive feat of organisation. So as a passenger your responsibility is just to turn up on time (or let someone know if you won't be turning up). Remember, it's everyone else's holiday too - I'm still smarting slightly at missing half an hour at a Cairns wildlife centre because one of our party was late and our bus was held up. And if you decide to stay on in town at the end of your shore tour, don't lose track of the time. The ship will leave without you.

8: You don't always have to take a shore tour.

Sometimes, especially if you've been to a port before, it's just nice to take advantage of peace and quiet on an almost-empty ship.