The excursions and port activities offered by cruise lines are typically expensive (cruise lines mark them up by as much as 50%). They are also very crowded and short. I don't know about you, but that's not how I want to spend my money (or time) on cruise port calls!

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to enjoy port excursions without having to fork over tons of money.

Do your homework

Figure out what you want to do ahead of time so that you aren't stuck paying for an expensive city tour or scuba diving trip at the last minute. Look up the list of shore excursions on your cruise line's website, which usually includes detailed prices and descriptions. If the website doesn't offer this information, a booklet describing the available excursions should come along with all your cruise documents. You can also check out websites like Cruise Critic, then look at their section called “Ports” for suggestions on restaurants, must-see attractions and beaches. You can also pick up a guidebook from your local library, such as "Frommer's Cruises & Ports of Call," which is loaded with excursion ideas.

Book your own excursions

It can cost $79 or more per person to book a city tour excursion with the cruise line. You'll pay about $55 per person for a city tour (which includes transportation, buffet, shopping destinations and beach day) when you book it yourself. Check out websites like PortCompass, PortPromotions, tripadvisor and ShoreTrips to find and book excursions yourself. Although it depends on your destination, this is usually a better option if you prefer traveling in a smaller group.

Arrange your own transportation

Hiring a taxi (about $30 a person) or renting a car (approximately $44) to explore the port call on your own is usually cheaper than the $100 or more the cruise line would charge for each excursion. If you opt to rent a car, be sure to reserve it before your cruise. This not only secures a lower rate, it assures that the agency won't be sold out when you arrive.

Clip coupons!

Coupons aren't just for shopping at grocery stores. You can score free admissions, free car rentals, second night free hotel stays, two-for-one-tours and more with coupon books like The Alaskan TourSaver and The Seattle TourSaver.

Hire a private guide

Hiring your own private tour guide (about $40 per person) is typically cheaper than similar excursions offered by the cruise line, which cost around $79 or more. Google "Private Tour Guides" and "Your Destination" or head to Cruise Critic for private tour suggestions from fellow travelers. Not only is this option less crowded, you can personalize it by customizing your itinerary.

Don't book cruise line excursions in advance

If you decide to go with the excursions your cruise line offers, think twice before you book them in advance. Some cruise lines will charge a penalty fee if you cancel. Go ahead and book ahead if there is limited availability or it's a must-do excursion for you. But wait on the excursions that you are uncertain about. Waiting also assures you don't waste money if the weather turns bad (who wants to spend money on a beach day excursion when it's raining?) or you become seasick.

 This is a guest post by Rose from Washington
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