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Is it a better to book a shore excursion through your cruise line, or to go the independent route? Nat Geo’s consumer travel expert Christopher Elliott weighs in. (Alex Quesada, The New York Times/Redux)

The Pros and Cons of Booking Cruise Line Tours

National Geographic Traveler editor at large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader question: Should I book a cruise line’s shore excursion, or plan my own sightseeing tour?

My answer: Though some excursions are included in the price of sailing, you’ll generally pay more for an outing booked through a cruise line.

But you often get more, too. On my last shore excursion, our guide met us on the ship and offered lunch, ponchos, and a “no passenger left behind” guarantee.

Then again, reputable third-party companies such as Viator or Gray Line offer tours up to 40 percent cheaper than the typical excursion.

Have your sights set on something unique? Consider enlisting a well-connected travel agent, suggests Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of the Cruise Critic website. “Just about the sky’s the limit,” she says, “as long as you remember to get back to the ship on time.”

Christopher Elliott is the author of How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (National Geographic Books). Follow him on Twitter @elliottdotorg.