Cruises are an ideal way to explore a number of destinations in a relatively short time, allowing you to set foot in two or three countries in just one week. While port days mean you have the freedom to pursue a plethora of activities, completing every item on your wishlist in a single afternoon can be a challenging task. Here's how to make the most of your time at port.

Learn the Lay of the Land

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Familiarize yourself with the layout of your port destination by studying a map before you arrive. You'll have an idea of the distance between each attraction you wish to visit and whether or not you'll need to organize transportation. In cozier ports of call like Venice, you'll discover that major sites are concentrated in the historic center and all are within walking distance, eliminating the need to coordinate transportation for the afternoon. Just knowing this information can make the difference between a stressful excursion and an enjoyable one.

Research Activities

Trekking across Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska and sunbathing on the sandy beaches of Mykonos are just a couple of shore excursions available to cruise line passengers on port days. The key to maximizing your time at any port is to hit the ground running. Completing preliminary research before embarkation day will allow you to gain an understanding of the activities available at your destination. This way, you won't have to forfeit limited port time to plan your activities after you've arrived at your destination.

Examine Port Itineraries

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Cruise ships conveniently offer organized shore excursions for your port days, taking care of all of your planning concerns by coordinating transportation to and from the ship, and providing  knowledgeable guides to accompany your site visits. Examine shore excursion descriptions with a careful eye to determine if they meet your needs, as they're designed to cater to a general population. If you have specific interests, consider designing a custom itinerary or touring on your own so you can skip out on exploring a glass blowing factory in favor of taking a gondola ride during your stay in Venice.

Coordinate Transportation Ahead of Time

Once you've decided on sites to visit and activities to participate in at your port, decide how you're going to get to and from your ship. Consider the options available to you — public transportation, organized shuttles or private transfers, and book ahead if needed so your transportation is ready as soon as you disembark the ship.

From the port of Katakolon in Greece to the ancient ruins of Olympia on an organized coach requires 50 minutes since these buses wait for a sufficient number of passengers before they depart. However, springing for a taxi will allow you to reach the site without delay, but at nearly quadruple the cost for a single passenger. Consider the amount of time available to you in port and which form of transportation will allow you to complete your activity without rushing.

Be Realistic

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Because some ships just dock at port for a few hours, a realistic expectation of what you can achieve during that time will prevent you from hurrying through your stay. And if you're traveling with family, know that you'll move at the pace of the slowest person in your party, whether that's grandma or your five-year-old cousin. Select one big excursion, or a handful of attractions that are relatively close to each other, and allow plenty of time to complete your chosen activity or sightseeing so you don't have to power through to return to the ship on time.