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People cruise for different reasons, but top among them (73 percent of all cruisers, according to the FCAA) is the chance to visit many locations over a single holiday – without having to worry how you’re going to get between them. This means that using your shore time effectively is central to enjoying your cruise. In this article, we’ll look at ways to make the most of your time on dry land, before you’re swept away to another exotic location.

1) Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is a popular way for people to visit and stay in places they might not normally have the means to afford. It’s also a tremendous way to meet people, learn about cultures and visit popular destinations through the eyes of a local. Here’s the basic premise: anyone can put up their ‘couch’ for sleeping on – free of charge – but the generally accepted rule is that if you do bunk up with someone overnight, you have to return the favor if at some point someone wants to visit your country. It’s a vast community, with nearly 3.6 million accounts as of January 2012, so there’s a high chance you’ll find a potential buddy to show you around wherever you are. You can ‘Couchsurf’ your way to a unique travel experience – no matter your mode of transport.

Never forget the possibility of using Couchsurfing to meet up with small groups (supported through the site) for dinner or local events. This means that the service integrates neatly with long-term trips with schedules, such as package holidays or increasingly popular cruises. The majority of Couchsurfers are from Europe, so if you’re headed round the continent on a European Cruise, you can meet great people who’ll show you the best in Sangria, Becherovka or Guinness.

Couchsurfing is, of course, really only available for those who can a) spend a night away from the ship and b) are typically single (though some hosts will happily take couples, too). It might be a great way to spend a few more days in Europe after your cruise.

2)  Save the port agent’s number to your mobile phone

The number of people who get ‘left behind’ by cruise ships is tiny, but there’s still the possibility (especially if something unforeseen happens to you in town). Make sure you have the port agent’s number in your phone, just in case: they’ll be an official representative of the cruise line based in the port you’re stuck in, and will arrange for you to meet the cruise at its next destination (this usually involves a flight). Should anything with delaying potential happen while you are ashore, ring this number. It might also be a good idea to ask to speak with the cruise ship staff as well, in case they can make an exception for your unusual circumstances.

3)  Get involved with ship-planned excursions

If you want to be sure of the quickest route in to the city, the shortest bus ride back to the ship and a smattering of local culture led by a knowledgeable guide, hit up your cruise ship’s shore excursion team. Almost every cruise line has one: staff reserved for conducting a guided tour of places of interest on shore. You can usually break off from the group if you want some intrepid exploring time alone or in a small group, but remember to take a copy of the itinerary before you go. Because cruise lines are used to ferrying people to and from ships, they often get special rates on port transport services, and you can be sure they’ve selected a company that will keep your waiting and travelling to a minimum.