Finding the Right Vacation Activity

Some of the best memories on vacation have nothing to do with where you stay, but what you do. That’s the stuff memories are made of. Finding the perfect excursion, landmark, or attraction can take hours of research, but not with the tips and tricks I'm going to give you.

You probably won’t think about the swan towel the maid left ever again, but that ATV tour through the jungle that ends in a swim under a waterfall, will be a story you tell for a lifetime. The company you choose and the tour guide that shows you the way are perhaps the most important decisions you might make, but are often left to the last minute. Let’s try to plan smart next time you travel.

Choosing tour guides in the Caribbean

Understanding types of tours will make your search much easier.

There are many types of tours and knowing the difference, the terminology, and all the options awaiting will help you know what's best for your getaway. That's why I put together a list of the most common types of tours and what you can expect from each below:

Bus Tours are often geared to large groups and include several stops, giving you bang for your buck. Usually they are air conditioned, which is an appreciated touch. These tours are especially great when traveling with the elderly, young children, or health impaired travelers. The only downside is that you are sharing your guide with many strangers, and who knows who you will be stuck beside on the bus. Try to introduce yourself to the guide and sit near the front so you can easily ask questions and hear them.

Boat & Catamaran Tours range in group sizes and boat sizes. But the rule of thumb is the more people on board, the cheaper the outing (which isn't always a good thing). Often these tours introduce you to beautiful ocean scenery, stop off for a snorkel, and may even take you to a beach bar for lunch. Again, giving you multiple sightseeing opportunities all in one. When booking, check out the size of the boat or ask them what their maximum capacity is. Avoid boat tours that pack on too many people. ie. a 25 ' boat with 50 people on board.

Sailing Expeditions are separated from Boating Tours because these tend to be a customized small group excursion. Sail boats are very different from speedboats or motor yachts (which is what you would expect with a boat tour). These excursions are based on a relaxed and upscale experience. Open bars, snacks, snorkel gear, and even lunch or dinner are commonly included.

Deep Sea Fishing is a hot Caribbean activity. Many of those who get dragged along find out that it is not at all what they expect, in a good way. It's a one-of-a-kind, thrilling experience, that combines sport, sightseeing, and ocean adventure into one outing. It's a great activity for all ages.

Private tours tend to be pricey, but great if you want something customized and quiet. This option should be the only consideration for medium and large sized groups. Often land excursion guides work with a company who offers boating (or they have their own), so be sure to ask about a combination experience.

Segway & bicycle tours are perfect for those who want to explore on their own. They are fun, and highly recommended for younger vacationers looking for a cheap adventure.

Adventure activities such as zip lining, sky diving, and tubing all fit in this category. Pretty straight forward on what to expect. Almost every island in the Caribbean offers a variety of adventurous options.

Half day tours, apply to many of the above mentioned types of tours. They normally combine several sites in a van, car, boat, or bus. Again, this is one of the best ways to see several sites, and please everyone's interests.

Full day tours are similar to half day, and usually includes lunch.

You know what you want to do, but what about the others in your group?

Tips to finding group activities everyone will like

Now that you know the types of tours it's time to match your interest up. Personally, my favorite part of the vacation is heading off the resort on an epic excursion! As I’ve said before, I enjoy relaxing by the pool and playing in the ocean, but the highlight of my travels has always been the cool things I get to see and do.

Your group may have a few different ideas about what is most important, and this can get tricky. But, know that there is nothing worth arguing over, and this is another reason that you should plan ahead. You can probably find tours that combine each others interests, but if you wait until the last minute you will be stuck doing so at the hotel with limited information available.

Send out an email a few weeks before departure asking what the most important thing is each person wants to do, or if they don't know, a general idea of their interest. To make it easy, here is the email.

Hi All! Can't wait until we are at the beach! Does anyone have a particular activity (is. scuba diving) or interest (ie. adrenaline kick) they wanted to do? Putting together some ideas for us so we won't be stuck figuring this out when we get there.

There will always be those who don't think that planning ahead is needed. They want to 'go with the flow'. Don't worry too much, they are either lazy or have had good luck when making a bad decision, and that's okay. Your pro-active self will save them from themselves when you find that amazing tour they never would have heard of without you.

Finding and picking the right tour guide is crucial

How to pick a good tour guide

A guide can make or break your experience. Are you looking for a chauffeur, or are you looking for someone to teach you something. I always prefer a teacher because I want to experience and learn as much as I can. Here are some other reasons a good tour guide is important:

-A guide can help you skip the lines
-A great guide should know about the history and facts of where they are taking you
-Many landmarks and attractions require an approved tour company to take you to the site
-Excellent for new travelers who may be nervous to head out on their own, or in places where safety in numbers is always best.

Finding a guide can be tricky. Again, we try to make it easy by offering a site that only lists companies who we believe provide excellent customer service. When you are ready, head to our activity search section and select your destination on the left side.

Cut down on search time. You can spend hours searching forums and review boards trying to find the right guide, or you could cut down on the time by simply emailing or calling them directly. Let them know your interests, where you are staying, and let them make the recommendation for you. This way you not only cut down on the time it takes to find the right tour, but you also can see what type of service they offer. Do they automatically try to sell you the most expensive service, or do they recommend the one that is right for your interests. If you are heading to your destination in a large group, mention it and ask about special rates.

Get the most out of your land tour. No matter what your budget I always recommend trying to find a guided land tour that will hit the mark. For instance, if you wanted to visit Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, the tour from your resort will probably just take you straight there and back. With a company like Uton Toursthey have several packages that combine this iconic landmark with other things to do such as shopping or river tubing after. They also include transport from cities such as Montego Bay in the price. Now, your tour is sightseeing during the ride between cities, visiting Dunn's River, hitting up an adventure by tubing, and sightseeing on the way back to the hotel. Four in one!

Picking the right ocean excursions. When scuba diving, deep sea fishing, or even snorkeling, it is really important to have a knowledgeable guide with up to date safety standards and newer equipment. Once you have selected the potential captain, check out their website, spend a few minutes (not hours) and read a review board (make sure to check the date of the reviews), and contact them with any questions you may have.

If you are taking an extended vacation a guide book may be a good idea. Most people have tablets or e-readers, and can save a bit by buying them through a site like Amazon. We offer free guides for most Caribbean destination, which list our top recommended things to do for each destination as well. Having the hard copy can be fun too, as you can use it later for a reference to what you did and saw, or in the case of some, use it for your scrap book.

Don't overlook preparing for your tour

Be prepared for your tour. Remember, sun screen, sun glasses, good footwear, towel, change of clothes, bottled water, snack, camera ... some or all of these could be applicable.

Put your valuables in a plastic bag. If you have to bring your camera on the boat tour, make sure you have some zipped baggies to put it in.

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