Second, do you really need to be packed into a bus and stop at tourist stores, or can you do a better job walking on your own?
Some shore excursions are better handled by the ship. In Alaska, for example, the cruise lines virtually monopolize the helicopter tours of the glaciers, making it almost impossible to book one on your own or get a better deal.
But other shore opportunities you can easily handle on your own — and, at your own pace.
Another question to ask yourself: Do most of the people speak English where you're going? You'd be amazed at how easily you can navigate by yourself. Or choose one other couple on the ship, email a hotel concierge where you're going and ask to hire one of their cars to meet you at the dock. The cost, divided among four people, is suddenly reasonable. You go where you want, when you want. Just remember one thing: If you miss the boat, you're financially liable to make it to the next port on your own. So just get back early!