Hi Book a local Taxi try and get some other couples to share and you can have the same tour as the ship for half the price and not as crowded the drivers know the good beaches,would not bother with Dominica its a dump and you get pestered as you leave the port area.
Totally agree the ships excursions tend to be a rip off, particularly the sailing/catamaran which end up unsafe drunken events. Keep children clear of these trips. The local taxi drivers are excelant.
From memory if you are looking at the port in Dominica to your right there is a long stretch of beach adjoining on to a hotel beach beautiful ! IMHO no better or worse than many other islands, you do need to make sure your taxi driver is licensed, my pal was negitiating with an unlicensed driver ( unkowingly ) and ther was nearly a riot with the licensed drivers and port security involved, not what you want on holiday. Incidentally I walked by myself thro the shanty town on the road to the beach to photograph locals etc and met some lovely friendly people. We enjoyed Oceana and are booked on it next year Transatlantic, make sure you try the waiter service restaurant at lunchtime, very civilised and excellent, and don't miss afternoon tea on the side decks at 4.00pm Enjoy your cruise.
Agree with all the other posts regarding the Caribbeasn ports. In St Maarten you also have the option of a very reasonably proced water taxi that takes you to the beach nearest the port. However if you get a taxi, you can get to nicer ones and nicer parts of the island. Personally I prefer the French part to the Dutch. In Madeira, I'd recommend getting a taxi from the dockside to the cable car station. At the top you can vist the Botanical gardens which are fantastic and then either come back down on the tobaggon ride if you are feeling adventurous or back on the cable car if you prefer. It's then an easy stroll back along the front, (perhaaps stoping at a watrefront cafe for a coffee) to your ship. It is so much cheaper than doing this trip by the ship's excursion and you get decide how long you want to stay where, without being herded along. Hope you have a fantastic tim.
It depends what sort of excursions you are thinking of. There are some excursions that you cannot do on your own. There is a full day excursion in St. Lucia called Land and Sea which we thought was excellent and good value. We were taken to various points on the island to see different views and then to the volcano and sulphur springs. We had a guided tour of that. Then we went to the Botanical Gardens which were beautiful and again had a guided tour. Then we were taken to a Plantation House Restaurant where we had a lovely lunch in very beautiful surroundings, fantastic flowers and plants. After this we went to board the catamaran and had a trip back to the ship. We stopped for an hour for swimming and snorkelling. Then there was a steel band and rum or fruit punch. It certainly wasn't a drunken event.
As far as Dominica is concerned it is not renowned for its beaches but if you take a trip inland it is very beautiful with fantastic waterfalls, flowers etc. You need to look at the excursions offered and see whether you can do them yourselves on not. On our recent trip my husband went on a Kayak and Snorkel trip which he could not have done independently and he thought it one of the best trips ever. Hope this helps.