Any cruise agent will tell you that shore excursions are an integral part of the cruise experience. They give clients a taste of the destination beyond port attractions and open up a world of possibilities for enjoyment beyond the decks of the ship. But for experienced cruisers and clients looking for an intimate on-shore experience, the excursions offered by the cruise companies might seem a little stale.

Thanks to companies like ShoreTrips, however, your clients have a broader range of shore excursion options than ever before. Founded by former travel agents Barry and Julie Kemp, ShoreTrips offers tours that last just long enough for the average port dockage—with a few key differences. “We offer the same things the ships offer, but we offer it in a smaller way, with companies that are passionate and with guides that are trained to be ambassadors of where they live,” explains Barry.

According to Julie Kemp, the needs met by ShoreTrips today are similar to those of the market when she and Barry began the company in early 2002. As travel agents, she says, “Our clients would come back and talk about the ship. They’d say, ‘Oh, the ship was great,’ but not say anything about the trips.” As experienced travelers and travel agents themselves, the Kemps recognized a niche opportunity, and dove in head first. “We took off to the Caribbean for about six months,” Barry says. “And we opened the website in January of 2002 with 14 ports of call.”

ShoreTrips’ goals are simple: to provide a unique and authentic experience of each port in an intimate setting—a drastic contrast to the hundred-person shore excursions offered by most major cruise lines. The idea caught on quickly. “When one of our first families came back and told us how wonderful everything was, we knew this was a viable idea,” Julie says. “It turned out to be more than just a niche.”

One of ShoreTrips’ biggest assets is the thoughtfulness of its founders, who’ve devised unique and exciting excursions based on their love of travel and knowledge of the destination. In Nassau, for example, the Kemps found that clients who didn’t want to spend the day at Atlantis had little else to do during their day at port. “So we found this great little hotel called Graycliff, a Relais & Chateaux property that’s within walking distance from the port, and put together a package,” Julie explains. “For $90, you tour the wine cellar, the third largest in the Caribbean. Then you have a multi-course lunch with wine in these beautiful dining rooms. Then you walk over to another portion of the building extension that has a cigar rolling factory.” These are experiences most cruisers don’t know about, she says, and for passengers who were looking for a more value-added experience, it’s a winning combination. “Instead of racing around the island, you have this tour that’s wonderful, relaxing and affordable,” she says.

ShoreTrips also provides a more intimate introduction to traditional cruise ship attractions. In Belize, for example, the company offers cave tubing that goes above and beyond. “In Belize, we found a company that, to me, represents what the country is all about. It’s a democratic melting pot of all these cultures that live together. We happened to find this wonderful company that handles this cave tubing trip,” Barry explains. “But the company’s different because it’s three guys who are from different parts of the world—a local Mayan, India and Africa. These men and their families work together—that’s what Belize is all about.”

In Costa Maya, Julie says, “everybody has a trip to the ruins.” But because ShoreTrips doesn’t require its tour operators to accommodate cruise ship-sized groups, it’s able to give its clients a more intimate experience of the attraction. “We are using two locals that live in the village…. So we go into the village and meet with the villagers and the kids and learn to make tortillas, then sit down to lunch with everybody.”

One of the best examples of the differences between cruise-sponsored excursions and ShoreTrips is Stingray City in Grand Cayman. “We use the fellow that founded Stingray City,” Barry explains, “and the ships use barges with 100 people. We have clients tell us how they saw the cruise ship barges and were so happy to be on a cabin cruiser.”