Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cruise Planning - Shore Excursions

You've put your deposit on your cruise six months ago - it's coming time for final payment. It finally seems like the cruise is here! What else needs to be done? Planning shore excursions!

In the "olden"days of cruising before the internet, you had to wait until you arrived on the ship to book your excursions. You received a booklet in the mail detailing the available excursions, circled the ones you liked and when you arrived on the ship, went to the Shore Excursions desk and purchased.

Now, the days of receiving excursion booklets and boarding passes in the mail are over and six months or more before your cruise, you can actually go to your Cruise Personalizer and buy excursions. With the advent of secondary suppliers that sell only shore excursions there are even more excursions available at different price points that you can book well in advance of your cruise.

What are the pros and cons of each?

With some of the cruise lines, such as Princess, when you book your excursions in advance, you aren't charged at the time of booking. The price of the excursions will be added to your shipboard account. Some, like Royal Caribbean, require you to pay for the excursion at the time of booking. Either way, booking your excursions in advance will guarantee you'll be able to get on the excursion. Some popular excursions, such as Dolphin Swims or Zip Lines, sell out fast and if you wait until you get on the ship to book, they may be sold out. Each cruise line has a cancellation policy so if you decide to change or cancel one of the pre-booked excursions, you can get a refund as long as you adhere to the refund guidelines.

When you book your excursion through the cruise line, you also don't have to worry about the ship leaving without you if your excursion runs late. The cruise lines keep in touch with the tour operators during the tour. Additionally, the cruise lines screen their tour operators and will end their contracts if they get complaints.

The cons? You will almost always pay more for an excursion through the cruise line, as they contract with local operators and then mark up for their expenses in getting those excursions to you.

Secondary companies often have the same or similar excursions. Often the pricing is lower, sometimes they have excursions not available through through the cruise line. The groups you will be traveling with are usually smaller and you will have a more intimate experience. Many of the companies have been in business for many years, know the cruise ship schedules and guarantee they will get you back to the ship on time.

These tour operators can be a little more flexible too. They are often open to skipping something on the excursion the group is not interested in seeing, or stopping to see something not on the itinerary you do want to see.

The drawbacks? The cancellation policies may be more stringent than the cruise lines. If they don't get you back to the ship on time and you miss the ship, you are on your own getting to the next port. (Always make sure you take your passport, a credit card and the ships daily newsletter with you when you get off the ship just in case this happens to you - you'll need to fly to the next port on your own)

And you must make sure that any secondary company you deal with requires the tour operators they contract with to have liability insurance. The cruise lines make sure all the suppliers they deal with have a LOT of liability insurance. Before booking with any outside company, make sure they require it too.

One of our preferred vendors, Shore Trips, requires $2 million in insurance from their vendors and also carry their own $2 million policy. In 10 years of being in business, neither they nor their vendors have ever had to use it. They have moved over 200,000 passengers without mishap - or getting them back to the ship late! Click on the logo for more information

There is also a third option for excursions - when you get to the pier, there are always people at the pier hawking their own tours. We do not recommend these - you have no way of knowing who these people are, where they will take you and you can pretty well consider that these operators have no insurance in the event of an accident. There is no guarantee of safety when doing this.

What are our recommendations?For first time cruisers, we always recommend using the cruise line excursions. No worry about missing the ship.

And if you are traveling to a country where there are government warnings about security - always book through the cruise line. They are very interested in keeping their passengers safe.

For experienced cruisers who know about getting back to the ship on time, using an outside company is another option to save money and perhaps see something a little different in a more intimate setting. Just make sure you set your watch to the ships time and know what time the ship is leaving!

No comments:

Post a Comment