PORTS OF CALL: Cruise Ship Excursions Versus Your Own Excursions
Here's What I Think About Cruise Ship Excursions
Cruise Ship Excursions are definitely an important part of cruising for most people. However, taking the excursions offered by the ship is not the only way to see your ports of call.
If you are planning a cruise in the near future, I know you are trying to determine what to do. Will you take the cruise ship excursions offered by the ship or will you make your own arrangements for the ports of call?
My family enjoyed a beautiful northern Europe and Baltic cruise this summer and we mixed it up. That is, we booked some cruise excursions and we planned some of our own excursions. We visited nine ports of call, when you add the port we set sail in and the port we disembarked in. That meant we visited a total of nine ports. We took five excursions offered by Holland America and we visited four of the ports on our own.
Each method of seeing the ports has obvious pros and cons and I spent a considerable amount of time researching each and every port, what there was to do there and how hard or easy it was to do so on our own. With four of us travelling, it was immediately obvious that we could save a bundle if we could do our own tours. But would we have as great an experience if we did everything on our own?
The discussion on this page is about the pros and cons of taking shore excursions organized by the cruise lines. You will have the opportunity to voice your opinion on the subject. If you have had some good or some bad experiences, make sure to let us know and whatever you do, don't be shy about sharing your thoughts. They will help make this page better for future readers and future cruise ship travellers!
The Pros of Cruise Line Shore Excursions
- You have the opportunity to see and learn about the port city you are visiting. Even when en route to a specific location, the guide fills you in on the port's history and on the surroundings. We went to a Russian folklore presentation one evening, on the way we had a wonderful and unexpected guided tour of Russia!
- Food will often be arranged for you on longer tours. We had three excursions that included food. The food was of an acceptable standard and served at a relatively clean facility. In some countries, this may make your visit more comfortable.
- If something goes wrong while you are on your excursion, the cruise line will be responsible for making sure you get back to the ship. (Often by delaying the departure.) This provides peace of mind for many people.
- A cruise line's shore excursions will meet a standard of comfort and cleanliness. This means that tour buses will be fairly clean and comfortable although sometimes not quite up to North American standards. We were quite pleased with the buses our excursions offered although one return trip was a bit too warm. We had read that the air conditioning might be less than we expected and I would say that proved accurate in one instance. However, it was probably the only time air conditioning was needed on our European cruise.
- The companies a cruise line deals with are contracted to meet local regulations and to carry liability insurance.
- Tours are done by English speaking guides. Our guides all spoke English and most of them were pretty good. We had one guide whose we struggled to understand. It was her way of speaking that made listening to her difficult, especially once we were tired.
- Your tour will be planned according to the schedule of your ship.
- You may not have to do any research on your ports of call. (Although if you want to know about what you might be missing, you might want to do some research.)
The Cons of Cruise Line Shore Excursions
- Cruise line shore excursions are expensive and the best ones are very expensive.
- Cruise line shore excursions can cost more than the cost of doing the same itinerary on your own.
- You will be travelling with a large group of people that you do not know of varying ages and abilities. Our 'limited-size' excursions had between about 25 and 50. The first size was not too bad but often two tour groups were put together and then it was uncomfortable and sometimes impossible for everyone to hear the guide.
- Food, when included, will be of an acceptable nature. However, you will be served a planned meal with no choice. In accepting this limited option, you may miss the opportunity to visit some real local food spots. For lunches, with cruise excursions, we experienced salad or soup, a chicken dish and ice cream served with wine and water. However, when we did our private tour of Berlin, our guide took us to a wonderful local restaurant where the food was amazing and we were the only tourists. I don't think we will ever forget that meal.
- You have no control over what you see and do or when you stop.
- You must follow the schedule of the tour.
Frommer's Cruises and Ports of Call
Frommer's takes the knowledge of more than 175 travelers and puts it together in a single book which features 16 pages of color photos, a foldout map and lots of opinions, prices and itineraries. This guide will help you choose the cruise that is right for you. I love all of the Frommer's guides that I have had occasion to use. This one is no exception. This one covers cruises from U.S. ports to the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Bermuda, and Canada. You can read about dining, activities, children's activities, entertainment, service, overall enjoyment, and overall value and enjoy Frommer's rating system which ranges from poor to outstanding.
Amazon Customer Review
Amazon customer Andrea Payne buys this book each year to plan her cruise. She finds that it gives the best information on the ships and great recommendations for excursions. She makes a valid point when she says that she would rather pay the affordable price for this book than find out the hard way that an excursion is not particularly great.
Frommer's Cruises & Ports of Call
Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships
Things To Think About When Booking Shore Excursions
- Ask lots of questions before you book the tour and make sure to pay close attention to the physical ability needed to enjoy a tour.
- Make sure to book your excursions as soon as you can as some excursions do sell out quickly. We had one tour that we were interested in that did sell out so this does happen.
- If you decide to do some ports on your own and you book with a private company, make sure you learn about their cancellation and refund policies. Consider what will happen if the ship changes your plans. We were 15 minutes late for one private guide tour. That was not a big deal but it does mean that, although we had left enough time to get from the ship to the tour, it was not enough when the shipped docked 15 minutes late.
- Tour guides and drivers often are tipped although this is not mandatory.
- Make sure you get the most of your days ashore. They can be wonderful opportunities!
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