When Blogger Hubby and I cruise, most times we take a tour when we are at a new port or even if we have been there before and want to see do something different. There are many options for touring on shore. The cruise lines sell their own excursions, which in my mind are crowded (usually about 45 per large bus) and many times multiple buses, expensive and very rigid in what they do. I prefer smaller, more intimate tours and if I want to make sure I see something specific I’ll let the tour director know in advance. To do all this, we make private arrangements, generally in advance, with a tour company.
You may be wondering how I find these tour companies if I have never been to these ports before. There are several ways to get help. As I mentioned before, I use Cruise Critic as my go-to for any kind of help that I need. One of their threads is Ports of Call and you can read about other people’s experiences with excursions, you can ask for recommendations and you might get an idea of what to do at a particular port of call. Other times I will go to Google and look for shore excursions in XYZ and a number of them will come up. After I get the name of a tour vendor I go to Trip Advisor and read the reviews for the tour operator. Once I feel confident about my tour operator, I contact them directly to inquire if they are available for the date I am in port, what their price is and what currency it is in, if a deposit is needed and what the tour includes. If I need to make any changes this is the time to talk about it with the tour operator. If I am part of the Cruise Critic Roll Call for my sailing, I mention this on our thread and hope to get more people from the Roll Call on this excursion.
The cruise line’s argument against you doing a private excursion is that they will hold the ship for you if you are on a ship sponsored excursions but will not if you are on a private excursion. I have never heard of a private excursion being late but it could happen and it is worthwhile to know the risk. I always tell the tour operator that I would like to be back on board about an 45 minutes to an hour before we sail which allows me a little wiggle room in case something should happen. These tour operators need our business and they know that we talk and share our experiences so they are not going to have us miss the ship.
Instead of being on a coach bus, generally we are transported by a 10 passenger van or a mini bus always with plenty of room and in comfort. It is much easier trying to keep track of 10 people than the 45 that you will find on a ship’s excursions. The tour operators know the route that the big buses use and they get us to the sites before the throngs of passengers from these big buses get there.
One excursion we were on in St. Lucia was Blogger Hubby, myself and one other passenger. One of the stops was at a teacher’s home where she set out two tables on her porch overlooking the Caribbean of local homemade treats. This was certainly a treat for us and one that we always remember fondly.
For those that want to do it alone, that is fine and certainly we have done it that way a few times. I will say that in some ports, if you are part of a group with a tour company you get to “jump” the long line waiting to get in. That happened to us in Istanbul, Rome and Vatican City. It is definitely worth it to take a tour in those cities.
For those that are going to islands and want to go to beaches, just hop in a cab and go! This is particularly true in Cozumel – there are so many beach clubs and there are always cabs to bring you back to the ship. In Roatan, Honduras four of us “rented” a cab and driver for a total of $80 ($20 per person) for the day. He gave us a tour, took us to a great beach club, negotiated a rate for us for snorkeling, stopped by an iguana cafe so we could eat and try iguana (yes, I tried it), and took us where ever we wanted to go. I don’t think any ship’s excursion could top our day.
Do you think you will make your own arrangements next time you go on a cruise for your day in port?