That can save you lots!
of time, money & anguish!
Recently, I have had a large number of concerned questions I am hearing from my customers and long time clients, who are quite shocked at the increased amounts of money they have been, and are having to spend on Shore Excursions. For many, the costs of which are almost becoming price prohibitive. But so often my cruisers say that they feel compelled to pay the high prices, as they don’t wish their partners and families to feel that their fun was sacrificed just because of spending money. So while this article will no doubt NOT make me popular with the cruise lines; My first order as a genuine problem solver, is to my clients and my readership. Which is You, the cruising public.
The cruise lines want you to think that booking your port shore excursions through them is the most hassle-free, and time savings way to enjoy your time while off the cruise ship. That answer actually depends totally on whom you speak with, and for many, the REALITY of things couldn’t be more farther from the TRUTH. The cruise lines entice you to book your excursions oftentimes many months prior to your cruise trip. And to make matters even most convenient for you they (cruise line) has “charged” your credit card for these months away events, but think for a moment – who is that really convenient for? Check out a short video by our Friends at AARP on Shore Excursions (click here to view) .
Next the cruise line tells you that booking your shore excursion months before your cruise, eliminates the need for you to waste time during your cruise in standing in line and shopping at the cruise excursions desk, only to get the skimpy, or unpopular cruise excursions selections that are left available. Another truth about shore excursions is this. Most excursion providers are not huge tour companies. Generally they are very small entrepreneurial taxi drivers (ground or water based) and operators (who function more like “fun activity” brokers), who have agreed to accept contracts with the cruise lines at very below market or “going rates”, which enable the cruise lines to make even more profit on every single excursion they sell. So they are in reality making huge sums of money off their passengers, when the passengers are not even on the ship.
What makes the on-board or ship offered excursions so expensive? Cruise Lines contract with local tour operators, who generally turn around and hire local taxi service (land or water) to conduct the actual tour itself. So now you have three separate entities all wishing and needing to get paid for their services, which gets reflected in the price you pay for your “convenient excursion selection process”. So your ability to garner great savings occurs when you go directly to the service provider thereby illuminating two middlemen from the process.
Additionally, let’s take a look at that time efficiency claim again. Let’s assume that you are really having a great time the day (or night) before a certain cruise excursion is to take place, you enjoyed a wonderful open bar party, that led further into multiple hours of fun in a few different lounge locations (that you closed down no less), and so now you are going to tell me that your 7:30am (which by the way the fine print on your excursion ticket says you MUST report for your excursion 15 to 30 minutes prior) to your excursion disembarkation from the ship for your shore excursion is going to maximize your ability to enjoy your cruise experience. Don’t even bother trying to convince me of that one. The times are not for YOUR convenience, but for maximum sales capability for the CRUISE LINES!!!!
Another misnomer that the cruise lines have convinced (even the cruise professionals) to repeat in an attempt to maintain their monopolistic ways over this enormous money pit, is that when you take a cruise excursion that is NOT SOLD BY THE CRUISE LINE, that you (the excursion buyer)take on the responsibility of getting back to the pier in time, so that you don’t miss your ship. So that, should a breakdown or other mishap occur and you miss the ship, the cruise line has no obligation to wait for you. WHILE THIS IS TRUE, As a cruise professional I have stopped repeating this to my customers. Don‘t be scared into being misled. Each and every tour operator is quite aware that cruise ship passengers have a strict need to be back at the ship in time to make its scheduled departure. Additionally these operators are very dependent on keeping this form or revenue flowing from ship to ship, and it would never be in their interest to not have you back on time!
The Easiest way for me to communicate the REALITY of cruise excursions is to provide you with some pros and cons of booking through the cruise line, vs. through an independent operator. Besides the money issue, there are several things that I think you may want to consider to determine, what is really best for you, as everyone is different so this way you get to make the choice for yourself. Which in my mind is always the best approach to any decision.
Let me say this in the simplest way I can. There is one major word, when it comes to describing the difference between booking your excursion thru the cruise lines compared to booking your excursion with an independent. That word is MONEY. I cannot begin to impart to you the number of times I have seen independents (who can often times end up being the exact same provider) that the cruise lines are using, offering identical tours for one half the cruise ship price or even greater savings when purchased on the pier. The only difference is that most of them are going to require payment in cash, rather than a credit card. But if you can save 50-70 cents on the dollar by using cash would you be willing to purchase your excursion(s) in this way?
Getting back to the ship on time. Most people are unaware that the times that on-board excursion bookings have been planned for a purpose. That purpose is to allow the cruise line to maximize the number of participants in shore excursions, so they are enabled to maximize their bookings and their profits. Ok this is where you have to do a little math. Many if not most excursions are designed to last two and a half to 3 hours. So if your ship is departing at 5:00pm (say 4:00pm to be completely safe), you begin to see there is no need to leave the ship at 7:30 in the morning. On the other hand I would not consider cutting it too close either by leaving the ship at 1:30 for a 2 and a half hour excursion. A good rule of thumb is to take that cruise excursion brochure (copy you can pick up at the ships excursion desk) that describes the tour content and duration as well as times they depart the ship. That way you shouldn’t plan on leaving later than the latest one offered by the cruise lines is timed, just so that you stay on the safe side time-wise.
Sometimes Excursions Cancel, that you have pre-booked with the cruise line, and the customer gets left holding the bag. The cruise line excursion desk tells you that they will apply the amount that you paid to another excursion. So right away you are being put on the spot to select an excursion, that will be as good as your other selection, only to find that all of the good excursions (or at least the ones that you and your partner or family might be interested in) are already filled to capacity, so then you end up taking something less desirable in order to have your partner or family with something to do. So now I ask you again- Who was booking your cruise excursion really convenient for in this case. This never happens when you inquire once on shore with an independent excursion provider, they already know what they have to sell and fill. Oftentimes they can accommodate more or extras, where the cruise line doesn’t have the same capability to do. At least buying from an independent will get you an excursion that you would desire.
Another point I would like to address is the often made cruise line claim, that cruise ships select only tour operators that provide high standards of service and customer care that equal their own commitment to customer service, while at the very same time (if you read the fine print) in your excursion agreement contract is says, that their tours are run by “local operators” and that the cruise line is in no way responsible or liable for any mishap or failure that may occur. So which is it cruise lines? Bottom line for you to know is that THEY WANT YOUR MONEY, but they DON’T WANT ANY RESPONSIBILITY.
So What Can passengers do, in order to ensure a quality excursion experience? Quality of a shore excursion has little or nothing to do with booking same from the cruise line. As already pointed out, many times drivers are from the same taxi service regardless of where you book. What I have found is that these independent drivers and guides you contact on the pier area are far more motivated to give you the best possible experience, and for the most part are way more grateful to get your patronage. Understanding that these locals are offering a service in a very competitive and open marketplace which means that they must strive to provide the highest and most enjoyable excursion experience possible.
In Summary: So to wrap this up lets recap the points we have discussed here.
- Shore Excursions booked on/thru Cruise Ships can be charged on a Credit Card
- Shore Excursions purchased at the pier through Independents often requires local currency/cash
- Most Excursions (despite how booked) are operated by the same land or taxi drivers
- When you buy excursions via cruise ship you add two middlemen in the money fee structure
- When you buy from independent tour providers the passenger takes on timeliness responsibilities
- Most every independent tour provider understands the need to be on time back to your ship
- Independent Tour operators offer much lower prices for their excursions
- Independent Tour operators are generally more appreciative, and work much harder to please, in return for your patronage.
Ok, so there you have it, the real truths regarding shore excursions. Now YOU are more in the know, and have the ability to judge which excursion purchasing option(s) are the best choice for you. I sincerely hope you have found this information helpful!
For more information on cruising and traveling, you can contact Mike via email firstname.lastname@example.org . You can tweet (or follow) Mike at http://www.twitter.com/cruisewithmike . To “Join” our Travel Club go to http://meetup.com/Sun-Cities-Travelers-Group/ .
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