Originally Posted by tropicalrez
It can save you lots of money, for example (zip line tour- cruise line, $85 per person/ travel agent $45)
I felt that the topic of cost of independent tours deserves a post of its own. It is another place where generalities abound, and where the facts float around in a sea of uncertainties.
Let's look at the example given in this post. This is one type of independent excursion, where you are simply going to get off the ship, do a single thing, and return to the ship, probably within a period of a few hours.
There are many ways you could do it. You can book it through the ship. Advantages that you get are:
Ease of booking, one click, no extensive research or correspondence
Ease of payment
A generally liberal refund policy
Reasonable assurance of reliable transportation and operators
Frequently, the attraction gives priority times and attention to ship's tours.
Reminders of when and where to meet your tour, and clear instructions on how to do it.
The ship's staff on the dock to assist you in locating your tour.
Generally, the best vehicles available at that port, and the best drivers.
Assurance that the ship is tracking your excursion and will be aware if any unforseen problems occur.
In the example given above you are paying $40 for all those services, convenience, and peace of mind.
Booking through an independent agent requires that you do a lot of research in advance, and are especially careful about payment arrangements and refund policies.
The quality of vehicles has been known to vary. Again you have to be very careful in your research. Especially in Europe and the Far East, vehicle size may not be comfortable for us large types.
Careful attention to timing at the attraction. Sometimes independent operators can get you in before or after the ship's tours, but sometimes you can wind up waiting while the ship gets priority. In certain ports some attractions will not be open to the public at all but reserved strictly for ship's tours.
You have to be extremely careful about arrangements to meet your tour. The ship's buses will definitely get priority parking, and an independent operator may be some distance away. There are some ports where independents are not allowed on the port at all and it is some distance to walk to meet them. You also have to be very sure to have a contact method if you have trouble meeting them.
Independent tour operators are usually EXTREMELY aware of their responsibility to get you back to the ship on time. Nevertheless things can happen, from simple traffic jams to accidents. In our many many independent tours, we have twice been the very last pax up the gangway just as it was being hauled in, due to unforseen circumstances. The ship can and will leave without you. It is a fact that there are occasional reports of passengers on independent tours missing the ship. (However, more often it is because they lingered in a local bar, I think!)
There is indeed a third way. You can just walk off the ship and negotiate with a taxi driver. Some people like to do it this way. I very seldom do. Here is the place where the risks overbalance, in my mind, the simplicity.
The point here is that COST ALONE is a very poor reason to choose an independent operator. For many people, the convenience and ease of booking ship's tours is well worth paying the extra charge for their services.
As I have stated, the reason we usually take independent excursions is that they in some way fulfill our needs BETTER than the ship, not for LESS MONEY. The fact is that by the time I get done tailoring an excursion to our special tastes and arranging for the best vehicles and accomodations we usually wind up paying MORE for the excursion. For instance in our zip line example, I might well request a larger van, add on a local museum or a trip to a view point, include lunch and wind up paying $125 for the excursion the ship charges $85 for.