Originally Posted by Paul Motter
There was a very well-known tour company Dolphin Tours which picks up cruisers right at the port area in a bus and shuttles them to Auki Bay. Just as convenient as a ship's tour and much cheaper. As far as I know they are still there.
Well, we are frequent users of independent tours and they can be very good. We are also frequent users of ship's tours and they can be very good.
BUT -- independent just as convenient as ship's tours? Very seldom true.
First, the ship's tours have the great advantage of being thoroughly researched by the cruise line and chosen as the best of the best. There is no need to spend many hours on the internet researching to find a well recommended, reliable company.
Second, you can book all your ship's tours in a single place and put them on a single credit card charge. It is quick and simple.
Thirdly, there is a uniform and well stated refund policy for ship's tours. If for some reason the ship is delayed or misses a port. you are automatically protected. With independent companies you have to take on the responsibility of being sure that you clearly understand the cancellation policy.
Fourth, even if an independent company is allowed to meet passengers right at the dock (as they usually are in Alaska, but not in many other places) they may be further away from the ship or parked in inconvenient spots. You have to be sure you have clear contact information. With ship's tours, you have shore excursion personnel right at the end of the gangway checking your tickets and directing you to the right spot.
Fifth, the ship's tours return to that port week after week. They frequently have all the best tours, the best vehicles or vessels, the best admission times, and the best guides tied up. They are the most likely to pay due attention to the needs of handicapped passengers.
As I said, we like independent tours. Most often we choose an independent tour when there is something special we want to do, when the independent offers options or facilities the ship does not, or when mobility limitations need to be taken into account.
And sometimes we save a bit of money by doing that. In other instances the special things we want to do wind up costing more.
Bottom line recommendation from me: Consider the ship's tours first and if they do what you want to do, they are probably a good choice. Going with some other operator because you might save a few bucks can work out, or can create problems.
Here are a couple of Alaska trips showing how we mix ship's tours and independents:
Cruising HAL Volendam to Alaska
In the case of whale watching in Alaska, I still like the ship's excursions on Allen Marine's big comfortable boats.