Originally Posted by ChiTownCruiser
I'm not sure how the TA is doing the tours - i.e. can we pick to join per port or is it a package and will she have stuff for each port? All I know is as long as there is wine involved, I will be happy!
There are many ways to arrange shore excursions for a cruise. I will repeat here advice I have often given.
The first, and often the simplest and most convenient, is to simply use the ship's excursions. The general excursions available in a port are normally on the cruise line website. For example go to princess.com, click LEARN ABOUT OUR CRUISES and then PORTS AND EXCURSIONS. Select California Coastal and you will get excursion lists for every port. As your cruise gets close, sometimes as often as six months before, you will get an exact list of all the excursions with prices and departure times and can book online.
The second way is to have your TA book excursions for you. This can vary from wonderful to horrible. If you know your TA well and they know you well and can arrange for your particular preferences and design excursions for your party exactly, it can work very well. If your TA is just going to pick from a list of "preferred suppliers" for a standard package -- well -- who knows?
The third way is the way most experienced cruisers do it. By now, we know how to read the descriptions of tours, both in the ship's book and from independent guides, and be pretty sure we know what we are getting. You can start searching the internet with phrases like "Santa Barbara shore excursions" or "Santa Ynez wine tours" and find a lot of sites. Now it becomes your responsibility to sort through them and decide whether they seem reliable and reasonable. Using boards like this one, as well as TripAdvisor and Frommers, can be a big help.
You can also use places like shoretrips.com or toursbylocals.com who are packagers, and frequently make up your own package just on that site.
It depends on how comfortable you are with doing your own research and taking your own responsibility.
Take another look at the website I put up at http://www.bully4.us/paccoast.html
and you can see that in some cases, such as Santa Barbara, we booked independently for our small group. The tour company we used there was wonderful, and in the end it cost us less than the ship's tour would have and took us more places. Notice the comment I made that Nick and Renée helped choose the wineries we visited. You can't do that on a ship's tour!
In other cases, such as San Francisco, we used the ship's excursions and they worked very well for us. In Seattle we booked the Pikes Place tour independently on the Internet and took a taxi there. In LA we designed our own route and had a limo service take us there. So by now, knowing what we like and how to find it, we usually have a mixture of tours. I start months before the trip with research and email and wind up with a package that is right for US! Not everybody will do that much work.
Just booking the ship's tours is easy and convenient, and you are pretty much guaranteed of quality tours. Having your TA book them depends on how much confidence you have in your TA. When you say "I am not sure how the TA is doing the tours," that is sort of a red flag to me. I would suggest that you need to find out more details about what they are doing for you.
Any of these methods can work well. Which is right for YOU?