I am in the process of setting up our shore excursions and I have read, on this website, that it is best to book your own tours directly with the vendors.....but I have noticed that the prices are about the same either way. What are the big advantages of booking direct with the vendors???
BTW we will be going to Alaska on the Island Princess in July.
Price may not be the only issue. Going independent will frequently offer better tours. There are savings on most flights again some superior to anything the ship contracts. Also there are independent options that are only available direct booking. Also free stuff to consider too. I never book ship excursions my self, my opinion only. I want more varied contact with travelers, not insulated on a bus point to point.
Question: I've found some of the qualitative differences BQ and others have been talking about (ie. group size) in some of my ports. However, I'm also able to find what appears to be the same tour with the same vendor that is offered by the ship. [Basically a matter of searching the internet for the name of the tour and then seeing that they talk about offering things through the ships.] For instance, I've found the Guide's Choice hike in Juneau that costs $73 either way I book it.
Would I see a qualitative difference in these identical tours if I booked it directly versus through the ship? Or should I look for an independent guide?
We have usually found prices to be cheaper thru independent booking. The problem is that the cruise company will try to tie up a certain excursion thru contracts that they cannot offer them on port days if the ship has same one. Like Allen Marine whalewatching tours, they cannot be booked directly thru their website. Other companies are too small to be able to handle all the ship booked excursions and thus are not used by the cruise lines. They try to make it hard to compare on price basis. Cruise lines like to use fear factor of missing ship if you don't book with their vendors, or try to sell the quality difference in that they researched and picked the best vendor. Most cruise lines get a booking fee portion of each excursion, running from 10% to 25%. Excursions in Alaska are higher due to shorter season to recoup costs and supply and demand.
We have booked both ways and it depends on where we are and what information I can find that I have confidence in to guide us in our decisions.
With your specific guided tour - no difference. Be very informed where this goes- there are many public trails that you don't need a guide to point out "plants" etc. Request each city's visitor guide for tours.