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Kuki June 15th, 2011 12:13 PM

Are the cruise lines using fear to get you to prebook their shore excursions?
Cruisemates Blog Are The Cruise Lines Using ?The Politics of Fear? to Sell You Shore Excursions? – Kuki

The link above is to my blog discussing this premise. How adventureous are you?

Stick to the same old ship's excursions because you like them, or because their "sell" that they are the safest bet works?

Lakers Fan June 15th, 2011 02:31 PM

We always do shore excursions but on our next cruise we plan on doing our own thing . I plan to be on the beach and in the water for the first time in 38 years .

Kuki read this and proclaimed : "OMG ,Henry has not been on a beach in 38 years ,impossible to believe."

The ironic thing is that Mrs.Henry43 and I live 10 minutes from a beach resort and are very likely the only 2 people never to have walked on the beach.

KayAnnie June 15th, 2011 02:33 PM

Love the blog article and YES! On one cruise, our director talked about Italian trains leaving cars behind or not all of them going to the same destination. In Messina, they made it out like it was practically impossible to get to Taormina without an excursion and so on and so on. We save so much money and time by doing ports on our own. Granted, if we were wealthy, we would hire a private guide/driver for just the 2 of us, but as we are, doing the ports on our own has given us the confidence and knowledge to travel Europe as seasoned travelers.
I thought the history of shore excursions you included was really interesting. Thanks!

Donna June 15th, 2011 05:07 PM

It is now also a good idea to pre-book dinner and show reservations on some of the larger ships. So, now, you must decide before you are even cruising as to when to see a show and do an alternative restaurant. To me, it kind of takes away from the stress-free feeling of cruising, but if there is a show or restaurant you want to do on a certain evening, best to pre-book it..

I suppose that it can be changed if necessary once onboard, provided there is a slot that works for you?

MercedMike June 16th, 2011 12:04 PM


Originally Posted by Kuki (Post 1376375)
Cruisemates Blog Are The Cruise Lines Using ?The Politics of Fear? to Sell You Shore Excursions? Kuki

The link above is to my blog discussing this premise. How adventureous are you?

Stick to the same old ship's excursions because you like them, or because their "sell" that they are the safest bet works?

Well, the question is, when does legitimate "puffery" and salesmanship become inducing fear?

Those of you who follow my often inane comments know that I always say that you have to decide what your level of comfort it. It is not only legitimate but good customer care for the cruise lines to make clear just what the choices are. Then people can decide.

Ship's excursions are convenient, easy to book, well guided and supervised, and usually very much on time. They are an excellent choice for many people, not because they are afraid but because of their good value to benefit ratio.

OTOH independent excursions can also be excellent but do have that small element of risk. In our 40+ cruises, we have been the last passengers up the gangway twice due to small glitches with independent operators. We balance the risks against the benefits and the value and decide which to do. For the ship to point this out is not really fear-mongering, just good merchandising IMAO.

I also feel that some of the more vocal advocates of always booking independent exaggerate the cost savings possible. In our experience, independent excursions are rarely much of a savings over the cruise lines trips, and we almost never choose an independent excursion because of some ephemeral savings.

green_rd June 16th, 2011 02:07 PM

It is probably good to distinguish between legitimate tour operators and hustlers that hang around the port area.

Bruce Chafkin1 June 16th, 2011 03:14 PM


You make excellent points in your blog.
There are a few other elements to this that deserve attention:

1. Shore Excursions Offices on many ships are very short-staffed. They do not have the manpower or resources to sell multiple shore tour tickets to thousands of passengers after the cruise begins. Using whatever tactics are at hand (fear for example) to force passengers to book tours online before the cruise begins allows the cruise line to keep it's overhead down and increase profits at the same time.

2. Liability insurance is a major element of cruise line shore tour pricing. Since so many passengers bring lawsuits against cruise lines after having some sort of problem on a shore excursion, the cruise lines have been forced to take out massive liability insurance for passengers on tour. Spreading those huge insurance premiums over a greater number of passengers on tour helps to keep costs down.

3. Tour operators are not required nor inclined to carry the same massive liability insurance when they sell tours independently of the ship. As a result, their prices on the pier are often far lower for the same tour. The cruise lines are motivated to "lock you in" to ship-based tours to prevent what they see as unfair competition.

4. Many North American cruisers are notoriously poor travelers - especially when they find themselves outside their own country. (Most Americans speak 2 languages; English and English Louder) Despite the fact that independent tours are usually more interesting, more fun, and substantially less costly than ship-based tours, far too many cruisers who do it on their own encounter challenges that delay the ship, keep the Ship's Agent too busy getting them out of trouble, and generally cost the cruise line quite a bit of money to get it all sorted out.

5. In the past few years, many countries - especially in Europe and Asia - are cracking down on ships that need to leave passengers behind. If we cannot produce travel documents for passengers who do not make it back to the ship on time, local officials are very reluctant to allow the ship to leave port.
Last summer in the Med, we missed several ports - and were late in arriving at many more - because independent tour passengers got stuck in traffic, had auto accidents, got lost, forgot what time the ship was departing, etc, etc, etc. Local officals insisted that we thoroughly search the cabins of missing passengers to try to locate passports before we could depart.
Searching one or two cabins is not too bad. Searching 10 or more cabins can take hours.
Missing a port - or arriving late - results in huge financial losses for the company, with refunded shore tours for everybody else, OBC for missed ports, extra fuel burned to try to make up lost time, etc.
It is advantageous for the cruise lines to try to avoid all these hassles and costs by using whatever tactics they can to coerce passengers into using the ship's tours. This allows us far better control on passengers returning to the ship on time - or at least knowing where they are if they are late.

MercedMike June 17th, 2011 11:22 AM

Independent tours or ship's excursions?
Bruce sez:

Despite the fact that independent tours are usually more interesting, more fun, and substantially less costly than ship-based tours, far too many cruisers who do it on their own encounter challenges that delay the ship
Some broad generalizations here that I do not totally agree with. First, very often independent tours are no more interesting and fun than ship's excursions. Often they cover exactly the same sites (and sights) in exactly the same way. In fact, some of the most fun excursions we have had have been with ship's groups, because the larger group can do more fun things. Check out our trip report and pictures at "Black Sea Cruise 2009" for our excursion for Zorba dancing at Olympia, for example.

We do frequently book independent excursions. That same page will show you some that we enjoyed. But it is for specific reasons -- sites not covered on ship's tours, special attention to mobility limitations, special shopping opportunities, and so on. I cannot say that generally they are "more interesting and fun." They are often more convenient and more flexible.

Also I really don't think it is true that many passengers on independent excursions encounter difficulties getting back to the ship on time. I think most reputable operators make a huge effort to get back to the ship on time as they know their reputation depends on it. I strongly suspect that those people whose names are called again and again were either on a DIY trip with a taxi driver they met at the dock, or actually far more likely spent too much time in a local bar. It is always fun in Cozumel to watch the last few pax stagger out of Senor Frog's and try to run down the dock. I have also been on cruises where the ship was delayed waiting for a whole bus, or once several buses, to get back from the ship's excursions.

And finally, it has never been our experience that independent excursions are substantially less costly than ship's excursions. Almost all the time we wind up spending MORE for independent excursions. Of course this is partly due to the reasons we book them, and the fact that we book small group independents. Booking an independent excursion that takes a large group to exactly the same place a ship's excursion goes can on occasion (not always) turn out to be less expensive. It can also be true that the ship has booked up the best transportation and guides and an independent tour gets second best.

Again, I suggest balance. Ship's excursions are an excellent starting point and are almost always good, convenient and safe. Independent excursions require more research, and should always be with reputable and recommended guides. Booking a taxi at the dock or trying to DIY on local transportation is for the brave who are willing to accept the small risks involved. And -- spending your time in the local watering holes is not only very little fun IMAO but the most likely to result in safety problems! ;)

So -- the suggestions and warnings usually given by the cruise lines are basically valid. If they go a little overboard in their marketing, so do many of the independent agencies in the other direction. Care, caution, and a risk/benefit analysis are necessary in all life decisions. Which shore excursion to take is not as important as picking a college to go to!

Bruce Chafkin1 June 17th, 2011 11:59 AM

So Mike, I guess the experiences and observations I had on my last 1,389 cruises on 23 different cruise ships for 11 different cruise lines over the past 33 years were just abberations and not the norm?

Mike M June 17th, 2011 12:50 PM

I agree with Kuki that often the ship does use "scare" tactics in order to push their excursions. I have personally experienced it with NCL in the Baltics. They published, in the daily, that you would not be allowed off the ship unless you were with one of the ship's excursions or obtained a Russian Visa prior to the cruise. I spoke to the Hotel Manager and told him that if you have an excursion with a registered tour operator the 72 hour tourist visa is obtained by them. You only need to show a valid "ticket" or confirmation with the tour operator's name and id number. His response was: "You can get off the ship but you'll never make it through immigration." We walked right through immigration with no problems as did a couple hundred other people. We booked a private guide and driver and our guide was more than irritated with the cruise lines because she had many, last minute, cancellations and no shows because of this.

Also: In China, on HAL, the similar but less Draconian, tactics were used. They also told everyone they should book a tour only with the ship because of the problems in China and the distance from Xingang to Beijing. I can somewhat see their logic, as Bruce pointed out, because the chances of delay are far greater because of the two hour distance from Xingang to Beijing. The main problem we had was obtaining our passports. The ship held them because of the PIA Chinese immigration regulations. It took us almost an hour and an act of the Hotel Manager to get our passports for our private tour. We were constantly told that a "photo copy" of our passports was all that was needed. I knew better and they should have too because the overnight ship's tour could not check in to their hotel because they did not have their passports. They sat there for over three hours while someone drove back to the ship and retrieved the passports. Also, they did not retrieve all of them and some people had to return to the ship. There were some very unhappy campers.

I also have to strongly disagree with Merced Mike based on my experiences with cruise line and private tours. RARELY have I seen an equivalent tour from the ship close in price to a private tour. As an example: The above mentioned tour in China cost us $650 (2 people) for two days, Intercontinental Hotel, all admission fees to all sites requiring fees and three meals per day. The ship's tour was over $500/pp and did far less because of having to move the number of passengers. Also, the quality of tours I have received from reputable tour providers is far better than those of most ship tours I've been on. Also, on comparing notes with other passengers we have seen more and spent more time at sites than they have.

There was one instance in Shanghai where we had a private guide. We were at the Temple of the Jade Buddha and there were a number of people from the ship who had booked a private car and guide through the ship. Our guide was describing the buddha and history of the temple and the guides from the ship were listening to him and then parroting what he said. It got to the point that they were pushing in front of us with their clients to hear him. I blew up over that and ripped one guide a new one in front of his clients. We met the people who were with him and another guide and they both apologized and were very disappointed in the quality of the guides though the guides touted they had degrees in Chinese History.

I have to also say that some of the most enjoyable tours we've had on the islands and in Europe were from simple cab drivers. Some independent research and a few minutes of speaking with a cab driver can give you a good idea if they know what they are talking about and if there is a good chance you will receive value for your money.

There is also a level of personal preference. If you like to tour with a large group then that is great. However, I want to be able to stop when I want and if there is something I see and I want to take more time then I can.

Bruce does make some very good points about the risks of independent tours and the impact it can have on the ship and other passengers. I do agree that there are people who have little travel experience who just grab the cheapest tour at the dock and end up late or missing the ship or are ripped off. I am fortunate that I can get by in a couple of languages and my wife is fluent in three others and can get by in a couple more so that helps. However I have also found that, especially in Europe, it isn't too hard to find people who speak English.

There is an old joke that has a lot of truth to it.

"What do you call someone who speaks three languages?" Multi-lingual
"What do you call someone who speaks two languages?" Bi-lingual
"What do you call someone who speaks one language? American

Take care,

Kuki June 17th, 2011 02:11 PM

Bruce..thanks for adding comments here. It is good to hear an opinion, and some added information from a ship's officer.

I think some of MercedMike's post comes from a viewpoint of someone with some "mobility issues". I have no doubt those people think they are much "safer" going with a cruise line excursion. And I have no doubt they feel that way because that's what the cruise lines tell them :)

The point of going to the same places... from many ports the "major sites" are the "major sights". BUT... with a private tour you can spend more time at those sites, plus still have time to customize your tour to add different venues.

I've been to St Petersburg, Russia several times. Each time I've seen the cruise line's tours lining up to wait for admission to sites, as we've walked right past and "front of the line it" and walked right in (all prearranged).

Most of the luxury lines are now offering to arrange private tours for guests wishing that option.

I do get it that some folks prefer the "cocoon" of a ship's tour. But I do wonder how many have just been programmed to believe that's the safest way.

My own main objection to ship's tours is that they move as fast as the SLOWEST person on the tour, and of course the mandatory stops at "recommended stores" for shopping, or their stops for a "local lunch" (that's often at a truck stop).

Snoozeman June 17th, 2011 04:05 PM

Great Thread, I've enjoyed it.

Bruce, you may be letting the cat out of the bag somewhat with #5. Do we really want the masses knowing which ports will not allow ships to leave until they have all their pax? One is a Caribbean island on a very common itinerary from Galveston, but I am hesitant to ever mention it in fear we'd never get pax back on ship in time.

johnthed0g June 17th, 2011 07:27 PM

Honest answer...we usually do ships tours because we are lazy & don't want the hassle!

Donna June 17th, 2011 09:18 PM

I love your honest answer! Many times, I feel the same way....A cruise is supposed to be hassle-free, right?

Mike M June 17th, 2011 09:26 PM


There isn't nothing wrong with that.

Take care,

MercedMike June 18th, 2011 11:37 AM

The norm

Originally Posted by Bruce Chafkin1 (Post 1376814)
So Mike, I guess the experiences and observations I had on my last 1,389 cruises on 23 different cruise ships for 11 different cruise lines over the past 33 years were just abberations and not the norm?

Bruce, I am suggesting that the "norm" as seen by a cruise staff member differs substantially from the "norm" seen by the usual cruise passenger. Many of the statements you made seem to me to reflect that different viewpoint.

This is a very interesting discussion and I am enjoying reading the different viewpoints. I hope you will not be offended by someone who might disagree with your interpretation of your experiences, just as I will not be offended by those who disagree with mine.

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