I was at Margarita Island on Celebrity Galaxy 12/18/01. We booked a shore excursion through Celebrity (title was something like gardens/lagoon). I think it was about $38.
Of our ports on Galaxy (St Thomas, St Kitts, Barbados, Margarita Island, Aruba) this was the only ship shore excursion we booked (did everything else at the other ports on our own). This is due to what we had read prior to the cruise on various internet cruising boards (like supposed crime, 45 minutes to town, scary taxi rides, middle of nowhere, etc). We were definitely satisfied with booking the shore excursion through the cruiseline.
Here is how the shore excursion went:
Boarded air-conditioned tour bus that held close to 50 passengers (not a school bus, but a nice bus). Tour guide was professional - spoke both English and Spanish. He pointed out sights along the way and shared some history.
Went to some gardens that had a tropical labyrinth, many native plants and fruits, wild monkey we could play with (Poncho), fruits to sample off the trees, and a Boa we could have our picture with. Nobody was there asking for extra money for any of these. This was about a 45 minute drive from the ship. The tour guide served as our tour guide here as well (his name was Mario). He was extremely knowledgeable of the gardens. We have great pictures of Poncho opening my pockets (they were velcro) - he must be a professional. (Remove sunglasses and hats before playing with him - one lady even noticed her cigarette lighter missing and Poncho had it!!)
Then we took the bus back towards the ship to go a little farther to La Restinga (lagoon).
On the way, stopped at some sort of place on the road with shops (sold pearls, souvenirs, etc). My definition was tourist trap, but the ice cold Coca Cola sure tasted great! (bottled in Venezuela, of course). Bought some Venezuelan coffee for my grandmother and restocked a roll of film (what was I thinking that morning???)
Then on to La Restinga lagoon. It is a national park. We boarded 6 passenger boats to go through the canals, held starfish, etc. The guides on these boats mostly did not speak any English. Luckily Mario had told us about the lagoons and their history on the drive there. Apparently, when you married in Venezuela, the groom is to take the bride to Margarita Island to ride in these boats along the canals.
The tour was supposed to last 4 to 4.5 hours. Our's lasted over 5 hours, which we did not mind at all.
Vendors were outside the area of the cruise ship dock. Also there was a small beach people could go to that you could see from the ship.
Like always, if someone doesn't want to get off the ship at a port, nobody is forcing them down the gangplank! Can always enjoy time on board without the crowds.
Hope this helps some! I, too, had known nothing of Margarita Island when it was added to our itenerary back in October.
-Mandy in Dallas