Maybe some NCL excursions are a ripoff but does it really matter? If the excursion is worth the price, doaes it matter that you could have done it cheaper on your own?
The best thing with NCLs excursions is that it´s their responsibility that you are back on the ship on time, not yours! When we were on Jamaica we took a NCL excursion and because of roadwork we were back on the ship late, not a problem since it was an NCL excursion!
For me as a non American and not very good at the English language it also feels much more relaxing to book excursions through NCL.
As for drinks, I don´t call it a ripoff. They are not cheap, the prices starts around 6 USD with gratitudes, but I don´t think it´s a ripoff. At a bar here, they cost more.
Brian, do you live close to London? Any feelings about the bombs they found yesterday? I'm going there next week, will it be normal or a little tense? I have been there many times and they doesn´t scare me but will I feel something special or will it be normal?
everyone says its safer related to reboarding, but whats the deal with the options if you go it alone? in other words, are there a lot of close by services that you can do on your own or is it hard to find stuff if you dont book thru ncl?
It partly depends on what you're interested in doing. If you want to do a float plane or helicopter trip, they can be booked independently instead of through NCL, but the providers that most people recommend probably won't be available if you don't book in advance.
In Skagway,if you're interested in booking the train ride, it can be booked directly through the WPYR website, or with an independent tour provider if you're interested in doing one of the "combo" bus & train trips, but there's not a huge difference in cost. If you book the round-trip Summit train ride, it's $98 booked directly with the train, and $109 booked through NCL. The advantage with booking through NCL is that you get to board the train right at the pier. If you book through the train directly, you board at the train station downtown. Whether the convenience of being able to board right at the pier is worth the extra $11 is something you'd need to decide.
In Juneau, if you want to see Mendenhall Glacier, you can definitely do it on your own. I think you can catch one of the "blue buses" for less than $10 that will take you out to the site. The Mt. Roberts tram is available right downtown. I've never ridden it up, because of weather, but I think it's around $25 pp. If you're interested in whale watching, NCL charges $119 for their tour. You'll be on a fairly big boat -- probably 100 tp 150 people. If you book with one of the independents (Orca Enterprises, Harv & Marv, Alaskan Marine Adventures, etc.) your cost probably won't be much different, but you'll be on a smaller boat, and most likely have better viewing without fighting the crowds of people. We went with Harv & Marv, and our boat had 6 passengers. The price isn't any different, however -- $126 if the boat isn't full, a 10% discount if you have the full 6 passengers. I've been reading posts on another cruise board however, that mention that Harv & Marv are already booked up several days this summer, so you can't depend on walking off the ship and being able to join one of their tours.
You do need to do your homework. Read the reviews that people post of independent operators to make sure that you're really getting what you think you are. Alaska excursions aren't cheap -- whether you're booking through the ship or going independent, you're still going to be spending a lot of money if you're interested in flight-seeing, whale watching, or train riding. If you want to wander around the towns, you can get by for a lot less, but you'll really be missing a lot of the beauty of Alaska.
Yes, the prices booking via the ship are much higher and normally we do our own, but remember, if you book with a private tour company and are late getting back to the ship for any reason you will be standing there waving at your friends as the ships pulls away. Our rule of thumb, do your own thing if the tour isn't more than about 4 hours long.
As for Skagway: we did a private van tour with a local company: it was one of the best tours we have ever done.