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travel writer September 21st, 2004 07:25 AM

do-it-yourself shore excursions
Hi cruisers.. I'm a NYC-based travel writer researching an article for a major travel magazine on cruise line shore excursions. I'm interested in hearing from people, for possible quotation in the article, who avoid ship-operated shore excursions (either because they don't like group tours, or think shore excursions are overpriced or for whatever other reasons). What are your tips for arranging do-it-yourself excurions, what kind of money have you saved compared to ship-operated excurions, and are there any caveats or complications that you'd care to mention? Please reply by email. Thanks!

willysgrandma September 26th, 2004 10:04 AM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
I'll be able to help you out on this one after I return from a POA cruise I am taking in October. We have reserved rental cars for all islands and are not taking any excursions through the ship.

Our first cruise was a Celebrity about 6 years ago that went to Key West, Ocho Rios, Cozumel and Grand Cayman. We booked shore exursions through the ship and were very pleased with all of them - we felt it was the best way to see places when we only had a day at each stop.

On a Bermuda cruise the following year, we were very disappointed with the excursions we booked through the ship and discovered that there were plenty of taxi's waiting at the dock that could take you places you ordinarily would not see through through a shore excursion, which is what gave us the idea of not booking excursions for this POA. SInce we were in port for several days in Bermuda, we found better things to do using local transportation than we did with the shore excursions.

This was re-encorced on a three day RCI cruise to the Bahamas last year - the shore excursions we booked ended up being cancelled due to rough water and we were stuck walking around in town on one of the dates. Had we been better prepared and researched what was available on the island before hand, we could have done found our way around better.

I can only tell you that for Hawaii, we researched things to do and see (using the excursion guide from the cruise line, too) and found we could rent a car and see these things on our own time table. Additionally, one of our party recently had back surgery and we felt that if we booked a shore excursion and she isn't felling well, she would be stuck for hours on the excursion - when if we had a car, we can take her back to the ship if she isn't feeling well.

I can tell you we booked a luau in Maui and saved about $24 per person rather than booking a luau on the ship.

DA Schults September 29th, 2004 09:01 AM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
Good luck on your research. I would enjoy reading the final product.

We have taken several cruises, and learned after the first that we preferred doing our own shore excursions. Exceptions could be for short (half day) stops and specialty trips.
Our experience includes Mexico (Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, etc.), the Panama Canal, Miami-Santiago, and western Mediterranean (Canary Islands, etc.)
We have often been with another couple - I might add having 4 is really ideal for savings. We were a larger group (8) on one cruise, and could most often get a mini-van. (The one time we had to use two cars proved to be the most negative experience as it was difficult to communicate with the other driver.)

In our experience it seemed to be best to be prepared to leave the ship as soon as departures were allowed, in order to give more choice of taxis. We always ask for an English speaking driver, and test this out by asking a few out of the ordinary questions. We learned that nearly all of the drivers have a good command of English for the usual sales pitch, but may not do so well in answering questions.

A caveat - there is often a manager close by to do the selling, and then you will be directed to the car - and the driver. If this is not satisfactory, be sure to refuse.

In some places, passengers may prefer to wait until later, after many people have left - you can probably negotiate a better price - after all, you may be the only customer left for that day. However, the English speakers may all be gone by then.

I always study the cruise line shore excursion list, and may even make a written list of highlights we wish to see. We have had good experiences showing this to the potential driver. We could often combine highlights of two or more excursions, minus the shopping stops. Drivers have often taken us to good out of the way restaurants - we buy lunch for the driver, if there are several of us.

We have never had a problem with breaking down, returning late, etc. But we do pay attention, and make sure there is enough time. I would be wary of straying too far. On a 2 day stay in Santiago at the end of the cruise we hired the same driver both days - including a day long trip up to the mountains - no cruise departure to be concerned about.

In addition to the savings, we can see what interests us, go at our own pace, stop for photos, have a visit with a local, and, in most cases, return to the ship for a late lunch and leisurely afternoon. On the other hand, if there is a shore excursion of particular interest, and if you are concerned about the time factor, by all means, take a cruise line excursion. If you are not part of a group it is usually not difficult to find other passengers interested in sharing - you just have to be willing to give and take on what to see.

We have always paid in dollars, and at the end of the trip. Yes, we do take cash from the U.S. - leaving extra in the safe in the cabin. We have not made reservations in advance. I would be glad to answer other questions.

Mel & Peggy October 2nd, 2004 07:17 AM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We have just returned from a sailing on the RCCL Splendour of the Seas from Barcelona to Marseille, Villefranche Florence, Rome and Naples. Prior to the cruise we arranged for private tours for our group of 20 in 4 of the ports. For Villefranche Sylvie Di Cristo for 100 EURO per person provided a 25 person bus and served as our English speaking guide to Nice, Cannes and Monaco/Monte Carlo. This did not include the tip or lunch. We were picked up a 9 AM and returned at 5:30 PM, We saved 30% from the ship's tour We highly recommend Sylvie.

For the tours in Florence, Rome, and Naples we hired J & J Services, operated by Jeremy Ross from the USA now living in Italyk. In each of the ports in Italy we were picked up at 9 AM and returned at 5:30 PM. Jeremy provided 25 seat buses and English speaking guides in Florence, Rome and Naples, The cost was $100 USD for Florence, $86 USD for Rome and $65 USD for Naples. This does not include the tip or lunch. We saved up to 50% of the cost of the ship's tours in Italy. We highly recommend J & J Services in Italy.

Paul O October 20th, 2004 05:05 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We've been on a couple dozen cruises now and basically all we do is find a cab company that is recommended by the cruise line, hop in and ask the driver to show us around. We have never been disappointed and we usually see things that are not listed on any excursion brochures. We see a lot more sights at a better price. The only thing that is more expensive is the greater number of pictures I have to have developed.

Donna October 20th, 2004 06:46 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We too have done excursion through the cruiselines and also on our own. Yes, you can save some money and have the advantage of going when you want and returning when you want. I've found that on most excursion that you book through an independant operator, its almost always a smaller group. You will find certain excursions you can only book through the cruiseline, in that case we do. There are advantages of doing ship excursions, you will get off the ship first, especially in a tender port and you know if for some reason, there is a delay, the ship will wait for you to get back. Thats not the case if you are on your own, one reason I will only book shore excursions through the cruiseline in certain ports, no savings is worth missing the boat.

In a lot of ports its very easy to hire a cab and go where you want, we've gone fron St. Thomas to St. Johns via cabs and the ferry without any difficulties, also to beaches, etc. There are always cabs waiting to take you back to the ship, you just have to allow plenty of time in order not to miss the ship. So, there are advantages to both, you just do what works for you.

Ann October 20th, 2004 09:12 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We have been on 13 cruises and have done both cruise line tours and booked our own tours.

We prefer to book our own tours with independant operators in each of the ports. Whether I pre book or just find a taxi upon disembarkation depends on how "touristy" the port is. For example if we are cruising in the Carribean then we can find a taxi with english speaking driver without a problem. However even here I recommend that you do your homework before you leave home and know what you want to see. I also find that the best tours are generally the ones I have pre-booked with a private operator.

I always start my research by renting a video or 2 on the country/ies we will be visiting. then I make a contribution to Chapters and buy a Frommers tour guide book. Once I have these basic bits of information I start surfing the internet. I also use the cruise ships shore excursions as a good resource centre. Once I/ my group have decided what interests us in each port and what we want to see I start to look for a tour operator that can offer us a good price and show us what we want to see.

WE have enjoyed many wonderful tours this way usually at a significant savings over the ships charges. However the $$ is not the biggest issue here it is the pleasure of being in a small group (no bathroom line-ups) with a tour designed around the interests of our group. Also we get to stop for all the photo opportunities that we want.

To put together a really good private tour in a strange country means a lot of work (many hours of web surfing & reading) but I find that the research and knowledge I glean about the countries we are to visit enhances the total experience for me.

There are certain times when a special tour is offered by the ship that cannot be taken any other way. One cannot be ridgid in ones travel plans.

Cruising - The only way to go!!!

Stacy Holden October 25th, 2004 08:23 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We totally go for do-it-yourself shore excursions. This last cruise we took, we e-mailed a man named "Tomato" in Mazatlan before we arrived. We booked a full day tour with him in a air conditioned van for $30 per person. You can't beat that price with the cruise line tours. It was just our family of four and it was way more personable than a bus tour with half the ship. Plus he stopped whenever or wherever we wanted. Then he would wait until we finished and take us to the next place. Our guide was a citizen of Mazatlan and was able to give us an authentic idea of the life of one who lives in that country.
Tomato can be reached at or If you want more specific info. let me know.
We also self toured Nassau, St Thomas, St. Johns and St Martin/Sint Maarten. We get on line before leaving and check out the high lights of each place we are stopping. We then negotiate a taxi before getting in (necessary tour tip #1) and they take us where we want to go. There's no waiting for the other tourists to finish if you're getting bored, and you stop only if you like what you see. Lot's of times the taxi driver has their own ideas too. We seem to save at least 50% by touring on our own...

marycruiser October 27th, 2004 09:50 AM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
For Aruba, we booked the Kukunukoo Bus Tour on-line directly with the tour company. We paid $30 less than the people who booked thru the ship; other than that the differences were transparent. It was a lot of fun, and if you are looking for excursion recemmendations for your book, put that one on the list!


Allison Solway November 8th, 2004 11:39 AM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
Never book on the ships its a totally rip off. My husband and I just walk around the dock area and so far we have saved over 50% for the same trip booked iwth the individual instead of the cruise line...

JudyL November 11th, 2004 07:42 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
I have done both ship excursions and do-it - yourself excursions. It all depends on the island and the time factor. In St. Thomas I got a taxi to Coki Beach and took a 45 minute class in SCUBA followed by a 30 minute dive at 25 feet for the price of $55.00. The cruise line offered this same excursion for the price of $99.00. I made sure that I was off the ship at the first opportunity so as to be back to the ship in plenty of time before the ship sailed. In fact I still had time to go downtown for some shopping.

In San Juan, having the ship's shore excursion staff totally mess up our tour, my friend and I just got a mini bus after disembarkation and had a wonderful tour of San Juan. Better than the 40 plus passenger bus that we would have been on had we gone with the cruise line's tour.

Unless time and distance from the ship are a factor, I think you can do better with the "do-it- yourself" tour. Usually not as many folk on the bus or minivan and you always have the option of asking for a certain stop or point of interest. Most tour guides are very knowlegeable and willing to accomodate you.

Judy November 18th, 2004 04:01 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
In Grand Cayman we purchased the String Ray City Tour from the Cruise Line. On the way back to where the boat was docking from Sting Ray City we asked the Captain how we get from where we were docking to the Turtle Farm. We did as he said. Walked about 1/4 of a mile to the Hyatt Hotel, flagged a taxi that took us to the Turtle Farm. Toured the Turtle Farm (small charge as compared to the Cruise Line price) and Tortuga Rum Cake Factory. We asked the cashier at the factory, "how do you get to Hell?" She said it was an easy 15 minute walk. Well we may have been somewhat slower than she because it took us about 30 minutes. We walked through some not very good neighborhoods, however, everyone we saw had a smile on their face and geeted us. We felt perfectly safe going to Hell. Once we arrived that area was aptly named. It was just a bunch of rocks and few shops. We were glad we did not pay the Cruise Lines price to go to Hell! We caught a taxi back to our tender and all in all had a good day!

Le Anne February 2nd, 2005 03:02 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We have been on about 20 cruises. We have had some great experiences booking our own tours and other times it has been misses. In Grand Cayman we tried getting to Stingray city on our own and ended up in an area with huge waves barely able to get out of the boat. My daughter was about 2 at the time to the excursion ended up being nothing like the add on TV. LOL We did booked a kayak tour and saved 30% off the ship rate. We were on the same bus as if we had booked direct. In St Thomas we have ended up on a sailing boat with just the 3 of us with a provate guide. We did Dunn River Falls on our own and had a great time and discovered a local market off the beaten path. I think the bottom line is if you want to book on your own you must be a bit flexible and you will end up having a great time for less. If you are going to worry about the missing the boat self tours are probably not for you. We have also used public transportation and had lots of fun. In Barbados for example the bus driver flagged down another bus to get us to our destination more quickly. Doing your homework always pays off. We have found great beaches, enjoyed food and drink with locals and really gotten a feel for the country by venturing away from the arranged tourst. The cruise ships have done their homework and do know what tours people enjoy so if you don't want the hassle of hours of research this is an easy way to get a teaste of the country.

Lonnie February 15th, 2005 08:36 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
I'm sure by the date of the original post you are no longer looking for information. However, I never book the ships excursions have have great experiences. In St. Petersburg we went on our own to the Hermitage and ended up getting ushered in through a back door while everyone turned their backs, a young lady saw us in line and recognized us as americans and told us we had a special entrance. We didn't know what the entrance was until after she got us in. Also when we went to change dollars for rubles our taxi driver took us to a back door and got us a great exchange rate. In Warnmueden germany we took the local train instead of the excursion train and had a great experience with the locals and a much better train and a much lower cost. We have run out of gas on our way to the ship, taken local busses with locals and had great stories, snorkeled with the sting rays for lower prices and more personalized trip. Everyone always recommends against going on your own but the experiences I've had have been priceless.

Laurar914 February 16th, 2005 08:29 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
I agree with all of the above, the money savings for a family is worth the bit of research beforehand. We leave for our next cruise this Sat. and have booked cave tubing for a $40 per person savings in Belize and to top it off we get a fruit platter and refreshments at the end. I've mostly researched before and booked ahead for smaller, intimate excursions and the customer service and value I've received have been well worth it. We have another excursion booked for the stingray sandbar and snorkel trip for only 2.5 hours, allowing ample time to explore 7 mile beach and the local pubs and attractions. They'll even drop us off at the beach on the return drive saving us a cab fare. The ship offered much longer, more expansive tours for more money. This way its personalized to our specifications. Many years ago I had a bad experience with a ship excursion in St. Thomas. It was a sail, snorkel, open bar and hourduerves in a small group - 6 per boat plus the couple who owned it. They motored the whole way there and back, and the open bar was a can or coke or diet coke and the horsdevues were a snack size bag of chips or pretzels. It was way overpriced and a real let down. I only hope it was just this one bad operator but I never found out. February 20th, 2005 11:05 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
we are going on a cruise fre for the mexican reveria with 12 developmentally clients and 4 staff. Any suggestion on who to contact for self shore excursions. thank you nancy

Jean M February 21st, 2005 07:23 AM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We do our own thing when it makes sense to us.

Examples of savings (three years ago):
- Curacao - Ship tour $30/person. We walked off the ship and found $10/person and went to the same places, according to the ship's description of the tour.
- Aruba - Ship tour $60/person to drive in a jeep caravan for a few hours. We walked off the ship and rented our own jeep for $60 total for the day for the two of us. We saw the caravan along our way but also used the jeep to take us back to the beach later.

Examples of when we felt it was to our advantage to book through the ship:
- Cozumel (tender to Playa del Carmen before shipped docked) and bus to Chichen Itza, then ferry back to ship after it docked. This way we were first off the ship and had more time at the ruins. We also had time to shop in Cozumel.
- Grand Cayman (tender). Guaranteed first off the ship by booking the Seven Mile Beach transportation. This was a short day so doing this gave us enough time to do the beach and our own tour around the island.
- St. John (tender). Guaranteed first off the ship. Provided us with clock work transportation: tender boat to St. John, tour vehicle around island, two hours to swim at Trunk Bay, pick up and delivery to ferry boat, bus waiting on St. Thomas side, time to go back to the ship for lunch and tender back to downtown to shop. If we had eaten downtown, we could have probably fit in a swim at Megan's Bay, but saved it for another trip.

I'm sure that we could have done these excursions on our own as well, but not sure that we could have squeezed in as much because we lost no time with transportation connections.

I've noticed that sometimes the ship's tours include lunch or span the lunch hour. Doing our own thing usually allows us to fit in more (tour/beach/shop), providing both a morning and an afternoon slot, with lunch on the ship.

Hope this helps.

aidee March 2nd, 2005 12:48 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
My husband and i booked a cruise last year before knowing that we were going to buy our house that same week. Needless to say we were broke, and didn't have much money to spend afterwards. We went to Cozumel, and rent a mopped for $25, and explored the island. We went to chankanaba and had a blast paid $8 each to get there. With the mopped we were able to get back to the cruise and eat, it's only 5 minutes ride from chankanaba. Plus we had the opportunity to explore the island side to side, and site seeing can be counted as another excusion. We even saw some Mayan ruins in our drive. We had a blast, and under $50.

Mikes Wifee March 16th, 2005 05:08 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
Can anyone recommend what to do on the Costa Eastern Caribbean cruise? We would like to do it ourselves and not pay the high prices the ship charges. Any assistance would be appreciated. Thank you

Ernesto March 21st, 2005 07:22 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
I am going on my first cruise April 1st. Any suggestions for shore excursions such as swiming with stingrays. Should I book that with the cruise line or can I do it on my own? If I can do it on my own what is the process? Thanks

Ernesto March 21st, 2005 07:26 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
I am going on my first cruise April 1st. Any suggestions for shore excursions such as swiming with stingrays in Nassau? Should I book that with the cruise line or can I do it on my own? If I can do it on my own what is the process? Thanks

coldinND March 23rd, 2005 04:42 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
We'll be going on the Carnival Valor on Nov. 27-we'll be stopping in Belize, Cozumel, Grand Caymans, and Roatan-do you have any suggestions for these ports-on our own, or ship excursion?

Tim Harwood March 25th, 2005 02:08 PM

Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
Please feel free to review my website and then contact me should this be of interest in writing your article.

I have 20 years experience in shore excursion planning and operations with major cruise lines and have now opened my own shore excursion service company.

Tim Harwood
Tel: 1 954 972 6306

Bill Simon March 27th, 2005 04:08 PM

Re: Re: do-it-yourself shore excursions
I'll be going on a RCCL Mediterranean cruise in Nov. I'm looking for an affordable shore excursion in Livorno. Would appreciate your suggestions and costs
Bill Simon

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