Shore excursions (book with cruise ship or travel agent)
I see a lot of a bad talk about local island travel agent on this page. I just want people to understand that the cruise ship want you to not trust travel agent because it puts money in their pocket. When booking a Shore excursion it is safe to book with Local island agents. It can save you lots of money, for example (zip line tour- cruise line, $85 per person/ travel agent $45) Now people say you’re not safe if you book with travel agent, we can’t keep you safe. Do you really think a travel agent doesn’t want you to be safe and have the best time? Travel agent wouldn’t be in business if people where not safe or missed tours.
I owned a local travel agent business on Roatan for 8 years (tropicalrez.com). I have booked thousands of excursions (zip line tours, diving, horseback rides, so much more) and never left anyone behind. No one has ever not been safe the whole time on a tour.
Just how I feel.
Here is a little blog you might like on this topic: Planning a Cruise (?Way to Save?) TropicalREZ.com Blog
Please feel free to add your feeling on this topic!
Independent and ship's excursions -- both have merit
(with you and I as major contributors. Of course I always feel free to add my own arrogant opinions on practically every subject.)
It is a good topic and probably deserves a thread of its own.
Here is the last post I made on the other thread. Let's go on from there.
The argument goes on and on, with most people seeming to favor exclusive use of one or the other. After many cruises we have fallen into a pattern of surveying the ship's excursions first, and usually choosing several of them. Then we will research independent excursions, and when there is a good reason to go independent, such as attractions not on the ship's tours, desire to arrange our itinerary a certain way, or my slight mobility limitations, we will book the independent tour.
But I certainly do NOT advise excluding either option. The mix works well for us and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
For an example of a cruise where mixing ship's and independent worked well for us, check out our trip report and pictures at "Black Sea Cruise 2009" and compare our ship's tour from Katakolon to Olympia with our private tour from Nafplion to Mycenae. Both were very good experiences for us.
Cost of independent excursions
Let's look at the example given in this post. This is one type of independent excursion, where you are simply going to get off the ship, do a single thing, and return to the ship, probably within a period of a few hours.
There are many ways you could do it. You can book it through the ship. Advantages that you get are:
Ease of booking, one click, no extensive research or correspondence
Ease of payment
A generally liberal refund policy
Reasonable assurance of reliable transportation and operators
Frequently, the attraction gives priority times and attention to ship's tours.
Reminders of when and where to meet your tour, and clear instructions on how to do it.
The ship's staff on the dock to assist you in locating your tour.
Generally, the best vehicles available at that port, and the best drivers.
Assurance that the ship is tracking your excursion and will be aware if any unforseen problems occur.
In the example given above you are paying $40 for all those services, convenience, and peace of mind.
Booking through an independent agent requires that you do a lot of research in advance, and are especially careful about payment arrangements and refund policies.
The quality of vehicles has been known to vary. Again you have to be very careful in your research. Especially in Europe and the Far East, vehicle size may not be comfortable for us large types.
Careful attention to timing at the attraction. Sometimes independent operators can get you in before or after the ship's tours, but sometimes you can wind up waiting while the ship gets priority. In certain ports some attractions will not be open to the public at all but reserved strictly for ship's tours.
You have to be extremely careful about arrangements to meet your tour. The ship's buses will definitely get priority parking, and an independent operator may be some distance away. There are some ports where independents are not allowed on the port at all and it is some distance to walk to meet them. You also have to be very sure to have a contact method if you have trouble meeting them.
Independent tour operators are usually EXTREMELY aware of their responsibility to get you back to the ship on time. Nevertheless things can happen, from simple traffic jams to accidents. In our many many independent tours, we have twice been the very last pax up the gangway just as it was being hauled in, due to unforseen circumstances. The ship can and will leave without you. It is a fact that there are occasional reports of passengers on independent tours missing the ship. (However, more often it is because they lingered in a local bar, I think!)
There is indeed a third way. You can just walk off the ship and negotiate with a taxi driver. Some people like to do it this way. I very seldom do. Here is the place where the risks overbalance, in my mind, the simplicity.
The point here is that COST ALONE is a very poor reason to choose an independent operator. For many people, the convenience and ease of booking ship's tours is well worth paying the extra charge for their services.
As I have stated, the reason we usually take independent excursions is that they in some way fulfill our needs BETTER than the ship, not for LESS MONEY. The fact is that by the time I get done tailoring an excursion to our special tastes and arranging for the best vehicles and accomodations we usually wind up paying MORE for the excursion. For instance in our zip line example, I might well request a larger van, add on a local museum or a trip to a view point, include lunch and wind up paying $125 for the excursion the ship charges $85 for.
We often promote local tour agents here (not the same as "travel agents" - that is a different thing) and we did allow you to mention your own business.
I just wrote an article about Viator which also books independent tours in ports of call.
So - don't be so defensive. What people say about "safety" in terms of not missing the ship is absolutely true. I realize your services only have a very small risk factor, but any risk factor at all is not as good as no risk factor.
So - many people yse tour agents like you and save plenty of money. But some people will always stick to ship-provided tours. That's just the way it is.
Well I guess I will Address Paul first. I guess I get on the defensive when some talks bad about my business or organization that I work in. Which I might add has never had a bad incident from the day we opened. I'm glad you don't put down local tour providers on the island. Seeing that is who we work with everyday and see almost every other day. I know most cruise ship can't name the owner of 1 tour provider owner on the island let alone everyone of them. You shouldn’t put down travel agents we work just as hard as everyone else to make cruise ship excursions fun and safe for the visitors. We just like to save them money and don't raise the cost 50% a tour. I'm only speaking the truth. You claims are faults.
The risk of getting left behind from a travel agent and cruise ship booking for an excursion is the same. (Not talking about getting an independent transport) The local excursion tour is the one that get the people to and from the excursion, not the travel agent or cruise ship. So please tell me how a travel agent or cruise ship is any different of a risk??
I agree with you that some people use travel agent and save money and love their time and some do the same with cruise ships. I just don't understand why cruise ship put fault claim into people head just to keep them as customers. I just tell facts, we save you money and you’re as safe with us as with book with them. It up them if they want to pay 50% more or not.
Thank your thoughts on the subject Paul. I do like talking with yall :)
You bring a up good points but also not all true. I can see you have booked may time thru a cruise ship but I don't think you have used a travel agent many time. We can offer you the same package, ex: zip line, lunch , and another stop at your favorite view spot. We can offer you the same package deal that would be a lot less money 95% of the time. All the benefits you named about booking with a cruise ship we offer too, refund, easy to pay, and booking packages of your choosing. We have went on every tour on the island so we can tell you which is the best. You don't have to wait in line at any of our tours, ships don't have pull who goes first. You never have to watch the clock because we make sure your back to the island with lot of time to spare.
I guess we will have to agree to disagree and the people that want to save money, and do the same thing as everyone else for less money can use a travel agent.
Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.
Let's keep it going
This is a good discussion and civilly conducted. It covers some particular points often discussed and often confused. Let's keep it going -- even if it turns out to be you and I talking to each other. There are many lurkers on this board who are probably reading it.
First, please understand that American usage makes a difference between "independent tour operator" and "travel agent." A true Travel Agent books cruises, airline flights, hotel packages and such. The operation you are describing is an independent tour operator.
Much of what you say about independent tours is very very true. If you review some of my cruise reports you will see that we probably use independent tour operators somewhat more than half the time on cruises. We like independent tours very much and do them frequently. For an example of our mix, check out HAL Maasdam Cruise Review. That trip worked very well. One ship's tour, two custom tours with independent guides, two standard tours booked locally, and one you-drive on our own. I did a lot of research to come up with those.
However -- I think it IS important that passengers understand the very basic fact of ship's excursions. Every ship's excursion is monitored by the shore excursion staff, and the officers of the ship are made aware of any situations. In most instances the ship makes every effort to ensure that passengers on ship excursions are cared for. Ship sailings have often been delayed for ship excursions to return. I remember in one Central American port a massive traffic jam resulted in buses being late back and the ship delayed over four hours for them. Of course, time and tide wait for no man, and if the ship does have to sail without excursion passengers, the cruise line takes responsibility for their care and return to the ship.
Anyone who books with an independent company MUST understand that they have no such protection from the cruiseline. The ship can, and will, sail without late returning passengers who are on an independent tour. It is a question of where the responsibility rests. In booking with an independent, you are making that operator, and yourself, responsible for your timely return. This is a simple fact that is key to the discussion.
Clearly then it becomes the duty of the passenger to check out the independent operator carefully. As I have noted, most independent operators are VERY VERY aware of the time they have to have passengers back to the ship, and know that their reputation depends on it. We seldom hear cases of passengers on independent tours with reputable operators being left. But it can, and has, happened.
This means a lot of research and time goes into booking independent. Clearly we think the time spent is worthwhile as we book independent so frequently. Nevertheless we have had a couple of scares. One company that had good reviews and a very flashy website (see the discussion of design on another board ;) ) turned out to be planning to send us back to the ship in a taxi, which did not show up. We ran up the gangway just minutes before they pulled it up!
So nobody is picking on independents or trying to scare anybody. A simple fact has to be stated, and the responsibility has to rest where it rests. I urge passengers who are willing to do their own research and accept their own responsibility to consider independent tours. We have had some great ones! But I suggest that those who like simple convenience and assurance to go with ship's excursions and be content. We have had some great ones of those too!
I stand by my remarks on price. Saving a few bucks is rarely a reason to use an independent, IMAO. Use an independent for personal attention, small group size, comfortable vehicles (sometimes), custom itineraries, accommodation of disabilities and many other good reasons. But on a cruise costing thousands, saving a nickel should not be the main purpose.
I LOVE independent tours. You have some good salesmanship and are pointing out the positives. But it must be thought out and a wise consumer decision made.
Word a mouth is the best advertising
I have move from been a banker to a teacher to now the owner of my own Independent Tours **commercial link edited** and i must say with a family and parents to look after, this business has become my life. I wouldn't want to dear get a bad rep... So day in and out i try to make my guests comfortable, safe and have as much fun when they come to my island. I have done promotion on Facebook where real people leaves their feedback after taking a tour with us. If you google 'courtney taylor tours jamaica', you will see numerous amount of search result pops up. On cruise critics i have over 200 reviews and thousands of views... I have been kept busy year round for the last couple of years and this is my 9th year doing this.
As Independent operators we are license to a bigger tour company, hence there are days when we are called for work from the ship but this sometimes take for ever and it would be hard to serve this long with out work. Therefore what i am saying we are the same guys that take visitors whether you book through the ship or not. I for one just decided to start my own because i had the knowledge to do so.
Booking a shore excursion from a local agent does not mean that you will save money -
this depends on the number of persons that you are going to be. For just two persons a tour with a local agent usually cost more - as the number of the participants increases the rate is lower. Booking with the cruise company usually you do not have any risk. Choosing to book with a local agent you have to make first a good search to choose the best one, then decide the program you would like to have and what is the best for your needs. When I am travelling with my wife I usually book the tour with a cruise company. When I am traveling with a group of friends we are planning our own tours and choose to book them with a local agent. In the second option always I feel a little bit nervous about the tours… until the end of each tour. Especially if I am the one that has organized it!!!!
I agree with this advice - if you have a group onboard then you can organize your own events in port in a cost-effective manner.
We have always booked directly with the cruise line .However on our next cruise we may try an independent tour operator.
For everyone who doesn't want to book directly from a cruise line or like to see what other options there are. Just google on 'tours by locals' 'private guide+destination' 'local tour operators + destination' 'local tour guide' etc. and you find plenty of alternatives.
Most are independent local guides who do their outmost best to provide you a wonderful tour. Passionate people for their country and for guiding.
I just want to say that the independent tours I took on my last cruise were much better (and cheaper) than the ship's excursions. It does not always work out this way though.
We always book thru the cruiselines the first time we visit a port because we do not really know what to expect. If we visit that same port again we will either book independent or just do our own thing depending on the port.
To illustrate this......We visited Cartagena Columbia one time and felt very ill at ease there while on a Ship booked tour. I can't imagine how distressed we would of felt if we had booked a independent tour provider.
Normally private tour guides arrange your customized tour, you are the owner of your time, you decide what to do and when.So you don' t have to waste your time in places you don' t really want to stay, many of the cruises tours nowadays has a lot of shopping stops and maybe the guests preffers to spend more time discovering the history.
Of course depends of your port of call and the tour agents they has there.
In my personal opinion, specially cruise passangers have alimited time to discover the port of call, so sometimes is better to look for private arrangments.
Having done somewhere around 40 cruises, my husband and I have done a variety of things. In general, here are my thoughts.
Factor #1 is the port itself. There are many ports where we feel safe enough going off on our own. Sometimes, just to walk around, other times, hiring a taxi. But, there are ports that we do not feel entirely safe. For those, we book through the cruise lines. I do feel that they are more strict about who they sub-contract the tours to.
That brings up another question in my mind. Since the cruise ship tours are sub-contracted, why do you not choose to go that route? Just a thought. I don't know your type of business at all.
The second factor for us is the length of time in the port. If it is a relatively short day, we go with the cruise line tours. That is the biggest reason why I hesitate to choose an independent tour. While, as you said, either way, things can go wrong and result in delays, the cruise lines will get you back on board. But, if we have plenty of time in a port, I am much more likely to go with an independent tour company.
A third thing is the reliability of independent companies. I am NOT attacking your company. But, a year or so ago, we intended to book a series of tours through an independent who had tours in 3 of our ports. They never even called us back. I would think that booking more than one tour might motivate someone. We probably just had the bad luck to get one employee who was lazy or not competent.
Last, we have had 2 events where one of us was injured or threatened by independent operators. And, no, I am not overly afraid of things or people. But, both were horrifying incidents. And it can be very difficult to research any company. There is a lot less control in most of these countries than we are accustomed to here in the US. In one case, my husband was injured and the tour company disappeared as soon as it happened. Only the fact that we were near a big hotel who appeared to be promoting the activity and the fact that I was screaming mad got us any help. The other was one where I went alone. It was a tour I had taken through the cruise line a number of times and decided why not do it on my own for 1/2 the price. I would be dead now if I wasn't such an aggressive (and trained) fighter when threatened.
In short, I wish that all independent tour companies were as good as you say you are (and I do believe you), but realistically, they just are not. There is safety in paying that extra amount to book tours through the cruise lines.
Hope that your business goes well. Perhaps someday I will get a chance to check it out for myself, and then write a customer rave review for you on this board.
The third option is to book with an independent tour company that has contractors in each port. This way your not booking directly with an independent company in the port, but you're dealing with a larger company here in the States. This affords you the best of both words. For example, we have a contract with Shore Trips and they have been outstanding for our clients. And with over 800 of our agents using them with only very few problems, I can say they have always treated our clients wonderfully. We've personally used them many times and have never had any problems. Plus, they have insurance so should anything ever happen, they will take care of you. Booking independently in some ports you're just never too sure exactly what you're going to get. But having been on 45 cruises all over the world and done alot of shore excursions on our own, through the cruise line, through independents, and through Shore Trips, I can honestly say that I would never book an excursion offered by the cruise line unless it was the only way to do what we wanted to do. They're too expensive, too controlling, too crowded, and usually too short.
And I've heard alot of people say that the cruise line won't leave you if you on a cruise line excursion, but they will if you on an independent tour. And this couldn't be further from the truth. Booking through a major shore excursion company, like Shore Trips, you don't have to worry about it. They will stay in touch with the cruise ship should anything happen. I've personally had long conversations with a few ship captains about this very issue and it just doesn't happen. The people who miss ships are almost always on their own or they were not in touch with the ship communicating that they would be a little late. It's all about communication as they never want to intentionally leave anyone in port, but they have no choice if they are not informed on what's happening.
BTW, I'm not trying to push Shore Trips, but as I said, they have treated our clients very well. Whether you use them or another major company (and there are several out there with very good reputations), they will take care of you.
At the same time, if you want to use an independent, just do your homework and check them out ahead of time. This is where the internet is a very good thing. For example, with used SPB Tours for our 2-day excursion in St. Petersburg, Russia. We booked directly with them based on all the feedback we got and the reviews we read and we couldn't have been happier with them.
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