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hogwildinok Apr 28th, 2009 08:06 AM

book shore excursions with cruise line?
Doing our first alaskan cruise in June with stops in Juneau and Skagway. I've heard there is a ton of opportunities to get a excursion at the ports at a lot better price. Would it be better to wait or go ahead and book excursions with cruise line to be sure of availablity?

doug_stallings Apr 28th, 2009 08:26 AM

It depends on the excursion. If it's a special kind of excursion that might sell out, it's worth considering booking there, but almost all the shore excursions offered on the ship can be purchased for much less once you step onto the dock. Sometimes, it will be with the same tour operator.

The only exception I have found is if you are purchasing an excursion that takes the entire day, especially if you need to be off the ship super-early. In a case like this, I'd recommend purchasing the excursion on the ship (even though it will probably cost more) since you'll be ensured that the ship doesn't sail without you and that you will have time to do the excursion of your choice.

geosand Apr 28th, 2009 08:42 AM

we always arrange our own shore excursions including Alaska and the Baltics last year. There is a wealth of information on about local tour operators. Contact the tour operator before you leave and make arrangements. Even for our three day private St Petersburg tour we did not have to pay in advance. Arranging in advance takes the pressure off once you arrive at the dock
In addition to the cost savings you will not be on a bus with large groups allowing more flexibility and the opportunity to see much more and tailor the trip to your tastes

Eschew Apr 28th, 2009 10:23 PM

I have a few cautions about booking your own shore excursion outside of the cruise line and they are as follow:

(1) If you miss the boat. You literally missed the boat. You are on your own to find your way to the next stop. They will not wait for you. Unexpected things may happen and if you are not on the ship's excurions, you are on your own. It happened to us once. We were late getting back because someone in the group were lost (don't ask me how they can't find their way back to the bus). The guides went looking, found them and then we ran into traffic problems. We were really late. A tender waited for us. As soon as we get back on board, the ship departed. If it was a private tour, the ship would have left without us.

(2) If you prebook a private tour, you pay in advance. There is no guarantee that the ship will stop there. Carnival just cancelled Mexico stops until June due to Swine Flu. If you pre-book a private tour at one of those stops and prepaid, well, you might just lost your money.

(3) Quality assurance. The ship generally has an acceptable level of minimum standard.

With all that said, what are the chances that nad things will happen to you when you book your own? Not very lilkely. Does it ever happens? Absolutely!

Do I book myself on a private tour? Absolutely! I save about 25 to 30% most of the time. The trick is to know what NOT to book on your own.

There is an amount of "safety & security" by booking through the ship and you pay extra for that peace of mind. If this is your first trip. Book through the ship. If this is a return trip, book on your own.

As long as you know what the potential pit falls are ... you can make an educated decision.

BudgetQueen Apr 29th, 2009 11:23 AM

Do not expect savings on independent tours in Alaska except for "bus" type tours. BUT you can expect, better tours, smaller groups, more personal tours, longer tours.

I do disagree with eschew, Alaska vendors DO NOT cause people to miss ships. I do request he/she, find a post that states as such??? And this can be noted over YEARS. So this point is not valid. Also, they certainly DO refund, if your ship does not make port. Sailing Mexico, simply has NO relationship to doing business in Alaska. You can certainly VERIFY this directly with vendors.

The statement of "quality" in these ship tours, also can be disputed. They use MANY seasonal guides/help, have to be "scripted". This is NOT the case with independent operators.

Both choices are excellent, depending on what you are looking for. Doing your homework, will definately pay off in the ability to make the best choices for your touring.

Eschew Apr 29th, 2009 10:28 PM

BQ, my miss is at Playa de Carman. I never said Alaska. Yes, the chances of it happening is low. But, stuff happens. People needs to be aware of the potential pitfalls. It is meant as a generic comment to anyone wishing to book independently from the ship.

As to the savings, you are correct that the savings are a bit less for Alaska. I still find savings closer to 20%. You also have more choices and flexibility with indepdents for fligt seeing. I also equate similar prices and longer tour as better value and in a way, savings.

There are times that I book 2 short tours at the same port.

In terms of group sizes, depending on the tours you book with the ship, you can get on smaller groups. Larger groups get split into different buses anyway so the maximum group size is about 40. If you want a smaller group than 40, then you have to go to the indepedents.

You go whale watching or to the light house or eagle watching, those ships holds about 100 or so. A couple buses converge at the dock, load and unload. Doesn't matter if you book on your own or not. The next question then becomes do you want to go on a smaller boat? I rember on the way to the light house, we crossed the wake from a cruise ship. It wasn't too much fun on a smaller boat in rough water.

Yes, the tour guides maybe scripted, most are. The same joke ... every time, different operators tells different jokes, and trust me, they are all scripted, up to a point. At least the indepedents won't tell you about shopping at the "designated shops" nand drop you off there.

Quality assurance: it's not only the guide. It's everything else ... hopefuly a well maintained vehicle, or ship, or plane, or facility; safe water and food etc. (granted, safe food is more necessary in certain places other than Alaska)

I don't believe I need to defend any of my comments as I stand by them. I am entitled to my opinions as you are to yours. I do not see a need for me to challenge other people's comments to put my point across.

jacketwatch Apr 30th, 2009 05:13 AM

No matter where it happened I thought Eschew said it was someone in the tour group who got lost and didn't blame the vendors. In fact he said they went out looking for them. I wonder what would have happened if this was NOT a ships tour. I mean knowing that a whole bus load had to get back or otherwise miss the ship would they have then went ahead?
That being said any reputable outside vendor will do his best to ensure that their group is back on time. Otherwise its very bad for business. Anyway with cell phones, radios and such if there is a mech. breakdown hopefully help is just a call away.
For the most part posters here love to travel and many are seasoned vets so to speak and have good reasons for their opinions. No one thing suits everybody.

BudgetQueen Apr 30th, 2009 10:05 AM

Being this is an ALASKA question, I would think, referring to Alaska vendors would be the point here???

Anyway, I have extensive experience with many Alaska vendors, having taken 25 trips there, since 1994. #26 end of May. So my points may have some value as well.

It would be helpful, to perhaps, post your actual Alaska tour experiences??

Eschew Apr 30th, 2009 11:27 PM

Not to belabor the point, the point I am trying to make is be aware if you want to book tours on your own. I see it as an awareness issue and not an ALASKA or vendor issue. It's a very basic knowledge that one should have regardless where you are going, pure and simple.

As I have stated, I have book on my own. Have mostly good luck with good operators and asome bad luck with losuy operators as well. That's life. Even a good operator have a bad day. You move on.

I don't TELL people what to do, I present the information, good and bad, let the posters makes their own educated decision.

Yes, BQ, you've been to Alaska lots. Anyone who's been around here knew that. I have asked for your opinion in the past, and may still ask for your opinion in the future. I, personally, have valued your opinions in the past as you speak from your own personal "experience", and you are passionate on your "issues".

Larry's question is a good one, What would have happened if it wasn't the SHIP's tour? I don't know. On an indepedent tour, it could be only a handful of people in the group are from the same ship. There could be non crusie ship traveller from an all inclusive, from another ship etc. The ship has no obligation to wait. You can try to call ahead and said you're going to be late, but would that help? I equate missing the boat like missing a plane at the airport. You are late, stuck in traffic. Do you think they will wait? I don't think so.

It is the same when you fly in on your own or ueses the ship's air service. They charge you more, they promise they will get you there. If you are from the North East where there are snow storms and can't get out, they will get you on the ship at the next port if needed. At least that's the promise if you have also buy their travel insurance.

For those who are interested, my near miss happened at the Coba Mayan ruin. It's a big place located in the middle of a jungle. It is at least a good 90 minutes bus ride from Playa de Carman. It's not a popular cruise excursion destination as it is too far away. Not too many people would be willing to endure the long travel time to get there and back.

To make a long story short, the trails are at least a mile long, all look the same with confusing signs. They loop around and go in circle. We were really surprised that we were left to explore on our own after the "guided" portion of the tour.

The bus ride back took a little more than 2 hours, plus they spent half an hour looking for the lost souls. The bus driver did call ahead with his radio keeping the dispatch informed. In the end, we barely made it back. A soon as we (the group of about 40 people) set foot on the ship, the ship is leaving. That's a close call and was too close for comfort.

jacketwatch May 1st, 2009 05:57 AM

Eschew: Just out of curiosity are you a "night owl?" I see that many of your posts are in the wee hrs. As I have to get ready for work at 0430 (we live 35 mi. from my job and I have to leave early for my 0700 start time to beat the traffic into Chicago) my usual time to get up is pretty early and rarely do I stay awake past 2400, and never when I have to work the next day. I did say awake to watch the Bulls 3 OT win over the Celtics last night. Ammazing game. :-)

karens May 17th, 2009 12:29 PM

Is it possible to book the Skagway White Pass RR excursion on your own? On the White Pass site, it says you cannot make advance res on Wednesdays, and that's the day our ship is in Skagway. Any insights?

traveller69 May 17th, 2009 01:37 PM

karens - my guess is there may be several ships in Skagway on Wednesdays so they hold that open for cruise ship's bookings. If you get a few ships in - you wouldn't believe how overrun the towns are with tourists. So my suggestion is to book the ships tour if you really want to do it. Normally we never take the tours offered by the cruise line but for something like the RR excursion I would make an exception.

BudgetQueen May 18th, 2009 10:12 AM

There are several White Pass RR trains every day. I'm sure there are trains that can be booked directly. But the savings is little on this tour, so compare. The ship tour, loads at the dock, independent loads at the depot. Many times, you will have more room on the independent, as the cruiselines fill every seat.

More important, be certain to sit on the left side, facing the engine, leaving Skagway.

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