There was no neon sticker slapped on my t-shirt screaming out that I was on a shore excursion and which group I was with. I was also allowed to choose the guide and which bus I joined from the ones doing the same tour. There were no more than about 25 guests on the bus so I was able to stretch out and get time to ask the guide detailed questions I had about the places we visited. It was a very different experience to the usual crammed and strict shunting around like on most cruise tours.
There is a clear Crystal Cruises way of handling port-side exploration, and so I spent some time with Daniel Steyn, the Excursion Manager for the Crystal Cruise I was on, to find out more about touring – and to get his top tips for passengers on this important aspect of cursing.
What did I learn about excursions on Crystal Cruises from him?
Pre-booking: Most guests pre-book their excursions online before they come on their cruise. This is a recent development since guests have to check-in online, give their credit card details, book specialty restaurants and enter other preferences. It improves the Excursion teams ability to spend time giving destination advice and answering questions, as they are not swamped at the start of the trip with everyone trying to sort excursions.
Amount of passengers do cruise-line excursions: Around a third of passengers on average go on tours in most ports. The percentage grows close to 100% in new and unusual destinations like those in Africa., or where there are more concerns about perceived safety or complex cultural and language obstacles to overcome.
The reason for this trends is that many of Crystal’s guests are well-travelled and so have been to or are comfortable self-exploring in most destinations. This is something I experienced with people I met, who seemed as confident to explore using local transport and guides as going on organised trips.
Most popular type of excursion: This is the panoramic tours which reflects the current core passenger profile of older guests. These trips are more coach based and have limited activity. The amount of walking is the biggest issue the team face when planning many excursions, and area they are likely to get the most complaints. This explains why they focus so much in the printed materials and on the excursion show streamed into the staterooms via the television on the activity rating level for every tour.
Demands are changing: As Crystal attracts a wider age range and more active demographic there is an increased need for higher activity tours as well as running and cycling excursions.
Tours are in English: The ship operates as an English-speaking ship, and the excursions reflect this. If there is a large Chinese or Japanese contingent booked they will try to find relevant language speaker guides.
Different to many cruise companies is they run small group size tours where possible: The bus used will have around 25 versus capacity of double that which allow a lot of space, comfort and personal attention. You also are not required to wear stickers indicating which tour you are on, and usually can self select which of the guides and bus you join for each set of tours. The tour program overall is built and established by head office with the excursion team doing site visits top validate and check the tours and suitability.
Minimum numbers are required for tours to run, so they do not run them at a loss: But not many get cancelled as they have learnt over time what will be popular and will run every tour if they can. If they see pre-bookings are looking poor they will try cancel these before the cruise starts so they can work with guests to find an alternative.
Crystal do not own and run tour companies, but use local providers who tender for the contracts: It does not make sense to own providers as they only run two ships and are not in destinations everyday to make it practical.
Photographer focused tours run occasionally: They are in the daily program, but can also be requested and the team will arrange these. The Photographic team occasionally will host tours, and if these build in popularity they may become more regular.
Private and personalised tours: In addition to the advertised tours, they can arrange private tours with vehicles and guides, special activities (like private yacht or art expert tour) and give advice on things to do if guests want to self-tour. If something is requested that is a risky activity, like skydiving, and there are insurance cover issues they will source and find providers for guests to consider at their at own risk.
Top tips from the Excursions Team for passengers:
- Review and pre-book excursions before tour cruise. As you are able to cancel most with just over 24-hours notice make sure you can make sure that you get on the tours you want.
- However, check the individual policy by tour as some of the more premium and specialist tours have long cancellation terms, which may be up to a month.
- Come and discuss your interests, especially if there is something you want to do but is not offered to see if they can suggest a self-tour option or arrange a special trip.
My top tips for passengers considering tours for their Crystal cruise
- Read my article about “How To Save Money on Cruise Excursions”
- The cancellation policy for most excursions on Crystal is very liberal, and better than most cruise lines I have travelled on. You will receive 100% refund if you cancel with just over 24 hours notice, so if in doubt book tours to avoid missing out on any you may want to do. However, check the terms for each one carefully as some have full forfeit of fee unless cancelled a month before the excursion. For example, in Bordeaux France this included tours like an exclusive dinner and wine tasting at Chateau du Taillan ($599), Chef’s Table at Michelin St-James ($399) and Medoc with Wine Author Dewey Markham Jr. ($219).
- Ensure you are going on the right excursion type based on your interests, fitness and mobility. The tours are rated as “little walking” (short distances only and suitable for the physically challenged), “moderate walking” (middle distance with some steps and uneven surfaces) and “strenuous activity (long distances with rough terrain and many steps). In practice, even the most active is not especially challenging for people of reasonable fitness – but will involve being able to walk quite briskly and keep up with the group and guide for two or more hours. I was amazed how many people with mobility issues went on the wrong type and slowed the tours down.
- If you do have mobility issues, but are able to get on and off the coach by yourself, you can hire a tour companion to assist getting you around on tours by wheelchair for circa $30/ hour.