When Cruise Line Excursions Could Be Your Best Decision Ever
When Cruise Line Excursions Could Be Your Best Decision Ever
The cruise lines argue we should always do their excursions because they are convenient, easy to book, include the must-see sights, the ship will wait for us if the cruise line excursion is delayed, and they have screened the tour operators. But I don’t think those are good reasons, as it also makes them the more costly way to explore.
However, while I do prefer self-exploring in ports, there are a few times when I absolutely will go on cruise line excursions – having learnt some lessons the hard way, as you will hear.
Consideration #1: The Risks?
The first key thing I ask about any destination or port I am going is, “How safe is it?” Most cruise ports are safe but if I have even the slightest doubt, I stick with the cruise line.
The most extreme example of that was going to Egypt on a Nile River Cruise. I knew that Egypt has a reputation of being relatively unsafe. There’s been unrest. Stories of crime on tourists. Being aggressively hassled by vendors. Twitchy police and army who have been known to arrest people taking photos they deem suspicious. And harassment of some travellers, including women and LGBT travellers.
So, for that trip I stayed within the cruise-controlled bubble the whole time and did every single tour with the cruise line.
But, asking the question applies just as much on any cruise anywhere. Just because a cruise calls into a country or port I don’t assume that means it is safe.
For example, several Caribbean islands I am due to go to on a cruise next year have reputations for being unsafe. Such as Jamaica, where as I record this, the US State Department has just raised its warning level against travelling there due to a crime surge.
There are protests going on in Panama also at time of my writing this – another place I am due to call on. I will look at doing cruise line excursions in those.
Of course, by the time I go, things may have changed. So, I always check the latest State Department or UK Foreign Office advice close to going and if any issues, book cruise excursions.
There is though, another part to the “how safe is it” question!
How Safe Is It?
For example, when I go to Alaska, the Norwegian Fjords or places with majestic scenery or glaciers I love going on helicopter rides. In Alaska up onto glaciers to walk or sledge with dogs, in Norway to see the huge mountains and mountain-top lakes.
These are costly but also high-risk activities. So, I always book cruise line tours, as I want to make sure that they’re well screened and verified.
This decision was reinforced for me when doing a helicopter tour on a Disney Magic Norway cruise. Talking to the pilot, I found the line only allowed pilots from that company with over a certain number of flying hours to be used on their tours.
In the back of my mind was the terrible accident in Misty Fjords, near Ketchikan Alaska, a few years back. Five Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam passengers booked their own less costly fly plane that then crashed. They died. I know a cruise line excursion is not a guarantee of 100% safety when doing riskier activities, but I feel it reduces the risk.
If I am doing anything high value and high risk, I book the cruise line screened providers.
Also, if I have any issues or problems with these costly trips, I have a very strong leverage for getting that resolved. For example, I have been refunded once half of a long cycling excursion by the line in Marseille, as I felt it was not up to their advertised standards.
So, anytime I have the slightest question either about safety of the place or even the activity in my mind, I will always book the cruise line excursion and stay within that bubble.
But there is another more pragmatic issue that determines it too.
Consideration #2: How Far?
This next one is the most frequent reason I book a cruise line excursion. And that is when the port is nowhere near the main attraction or city.
This is especially the case when cruising Europe, South America, and Asia. Where many of the headline and must-see places are a long way away.
For example, I am just back from a Western Mediterranean cruise on Norwegian Viva. And three of the ports fitted into this.
Rome was a good hour from the port of Civitavecchia. Florence, and Pisa, were an hour and a half from the port of Livorno, and Seville was also an hour and half away from Cadiz, where we docked.
My cruise before that was on Regent Explorer and the must-see Kyoto was also an hour and half from Kobe where we docked. I could reel off example after example from my cruises.
Whenever the city or sights I want to see are a distance away, I stick with cruise line tours to remove the stress and hassle of getting there and worrying about getting back in time.
Though mostly I book their “On Your Own” tour, as that has a transfer there with a guide en-route to brief on what to see and how to get around. There’s usually also a contact number to call them if I get lost or stuck. And a meeting point and transfer back.
But, even if the distance issue for booking a cruise line excursion does not convince you, the next one is very practical, as it can increase your time to explore.
Consideration #3: How Quick?
There are two times that taking a cruise line excursion has made getting out and into the port for me easier and faster.
First, sometimes a cruise line excursion has helped me skip the hassle of getting a visa, or getting through immigration faster than those that are not on tours.
My best example of that – which is not applicable right now as cruise lines have put going there on hold – was when I went to St Petersburg, Russia, on Silversea Silver Whisper. By going on their cruise line excursion I didn’t have to go through all the hassle and expense of getting a Russian visa to get off the ship. Those self-touring had to get a visa in advance.
On some cruises calling on multiple countries, the authorities require us to go through immigration. On a Queen Mary 2 trip through Asia, we had to do that in Singapore. The tours had priority and we went first. Friends who were self-touring were delayed some hours getting off by the queues.
So, I now check if either visa or getting through immigration checks make a cruise line tour worth it.
The other time a cruise line tour speeds things up is in is in a tender port, where we all must get the tender boats off the ship into the port.
On large ships especially, I found it could take hours to get one, as the line excursions went first. Then those in premium cabins. And then everyone else had to get a ticket and wait for it to be called.
A cruise line excursion is good way of getting around all of that. Though there is another consideration that trumps all these reasons for doing a line excursion!
Consideration #4: How Essential?
And that is frankly when it’s the only option!
For example, when I went to Antarctica, we could only go on land with the cruise line, the same too in the Galapagos.
In the summer, I went to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. At most stops, I could only get off the ship on a cruise line excursion because of the threat of polar bears. So, the area had to be patrolled by armed polar bear guards.
And the other easy decision on doing a line excursion for me is when they’re included.
Like on that Regent Explorer Japan cruise I mentioned. Included in my fare was a choice of excursions. So, as I had paid for them I did them in each port.
The same when I went on a Viking Ocean Cruise from Venice to Athens, as an excursion was included in the fare.
Most river cruise fares include excursions too. So, when I went on a Viking Danube cruise recently, I did the excursions. So, check if any tours are included. There are only a handful of lines that do, and most tend to be the premium ones.
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