Login | Register | Subscribe to the GG RSS Feed

Booking Shore Excursions on Your Cruise

Advice from the Shore Excursions Manager of the Caribbean Princess

Taking a cruise for the first time is like visiting a restaurant in a foreign country. You think you understand the way things work - how to order, which utensils to use and how to tip - and you don't know how wrong you are until you make your first mistake. On a shore excursion, that mistake can cost you a whole day (if the excursion is nothing like you expected) or put a serious dent in your vacation budget (if you miss your ship and need to fly to the next port on your own dime).  

El Yunque Falls, San JuanMeet Bryan Attree, Shore Excursion Manager for the Caribbean Princess. He sat with me while we sailed from Aruba to Puerto Rico to share some tricks that will make booking your shore excursions much easier.

Do your homework before you cruise

"You'd be amazed at the amount of people who come aboard with no idea what islands they're visiting," says Bryan. "They spend a lot of time in line at the shore excursions desk and they're often disappointed because others booked online and there's no space left."

FodorsLonely Planet and Cruise Critic are my favs for getting an overview of each island. Visiting their online forums gives me a chance to ask questions from the experts as well as others with first-hand insights. Once you know the must-sees on each island, it's easy to eliminate tourist-trap excursions.

Understand cruise line lingo

Dominica's Trafalgar FallsShore excursions are a revenue stream for cruise lines and descriptions are written to entice you. ""Words like "highlights, taste of, essence, sense of and best of" denotes mild adventures that cover multiple points on the island," says Bryan. "These tend to be mild, vehicle-based excursions that give people a tour of the island - rather than an adventure."

We booked a tour in Dominica that was described as "Dominica's Ultimate Adventure Tour" with snorkeling, hiking and swimming at the base of two waterfalls. It turned out to be 4 hours in a tour bus that zigzagged across the island. Had I looked closer at the wording, I would have chosen another adventure that involved more hands-on action.

Know your limitations

If you like getting outside to enjoy the natural beauty of the islands but you're not in great physical shape, pay attention to the symbols beside the descriptions.

"Physically match up to what you want to do with what you can do. You might want to climb Machu Pichu, but if you can't do it you aren't going to enjoy it," says Bryan.  "I would rather match up physical needs and wants before looking at the price. If you sell someone based on price you've caused a problem for the passenger, the cruise line and the tour operator."

If you're not satisfied, speak up

Cruising allows you to visit many countriesBryan encourages passengers to speak up if an excursion doesn't meet expectations. Princess closely inspects the bus, the safety, the security, food - everything and anything that comes into contact with the passengers," says Bryan. "Everything has to meet Princess standards." They send out mechanics to review equipment, chefs to review food safety, and they will frequently spot-audit shore excursions.

Before you speak up, be prepared to communicate what exactly troubled you and why. If a vehicle has a flat tire during your excursion but you were able to do everything anyway, should the cruise line compensate you? If you were only allowed ½ hour of snorkel time instead of an hour, does that warrant a full or partial refund - or none at all?

Use common sense and understand where the cruise line or tour operator failed to deliver - and when complaining is appropriate and when it's just whining.

Book through the cruise line

Some of my cruising friends tell me they never book through the cruise line because it's a money grab. Other friends only book through the cruise line because it gives them peace of mind. I do a bit of both.

Magens Bay Beach, USVIIf I'm touring not far from my ship (within an hour's drive) and the tour I want to take isn't offered, I'll go on my own. Or if I'm hitting a beach and just need to a cab ride back and forth - doing it without a safety net works for me.

My risk level allows me to consider a day trip around Aruba cabbing or enjoying an excursion non-cruise organized. It's a small enough island that I can get across the island pretty quickly. An excursion farther inland - like the hour from Rome's port Civitavecchia into central Rome - is best taken with the cruise sponsored tour group. We did take that tour and were held up an hour in traffic getting back to the ship, making it right at the wire for the sailing. 

"A ship is no different than a plane - they have schedules to keep," says Bryan. "Tour operators adhere to those schedules - or they run the risk of losing their contract with the cruise line."

an hour from the port CivitavecchiaA cruise sponsored excursion means they will wait or take responsibility for your boarding of the ship in the event it's late. If you do book on your own and miss the ship, getting to the next port is your responsibility. But you aren't completely deserted.

"Some people panic and head straight for the airport but they can't leave the island without their ID," says Bryan. "Go back to the port and let the port authority (which becomes the company representative) help you get to your next port of call. They'll organize flights and let the ship know you're on your way. You'll have to pay all expenses but you'll have an escort."

Factor in the individual costs of transportation, tour and refreshments along with the added insurance equal good value.

Go for the flavor!

Bryan says shore excursions are a lot like restaurants. "One dissatisfying restaurant experience doesn't mean you stop eating at restaurants all together, right?"

GoGirlfriend is Happy in the CaribbeanRemember that every island you visit is a country and there are so many factors that can affect your experience. From cultural diversity that you may not expect to a fellow passenger who may cause a delay and set the whole tour behind schedule, shore excursions aren't perfect.

"To go see an amazing volcano in Nicaragua you have to step off the beaten path and go through the culture of the region," says Bryan. "Cruise ships do such a good job of accommodating and servicing passengers that when you step out of the ship, it can feel like breaking out of a bubble and that can be shocking to some people."

When you cruise, do you book through your cruise line or on your own? Ever been left behind? Leave a comment below and let other learn from your experience.

Viator

Related Stories

Rate This post

Post new comment




GoGirlfriend Recommendations

Connect With Us

Twitter
Facebook
YouTube

Register

Membership is free and with it you can set up a profile, vote on stories and post your opinions.

Already a member?
Login

Not a member? Join!
Register


Most Recent Comments

  • On Lesbian Adventure Travel, ELLA Travel said "Thanks for the great article!! If you're travelling to Europe check the ELLA International Lesbian Festival (ellafestival.com) and ELLA Travel (ella-travel.com), organising lesbian events and trips! "
  • On 5 Nudist Resorts that Will Blow Your Mind, John Ruze said "Hi Julia, There is a brand new, very popular nudist resort you should think about reporting on in your next article about naturism. It is the New Terra Cotta Clothing Optional Resort and Spa in sunny Palm Springs, California.. The original Terra Cotta Inn was a fantastic nude resort. Repeat guests from around the world stayed there. TCI was sold in Nov 2015 and greatly missed. Well, this July 2017, it was revived at a new location in Palm Springs. The site is HotelTerraCotta.com. Guests are super happy. It's perfect for couples and girlfriend getaways. And Tom and Mary Clare from the original Terra Cotta Inn work with us, so it has the same relaxing, fun feel. "
  • On The Best Naturist Resorts in Ontario, Dennis Wilson said "Love the freedom feeling going nude . 1st time ever was at freedom fields ranch near Tamworth On,Hector & Eyvon are super hosts ,hope to visit this summer but want to learn of more places to visit."
  • On An Open Letter to Hotels Everywhere, Lynn said "I agree on the night light thing. Since hotels have none, I end up keeping the bathroom light on all night with the door ajar. Windows. I understand in the litigious US of A, hotels need to prevent folks from throwing themselves out the windows (or else the hotel could be sued?!!). Ok, fine. But for those of us who dislike A/C and only use it when absolutely necessary, can't we still have the option for some FRESH AIR? There ARE ways to allow windows to open up only so much, while at the same time preventing an entire body from throwing itself out the window. Bedskirts. Am I the only one who gets the skeevies when I see hotel beds with bedskirts that hit the floor? I always had images of food crumbs, bugs, and god only knows what...as being hidden behind that bedskirt. I'd much rather a bedskirt that's at least 2" above the (usually carpetted) floor. Towels. Can't we get nicer towels that don't feel like cardboard? Carpetting. Am I the only one who never walks barefoot in a hotel room ...esp when there's carpet? Blech. I'm sure those things are very rarely cleaned. "
  • On How to Choose a Cruise Ship Cabin on Your Next Cruise, Tinu said "Thank you for this post! I was dragging my feet about going on a cruise. Now that I know there's such a thing as a balcony cabin, I can't wait to book a trip!"


Blogs We Love

beautiful Vancouver, British ColumbiaCheck out our GoGirlfriend Facebook page to follow us as we seek new adventures and create memories in our own part of the world.








Advertisement