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Cruise Tours Or Do It Yourself?

Weighing Port Shore Excursions Against Going It Alone

A lot of people prefer the convenience of a ship sponsored tour, and there’s a lot to be said about what you get using professional guides and dedicated transportation.

If you’re not a “guided tour” enthusiast we completely understand. First and foremost you can save a fair amount of money by touring on your own and you get to pick what you’re interested in seeing and for how long.

From our point of view the biggest problem with guided tours is that you become a prisoner of the tour. It isn’t uncommon to get stuck visiting some place that you just aren’t interested in. It just doesn’t seem right spending forty-five minutes at a chocolate factory or a nut packer or souvenir outlet on a tour you paid to join? Unfortunately it’s all to common for tour operators to be paid to deliver people to that business. The other case is visiting a location where you could spend hours and are informed you have to be back on the bus in a half hour. Going it on your own eliminates those problems.

There is also the issue of cost. If you understand your options, often you will see that the ships shore excursion will cost you significantly more money than if you went off on your own.

Consider a few examples to illustrate The point:

A Day At The Beach

Cruises in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean often offer shore excursions focused on a day at the beach. While convenient you will more than likely be paying a premium for that beach excursion. Consider these two examples:

Barbados – There are many beautiful beaches in Barbados but the easiest one to get to is Boatyard Beach on Carlisle Bay. It is a great beach with white sand and tropical turquoise water. It’s only about a 20 minute walk along a seaside sidewalk from the cruise terminal or an inexpensive taxi ride. An admission fee of US$20.00 is charged to use the facilities which includes a beach chair, shared umbrella, one cocktail, free WIFI and complimentary transport back to your ship.

Cozumel Chankanaab National Park – When you get down to it, this is a day at the beach. The park is equipped with bars, restaurant, along with beach and snorkel rental options. A taxi ride will cost between US$10 and US$20 each way (make sure you have plenty of singles as drivers don’t offer change) and park admission is about US$21. A recent tour booked through the cruise ship cost $69 per person. That’s $138 for what would have cost $62 for two people going on their own.

Easy And Popular Attractions To Do On Your Own

Mendenhall Glacier Alaska – This is a national park outside of Juneau Alaska. The park is serviced by a public bus route from the historic downtown area near the cruise docks with round-trip fare being $31. Add to that the admission to the park (NPS standard fees) $20 which totals $51 ($31 if you have a NPS Golden Eagle Senior Park Pass). The basic cruise tours usually start around $75 and if they add in a salmon bake it can cost an extra $20 to $30. For more on Mendenhall CLICK HERE.

Rome from the Port of Civitavecchia – If your cruise has Rome as a port of call there usually is a tour named something like “Rome On Your Own” for around $100 per person which includes a bus ride from Civitavecchia in to central Rome and back to the ship. Six blocks from the Civitavecchia seaport is the towns train station and for as little as US$12 you can get a round-trip ticket to the St. Peters station in Rome with trains running about every half hour. For two that’s a savings of $172 and the trip in and back on the train is actually significantly faster than the tour bus. Just be sure and schedule your return to allow plenty of time.

For more on visiting Rome from Civitavecchia CLICK HERE and for our eight hour tour of Rome on your own CLICK HERE.

Monte Carlo From Villefranche-sur-Mer

Another interesting tour comparison is a trip into Monte Carlo from the popular port of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Most cruise sponsored tours start at $75 per person. Monte Carlo is a beautiful but compact city and going on your own simply requires walking seven or eight blocks from the cruise tender dock to the train station and buying a US$12 round trip ticket. It’s only a short twenty minute train trip with trains running every half hour. In Monte Carlo near the station you can buy a Hop-On-Hop-Off Monte Carlo bus tour for under US$30.

In order to head off on your own and save money you do have to be a bit adventurous. We are pretty independent and are usually comfortable using local buses and trains as we travel. Our biggest fear is missing the ships departure so we always build in a good time allowance as we make our plans. We are also good at doing research on our destinations and have a good idea of what we want to see and how to do it before we even leave on a trip.

A Few Ship Sponsored Tours That Are Must

On the other side of the equation are examples of ship excursions that are well worth the cost:

The Golden Triangle Iceland – This tour is a bit pricy but so are the local tour companies. Often the reason this tour is better is often ships dock in the afternoon and sail shortly after noon the next day, disqualifying local tours as an option. While you can consider renting a car there is the issue of time. The tour itself probably travels over a hundred miles and takes you to geo-thermal fields, waterfalls(!!) and Icelands rift valley where the earths crust is pulling apart. No shopping stops or misspent time. If you are going to Iceland don’t miss the Golden Triangle.

Ephesus

Ephesus Turkey – The ancient city of Ephesus, located near the Aegean Sea in modern day Turkey, was one of the great cities of the Greeks and later the Romans in Asia Minor. It’s home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a major attraction located some distance from the port. Again not inexpensive but a great experience (it usually does include a stop at a rug showroom). You might be adventurous but think hard before renting a car for half a day in Turkey.

Seeing Bangkok

Bangkok’s port is Laem Chabang and it’s well over an hour drive from the city. Attempting to use public buses is a serious challenge, especially on a tight time schedule. If this is a first visit to Thailand do not pass up a trip into Bangkok, it is an experience not to be missed. If your ship is staying overnight in Laem Chabang one option is to consider booking a two day tour with a major tour company and stay the night in Bangkok.

Wine & Food Tours

Wine and food tours are a staple of ship sponsored excursions and often are some of the more reasonably priced tours. Taking advantage of these at times provides a good way to see a city or the countryside and sample local fare.

A Wine & Tapas Tour in Palma – This one usually isn’t very expensive and includes stops at several different tapas bars and free time in town for shopping on your own. The drive back to the pier can include brief stops at the castle overlook above town and a nice drive along the coast. A good answer to filling an afternoon in Mallorca.  For more information CLICK HERE.

Jerusalem – Regardless of where your ship docks, Jerusalem is at least an hours trip away. The city is also huge with streets and alleys that present as a never ending maze. To really see Jerusalem in a day or two, a guide is almost a must. The convenience and the time you save makes a ships shore excursion worth the cost.

Ports With Great Public Transportation For Exploring On Your Own

Another thing to pay attention to is the port of calls public transportation. There are dozens of cities with great and inexpensive public transportation. Most have ticket vending machines with instructions in English along with great system maps. Before you travel check out your ports and if the offer tourist tickets.

Singapore – While there are several cruise docks in Singapore, the nearest Metro Station is only a few blocks walk from each. The Singapore Metro system is clean, well marked and best of all the signage is in English. CLICK HERE for specific information.

Amsterdam – The center of Amsterdam is focused on the Central Train Station that can be reached in a short seven to ten block walk from the ships pier. A series of tram routes fan out from the train station and The Amsterdam City Card allows you to travel on Amsterdam’s GVB-trams, buses, and metros. This popular one-, two-, three or four day pass also provides free or discounted access to many of the city’s museums and attractions. A one-hour canal cruise by boat is also included with the pass.

Sydney – Cruise ships dock at a pier next to Sydney’s historic Rocks area with only a short walk to Circular Quay where you can catch ferries around the harbour, pick up a bus or a light rail. Ask about the Opal Card which gives you easy system access for a very reasonable price. MORE HERE.

Hong Kong – Like Singapore, Hong Kong has a very modern and inexpensive metro system with easy to use ticket vending machines and route information in English. It is also common for there to be free bus service that will take you from the cruise pier to a number of destinations. MORE HERE.

Athens – Piraeus is the seaport for the city of Athens and while a bit out of the city, the cruise ships dock less than a mile from a metro station. Easy to get to by just following the water front. Fare is only a couple of Euros and the Thissio stop on the green line from Piraeus is only a short walk to the Temple of Hephaestus and the Acropolis has its own stop. An easy trip on your own that represents a major saving.

Cruising And Seeing The World

One of the biggest issues involving cruising is you usually have less than one day to see a new city. That’s barely enough time to see even the major highlights. We actually consider this an advantage of sorts. Cruising to us is a good way to sample a number of new places while on a trip and if we’re taken with a place we usually make plans to return and spend more time. In a similar way a friend of ours likes to take Hop-On-Hop-Off buses to quickly familiarize himself with a location and that helps him decide what he wants to focus on later.

In closing there are can be tours and situations where the cost is just too good to ignore. Sometimes that is because you’ve got onboard credits that you just need to spend and other times it can be a perk offered by the cruise or your travel company.

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