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Excursions - Princess vs Private

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Relatively new to cruising and taking the Caribbean Princess at the end of July. Any advice on booking excursions? Pros and cons of Princess vs private? I've only been on one cruise before and the people we were with booked the excursions for us.

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We're not big fans of excursions booked through the cruise line. They're usually too expensive, and they don't necessarily match up with what we'd like to see or do. But they are, usually, a safe choice. Booking on your own can be a winner, but if you book in advance you should do some intensive research on the company you're booking with. And be really conservative on the time you'll be back from the excursion, since you're on your own with that. We have just walked off the ship and found a spur-of-the-moment excursion a few times, and we haven't come to grief on that yet. We've had some real winners doing that. I think these tend to be less expensive.

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Also go to the Roll Call for your cruise and ask about excursions there. There may be some travellers who are going for multiple times. Have used both types of excursions. Some good some not so of each type.

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everyone has reasons for doing them on your own, but we have always booked excursions with the cruise line. So I will give you the pro

You are given priority to get off the ship for your excursions. This can help on tender stops

The price is not that much different. Whale watching in Maui was $50 for vendor at the pier, cruise ship was $59

On our last cruise, ship change one stop and the person at roll call that had booked an excursion for a group on roll call had nothing but problems with the vendor she was working with and all the messages going back and forth was time consuming. Our excursions was with the ship and we were given a credit and a notice that the excursion was cancelled - end of story

It is also dependent on what kind of excursion you are doing. Are you going off to do an activity, sightseeing, or a single destination.

lastly - you get the ships guarantee that you get back to the ship and they won't leave you behind.

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We booked with an excursion agency and gave them our itinerary. They sent me many choices

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There are good and bad issues both ways.

The big point in going with the cruise line is convenience and security, the bad is cost and size of group.

 

If you book thru the cruise line, the ship will not leave without you....even when your bus leaves late from the site, then hits traffic on the way back.... Book privately and you MUST be back before the last cruise line bus arrives. If a port or excursion is canceled, your refund will be automatic. The bad--you'll be with a large group and the company running the excursion really doesn't care what you think about them (you usually don't even know who they are!) And if they don't do as promised, your gripe is with Princess. Also, the description and time schedule may differ between the Princess web site, Princess on board hand outs, etc.

 

Book on your own--you MUST go with a good, reputable company. Most companies have a policy that they will not charge or will refund your credit card if your ship is unable to dock or tender as scheduled and THEY track this for you. It is not a problem with a good company. BUT, you have to find their meeting point--usually easy and convenient, but not always. Many print a guarantee on line that they will get you back to your ship on time OR pay your fees to the next port, but certainly not all of them. Particularly if wildlife is involved, you are much better off in a group of 2-12 than in a group of 60; the animals tend to be far more active for small groups. And we've never had a private excursion that didn't go as advertised, so I can't address that. Cost may be significantly lower, and if kids are involved, the cut off for the child's rate may be different (my teen was once charged a kid rate on an excursion that included alcohol for adults!) On some lines, kid rates start at 10; most private excursions start adult rates at 12 or 13. You might need a printed voucher for the driver (so you have to print it at home or pay to print on the ship).

 

Bottom line--if you go with the cruise line all you have to do is show up at the designated place/time. If you go on your own, you are responsible for all the details.

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There are pros and cons for each. As for booking exursions through Princess, they have vetted the tour provider for you, you will have priority in disembarking to meet your excursion provider, and if the excursion is late returning the ship will wait for you (unless you leave the excursion at some point and are late returning on your own). In general, there have been very few Princess excursions that have disappointed us, and many have been outstanding.

The cons - you need to do your own intensive homework, whether you are booking directly with a tour provider or someone on your roll call is putting the group together. In fact, when someone on your roll call is putting the group together, you not only have to research the tour provider, it is best to know the reputation and experience of the individual who is putting the group together. The ship will not wait for you if you are late returning from a tour. Most reputable independent tour providers are fanatics about getting the group back on time, because their reputation would be ruined if a group missed the ship, but there can be factors beyond their control, including engine failures - cars, buses, boats.....

In addition, some deposits are non-refundable. The ship will automatically refund is a tour in cancelled for any reason, but you need to be careful about the policy and reputation of the independent tour provider in the event that the ship misses the port, or the port day is changed, etc.

Finally, think about how you would rejoin the ship at the next port. Quite simply, we take only ship tours at the last port, and at any port with more than one sea day following that port call, and much prefer the ship tour if the port city is small and "underdeveloped".

We have had some amazing independent tours, and some amazing ship tours. It is a myth that ship tours are more expensive, you need to look at them on a case by case basis. Take into account any meals and snacks, entry fees, taxi fare, etc, and then decide if the savings is real.

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Relatively new to cruising and taking the Caribbean Princess at the end of July. Any advice on booking excursions? Pros and cons of Princess vs private? I've only been on one cruise before and the people we were with booked the excursions for us.

Since you are new the safe way is through Princess. You may also go to your roll call and maybe some private tours are being arranged their. With private tours and DIY always leave yourself enough time to return to the ship, at least an hour. Don't know what voyage you are on. If western Caribbean note the ports of Belize and Grand Cayman are tender ports. With a ship's tour you will have priority tender service. Roatan is a nice beach, just walk off, no tour necessary. Would suggest a ship's tour in Cozumel.

If Eastern Caribbean, note Princess Cays is a beach stop, no tours necessary. It is also a tender port, so get to the tender ticket area early. In St. Maarten and St. Thomas there is shopping. There are also vendors right at the pier offering beach transfers and island tours. If you want a snorkel tour I would suggest the ship's tours.

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There is no right or wrong answer.:)

 

When I travel solo, tend to do ship excursions. On one of my roll calls - there was a private tour 'hiking through the rain forest' - so I was not up to that so did not join. If on a roll call, I look at the activity, amount of walking etc. and then decide if I can ask the group to join or if I would be a hindrance to them. Some roll calls are very active and some not active at all so that is also a consideration for me.

 

When travelling with family, my son books private tours whenever possible and I usually go with them. However, a few tours he booked on various cruises were too strenuous for me so I booked a ship's tour.

 

There are pros and cons to both. Yes, some of the ship's tours can be more expensive but travelling solo I tend to prefer ship tours.

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Our excursions were set up so we had plenty of time to return to ship and they are a reputable co. We had a excursion at every port and they were on time with all excursions

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As a first time cruiser . I would do the cruise lines excursions.

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We find private to be cheaper, better and less crowded.

 

We do check out the company and make sure excursion to be back well before sailaway as we dont want to swim after our ship.

 

Only exception is something like Road to Hana where you are far from the ship and road back is often backed up.

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The only time we book ship's excursions are when there are time restraints. Le Harve, for instance was an 8 hour cruise excursion and private ones were 8 hours, also, with only a nine hour scheduled port stop. We were far enough away to worry about getting back to the ship on time. As it was, the ship's tours were late getting back, also, so the ship waited and the private tours were back in plenty of time. Just because it is a ship's tour, there are rare occasions that they can't wait for you due to docking restrictions. In that case, they will transport you to the next port. Another reason was when the ship arrived after our private provider of choice's only tour had left for the day and we had on board credit to burn..

 

We have found that ship's excursions usually include "shopping opportunities" which wastes time you would rather be doing something else. They have bus loads of people, some of who do not understand the concept of being back on the bus at a certain time so more time is wasted waiting on them.

 

Ship's excursions are usually more costly than private tours.

 

We have not found that we could not get off the ship until their excursions have left in spite of what they say. They are busy organizing them while we stroll off.

 

Other problems with ship's tours have been mentioned before--not as advertised, guides whose English is a second language and hard to understand, etc.

 

We have found Viator very good in private tours and use them whenever we can. They use locals who are proud of their city/country and their enthusiasm shows. They sometimes take you to a special place they particularly like and impart all sorts of information you don't get a lot of time on ship's tours.. Their transport are smaller so you aren't dealing with the masses. Not sure of their refund policies because I have never had to use them. You do have to pay in advance to them, though.

 

Dealing with other private tours, I do not pay for them in advance and have not had a problem finding a reputable tour company that has not demanded prepayment. I check them out on-line from from Trip Advisor and other sources. I've only been "stung" once and that was from a company I had worked with before and had a good experience. Fortunately, I did not organize the tour but felt really sorry for the person that did as she caught a lot of flak in spite of me saying we just got a bad roll of the dice. The company did respond to the negative reviews on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor saying he was a new hire and they no longer had him employed but no refund was forthcoming in spire of us complaining immediately after the tour. .

 

We have gotten off the ship and hired drivers to "show us what you are proud of." In these cases, we inspect the vehicle for cleanliness and to make sure the a/c works,, We ask them how much snow they had last year to test their proficiency of English, we make sure the person we are dealing with will be the guide and driver and is not shilling for someone else, and we never pay anything in advance which is a red flag they are shilling. We always make sure we are back to the ship at least an hour before we need to be there. If there is a massive traffic problem, odds are the ship's tours are suffering the same fate. So far, that has never happened--knock on wood. St. Martin's is especially bad with traffic coming back from the airport. Grand Cayman can be dicey, too. We have had some delightful experiences using local drivers who will guide us to great off the path restaurants, have no shame pulling up in front of the best hotel in town to use the bathroom, will stop for shopping or some adult beverages, etc.

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Much prefer private small group tours. A tour can only move as quickly as the slowest person, in a big group this is often a big problem. Also a private tour minibus can access areas coaches can't get to. Another bugbear of the large cruiseship tour is having a number stuck on your chest so you look like you're out on license.

We've done dozens of private tours and never come close to missing the ship.

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As a new cruiser I used a combination of private tours that had been recommended on Cruise Critic and ship's tours.

Today I have a few rules that I follow:

Can we visit sites on our own using public transport or on foot?

Does a tour meet our needs better ?

I look at the tour itinerary --is it better done with a few people or okay with a bus full.

If it's a tender port we either use a ship's tour or plan to wander around at will

I also think about how I would rejoin the ship at the next port.

Edited by Alaskanb

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everyone has reasons for doing them on your own, but we have always booked excursions with the cruise line. So I will give you the pro

You are given priority to get off the ship for your excursions. This can help on tender stops

The price is not that much different. Whale watching in Maui was $50 for vendor at the pier, cruise ship was $59

On our last cruise, ship change one stop and the person at roll call that had booked an excursion for a group on roll call had nothing but problems with the vendor she was working with and all the messages going back and forth was time consuming. Our excursions was with the ship and we were given a credit and a notice that the excursion was cancelled - end of story

It is also dependent on what kind of excursion you are doing. Are you going off to do an activity, sightseeing, or a single destination.

lastly - you get the ships guarantee that you get back to the ship and they won't leave you behind.

We book with private operators if price is much lower. And often it is. We only book with private operators if deposit is not required.

Examples:

 

Driver in Rome. Paid around 90€ for 9 hours tour in a small van. Driver, who was extremely knowledgeable brought us to all POI, for most of which tickets were reserved. Ship prices were much higher and huge bus (hate them) was only able to park in central location. People looked exhausted, and paid much higher prices.

 

Cosol tour in St Lucia. Paid $65 (now $75) for 7 hours tour. Ship excursion was about $120 for the same or less.

 

http://www.captainmarvins.com in Grand Cayman. Was $35 (now $42 I believe) for 3 stops snorkeling including Stingray City. Ship tour only included that for the same price.

 

Everything was paid after tours were completed.

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If the ship is at a "tender" port I always book through the cruise line...I will pay a premium not to hassle crowds and or waiting in a tender line. A cruise tour automatically goes to the front of the line. For me that is worth any possible extra cost but that is purely a personal decision.

John

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They prey on peoples fears that they will miss the ship.
Exactly.

However reputable independent operators don't want to lose reputation, so they know how to make sure cruisers are back to the ship at appropriate time.

In Ports of Call there are many threads about them.

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Many good points here--you need to consider the port, the excursion, the alternatives, and the cost.

 

On our last cruise, booking thru Captain Marvin's was half the cost of the same trip with Princess. Since we'd been to Grand Cayman many times, that was rather a no brainer!.

 

Tendering is not as big a hassle as people make it out to be. The tenders are big--holding 150-300 people. We have never waited more than 5 minutes on 3 different cruise lines. The only time there was a delay was when the first tender became reserved for a "medical emergency" (according to the captain's announcement). It was the first time I ever saw a medical evacuation involving handcuffs and security personnel.

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We used to do only excursions through the cruise line. Now that we are older and wiser, we do primarily private tours. We find that private tours are usually smaller groups, they cost substantially less and we see more. We have found no problem getting off the ship when we need to be off nor any concerns with getting back on time. But, if you are someone who tends to worry about these things, then go with the ship tour.

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Relatively new to cruising and taking the Caribbean Princess at the end of July. Any advice on booking excursions? Pros and cons of Princess vs private? I've only been on one cruise before and the people we were with booked the excursions for us.

What we do(I'm sure others have their own opinions)if it's a "new" island for us,we'll do the ship excursion the first time. Usually after that, we're now fairly familiar with the island & we'll frequently opt to go out on our own. There are a few ship excursions that we always take: River tubing in Grenada or Dominica, Catamaran Lobster lunch trip on Antigua or perhaps food excursions. The food excursion is where you go with a group, frequently to a nice island home & are instructed as to how to make a great island lunch for yourself. You get to eat your lunch enjoying the camaraderie of new friends & taking home the recipe for a fun time back home.

The fact that we've seen so many pax making a mad dash to get to the ship in time over the years,most make it, but some don't, is always in the back of our minds as well.

Edited by keithm
punctuation

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Many good points here--you need to consider the port' date=' the excursion, the alternatives, and the cost.

 

On our last cruise, booking thru Captain Marvin's was half the cost of the same trip with Princess. Since we'd been to Grand Cayman many times, that was rather a no brainer!.

 

Tendering is not as big a hassle as people make it out to be. The tenders are big--holding 150-300 people. We have never waited more than 5 minutes on 3 different cruise lines. The only time there was a delay was when the first tender became reserved for a "medical emergency" (according to the captain's announcement). It was the first time I ever saw a medical evacuation involving handcuffs and security personnel.[/quote']

Oh, yeah. That was my MIL. Did you see the anchor attached?

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...Another bugbear of the large cruiseship tour is having a number stuck on your chest so you look like you're out on license....

 

There are many good points made here about pros and cons of both types of tours, but we've taken many, many ship's tours and the few times we were given a number sticker, it was small and you could put it anywhere you choose. Not even sure what 'out on license' is! It's not as if all of us tourists aren't recognizable as such with or without numbers stickers.

 

We do a mixture - ship tours if there are time/or distance-from-port constraints, or if it's a tender port, or if we are not comfortable with the language or culture of the port. Otherwise, we've done tours set up through our Roll Call or rented cars and gone about on our own. There have been good and bad experiences with both types.

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We've done both types recently. On our British isles cruise last summer, we did everything booked independently or on our own. In Bonaire last December, I booked a snorkeling excursion through Princess. I had booked the cruise late--way after the final payment date--and the highly recommended independent excursion was already sold out. We had a great time on SeaCow. You can read up on excursions on Trip Advisor.

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