Dare to compare: cruise line versus private shore excursions

“Kate and Jamie’s” afternoon at the secret little beachside bar was going blissfully well, chatting amicably with the local bartender, watching the sunset over the palm trees… until they heard the ship’s horn and looked at their watches!

Not only had they missed their return to the cruise, but they were now going to be out of pocket for their flights home. Whooops! How did this happen?!

Don’t miss the boat! Pre-booked excursions are a safer option

Alas, it happens quite often. And if Jamie and Kate had been booked with a shore excursion through the cruise ship, then the vessel wouldn’t have been allowed to leave without them. But is this the main reason you should book your shore excursions via your cruise line, or are there extra incentives that make it a good idea?

Here are the benefits of booking your onshore excursions via the cruise company:

Cruise operated shore excursions have priority when disembarking the ship. Skip the queues and head straight for the adventure when you’ve booked in advance.

Skip the queues with pre-booked shore excursions

Set and forget: From the moment the ship arrives in port, all the work is done for you, often including your lunch. It’s possible you will pay extra for this luxury, but for many passengers, especially when travelling in a foreign country, potentially with a foreign language, you just want all the hard work to be done for you.

If the local operators are experiencing difficulties in any way, then the cruise line takes responsibility and organises an alternative arrangement. For example if the bus breaks down, or if there’s a public holiday etc, your itinerary will go ahead without delay and you don’t have to foot the bill.

There’s a certain reassurance in knowing the excursion has come with the official recommendation of the cruise line.

You want peace of mind with high risk activities

There are some experiences you simply couldn’t coordinate without the cruise line. An Alaskan shore excursion for example may combine several elements that all require perfectly curated meeting times and locations… like the floatplane that lands on the lake that takes you to the rainforest hike to see the black bears catching salmon that meets up with the tender and takes you directly back to the ship.

Often with adventure or expedition cruises, the lines have specifically hired staff who are experts in their field, with local knowledge also. Expedition leaders can be highly qualified glaciologists, marine biologist or polar region specialists. Finding these guys just hanging out in the private taxi queue is highly unlikely.

If the ship is late or has to skip a certain port, meaning you miss out on a shore excursion, you’ll be fully refunded by the cruise line.

If it’s your last shore excursion of the trip, the cruise line will arrange for your luggage to be transported along with you to the airport, rather than you having to return to the ship.

Going solo can sometimes backfire…

You don’t have to worry about having the local currency in your wallet, or a phone that works in the region to call your tour guide. There’s no stress about where to meet and when, and ensuring the local guide knows that you need to be back on time.

Here are the benefits of booking your onshore excursions privately:

Though fewer in number, some passengers may argue the value of the benefits of choosing your own shore excursions are far greater.

Private planning can bring freedom to be creative

Many passengers prefer to visit a new destination in its entirety and that means hanging out with the locals. You’re more likely to meet and mingle with the ‘real deal’ when you simply wing it and hit the ground like a local.

You could save a bundle if you do your homework, or even just a little bartering. The cruise lines hoist up their prices to cover their extra insurance costs, so if you’re prepared to go it alone then you’re also more likely to score a bargain.

Off the beaten track experiences can be worth their weight in gold. For many travellers, it’s about being outside your comfort zone, going where the wind takes you, making new friends at chance encounters and just soaking in the natural ambience of a new world. This often cannot be created or manufactured in an organised tour.

Don’t miss the boat!