Excursions through the cruiseline or on your own?

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#1
California
42 Posts
Joined Jun 2012
My mom and I are going on our first cruise and were looking to do some great excursions. We are currently signed up for at least one in each port, but I was wondering with the incredible cost of them, is it better (or more cost efficient) to set up excursions on your own? I know it increases the risk of a boo-boo occuring on the return to ship. Have you done this and do you feel it is worth it? Any recommendations for tours? We are currently doing the helicopter walk about on the glacier, Kroshchel films tour, and hopefully a bear watching or zip lining. Has anyone done the Kroschel tour? it sounds great but I am curious how much up close and personal you really get with the animals.
#2
Portland Oregon
2,766 Posts
Joined Apr 2006
The independents would not be in business very long if they did not get you back to your ship. That said sometimes things come up and the tour gets waylaid - things like snowstorms, mudslides, washouts etc. These could affect any tour - ship or not. It is not always true that they will hold the ship for a late ship bought tour - they will however get you to the next port. Schedules in AK are quite tight and while sometimes ships can wait - more often than not there is another ship waiting to take thier slot at the pier - or getting into Tracy Arm or Glacier Bay or the captain would have to run at full throttle and burn more fuel.

The Independent tour operators usually have smaller vehicles and therefore have a more intimate experience - they also book up faster than the larger operators that do most of the cruise lines buisness. Booking through independents also requires more work on your part to research and book them well in advance as they can and do fill up.

As for pricing, each cruise line and brokers (like Viatour) seem to add a little for their handling of the transaction. I recently booked a train/bus tour through an independent for $239.00, the WP&YRR also charges $239.00 a broker asked $250.00 and Princess was asking $270.00 - all of the tours have the same description. The WP&YRR asks $113.00 for the RT summit trip - I paid $119.00 through my cruise line Princess asks $129.00 for the same trip.

Renting cars for sightseeing is also a popular DIY option, and can be very inexpensive if all you want to do is see the scenery.

Here is a website I found that offers insights into the ports, some of the cruise ship tours as well as DIY and Independents. http://cruiseportinsider.com/index.html
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#3
85,275 Posts
Joined Jul 2000
Yes, typically the price of the tour is going to be higher for the cruise line. This is because they not only need to make money on this but there is a cost for this and that includes manpower, insurance and all of the other overhead costs.

There are benefits using the cruise lines tours and that includes not only the issue of getting back to the ship on time but using tour operators that meet the safety standards of the ship.

So, the key to all of this is that just like all professions not all operators are the same. What I am saying is where you use private tours the key is to do the research to be sure you are selecting a reliable operator. You can check on this board to see if people have used the operator you are considering asa well as on your roll call for the cruise.

Some only use private tours. Others only book ship tours. My belief is to look at each one carefully as we do and consider a hybrid approach where you pick the one that works best for you in a particular port of call.

Keith
#4
Bloomington, IL
2,862 Posts
Joined Aug 2007
We had done both on our recent cruise to Alaska. We did some looking and found that there was not a huge price difference in some similar tours between what the ship was offering and what we found for independent tours. In the end, we went with what was the best tour that we wanted. For instance in Ketchikan, we wanted to do a flight seeing tour to Misty Fjords. We looked at Island Wings (highly recommended) and the ships tour. Price difference was about $10, but the Island Wings tour was so much better when we talked with others who did it through the ship. I say go for what is the best tour. It is Alaska after all.
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#5
Raleigh, N.C.
11,386 Posts
Joined Jul 2002
We've done mainly excursions booked with independents rather than through the cruise line on our two cruises to Alaska and on our upcoming one (with the exception of the excursions included in our cruise tour). The only excursion we have taken through the cruise line was snorkeling in Ketchikan. I chose it due to our short time in that port. It was also our first cruise to Alaska.

Some of the things we have done are kayaking in Haines and in Ketchikan, renting a car in Skagway and driving into the Yukon, taking the tram to the top of Mount Roberts and hiking up there, touring the State Museum and State Capitol in Juneau, and taking the bus to Mendenhall Glacier. All of these were less expensive than doing the excursions through the cruise line that included the same activities. (And I don't think any excursions through the cruise lines offer tours of the museum or capitol. The tour at the capitol is free and the State Museum is $7 for adults.)

Our independent excursions were also better in that we had smaller groups. For instance, when we kayaked in Haines, it was just the two of us with a guide. There was a cruise line excursion at the same lake. They had people in triple kayaks, whereas we each had our own kayak, and they had about 20 kayaks with two guides. We were able to go farther and see more and paid less.
#6
Indiana
41 Posts
Joined Sep 2010
We did all our excursions through the ship being first time to Alaska except our whale watching with Weather Permitting which sounded tremendous from reviews and reports but was significantly more expensive than HAL excursion-same amount of time. IT was $189 vs $139. Not worth the extra on our day but another day might be totally different. Liked the smaller group, tho.
#7
Syracuse, New York
49,761 Posts
Joined May 2000
There are many long term, well established Alaska tour operators who give consistantly excellent tours. The benefit of going independent, is frequently smaller groups, longer tours, some cost savings.

The vendors recommended on this board, over many years, haven't left anyone at the dock. So any "miss the ship" concerns, for the most part, aren't a valid reason to go with a ship tour.
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#8
South Wales
408 Posts
Joined Aug 2011
On our recent Alaskan cruise with celebrity with undertook 1 excursion with the cruise ship (misty fiords cruise) and 3 with independent companies, 2 of which we just turned up and booked. (Whale watching/Medenhall glacier in Juneau; yukon bus tour in Skagway; ghost tour in Victoria).

Before going I was a little concerned about using independent companies in case we were stranded but once we were there I had no concerns at any point that we wouldn't make it back to the ship (except for a major disaster).

Although we enjoyed the cruise ship tour, it was not worth the enormous price tag. The independent excursions were much more intimate and customer focused and they were considerably less expensive.

When we return to Alaska I only book trips with independent companies wherever possible.
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#9
North Carolina
1,860 Posts
Joined Mar 2008
Without fail I book independent tours for us on every cruise unless were in one of the few ports that security/safety MIGHT be a concern (none in Alaska). While sometimes a bit cheaper, it's more that the tours we select tend to be smaller, more personal, more flexible and generally more enjoyable than ship tours. The only other exception would be if a tour was only offered through the ship and not any other local operators (with good reputations). Between CC and Trip Advisor, I've yet to be steered wrong. As for the missing the ship issue, I handle that by making sure we have 2-3 hours worth of cushion, just in case there is a glitch, which we haven't encountered yet. Hope that helps!

L.J.
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#10
Issaquah, WA
3,841 Posts
Joined Aug 2000
We've done some of both. Our independent tours, such as Chilkoot Charters in Skagway, have been excellent, and much better than a ship tour due to smaller group size, etc.

But sometimes you run across a tour that you just CANNOT do independently, such as the Bike & Brew or the Gastineau Mine tours in Juneau. I tried to find ways to do them independently, but they cater to the cruise lines. Both of those were also excellent tours, and worthwhile even through the cruise line.

What you need to do is figure out what you want to do, then figure out the best way to do it.
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#12
California
42 Posts
Joined Jun 2012
Originally posted by ChillKat
What ports are you visiting?
The standards I believe: Juneau, Ketichkan (sp), and Skagway as well as Victoria, BC.
#13
Georgia
27 Posts
Joined Jun 2012
I have read reviews about the ziplining and helicopter/glaciers tours that have been positive, the bear watching mixed (depends on what you get to see). I haven't seen anything on the Kroschel one.
Ketchikan-
We did a floatplane flightseeing trip into Misty Fjords with Island Wings-magnificent- and you land and get out on a small island that is beautiful. We thoroughly enjoyed it and Michelle with IW was awesome! A little costly but worth it!!
Skagway-whether by rental car, tour guide or train, you have to get up into the Yukon - it is beautiful and breathtaking scenery (make sure you go all the way to Emerald Lake! We went with Dyea Dave and he was awesome!
Juneau-We did a whale watching tour with Harv and Marv's-great tour and personal, we were on a six man boat and saw a lot of humpback whales, got some good tail pictures and they drive you afterward to the Mendenhall glacier, also very worthwhile and impressive. Sooo, it all depends on what floats your boat and what you want to see and what is available. We booked everything independently mostly because we wanted to choose the type of experience we had (with a crowd or intimate and personal) and have flexibility, and in some cases save some money over the ship excursions. Happy planning!
#14
Georgia
27 Posts
Joined Jun 2012
Also, the independent tour companies are very conscientious about the time and getting you back or letting you know if you won't have time to do a certain tour time. Their reputation depends on it!
#15
Brooklyn, NY
623 Posts
Joined Jan 2006
Originally posted by geoherb
We've done mainly excursions booked with independents rather than through the cruise line on our two cruises to Alaska and on our upcoming one (with the exception of the excursions included in our cruise tour). The only excursion we have taken through the cruise line was snorkeling in Ketchikan. I chose it due to our short time in that port. It was also our first cruise to Alaska.

Some of the things we have done are kayaking in Haines and in Ketchikan, renting a car in Skagway and driving into the Yukon, taking the tram to the top of Mount Roberts and hiking up there, touring the State Museum and State Capitol in Juneau, and taking the bus to Mendenhall Glacier. All of these were less expensive than doing the excursions through the cruise line that included the same activities. (And I don't think any excursions through the cruise lines offer tours of the museum or capitol. The tour at the capitol is free and the State Museum is $7 for adults.)

Our independent excursions were also better in that we had smaller groups. For instance, when we kayaked in Haines, it was just the two of us with a guide. There was a cruise line excursion at the same lake. They had people in triple kayaks, whereas we each had our own kayak, and they had about 20 kayaks with two guides. We were able to go farther and see more and paid less.
Geoherb, do you remember who you booked with in Haines? That is exactly what I am looking for!
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#16
322 Posts
Joined Nov 2012
One thing to keep in mind, which can be important financially, is that when I booked an independent excursion, it was billed to my credit card the moment I booked it, whereas the excursions I have booked through the cruiseline are only billed within 24 hours of embarkation.

I also have the advantage of cancelling and rescheduling my tours booked through the cruiseline without incurring a cancellation fee. The independent tour I booked stated there would be a fee costing 10% of the price of the tour if the tour was cancelled.

If you book an excursion several months before you actually take it, at least for the excursion I booked, the minimal savings becomes nil over time.

I booked most of our excursions through the cruiseline for convenience sake, and peace of mind. I am fortunate to have booked excursions that tend to have small numbers of people on the tour, so the majority of our tours will be small, intimate groups.

Best of luck with whatever you choose!
#17
USA
5,350 Posts
Joined May 2012
We booked shore excursions through the cruiselines on both of our Alaksa cruises. We were very happy with our experiences on both cruiselines.

Alaska is beautiful and exciting! Happy Sailing!
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