Posted September 13th, 2017, 11:26 PM
To book with Princess or not to book with Princess? That is the question.
Has anyone found it worth it to book with a private company vs. booking with Princess direct?
We had a wonderful Alaska cruise on the Ruby Princess (7/29) and, after doing a lot of research on these very helpful boards (be sure to check the Alaska boards as well as the Princess boards), booked 3 private excursions:
Helicopter/dogsledding on Herbert Glacier in Juneau with Coastal Helicopters, Chilkoot Charters Yukon Rail and Bus Tour in Skagway, and Island Wings Misty Fyords Flightseeing Tour in Ketchikan.
All three tours were less expensive than the Princess versions. The more expensive the tour, the greater the difference, in our experience. Princess does offer a price matching for identical excursions, but that can be tricky, when say, a private helicopter company goes to a different glacier.
We chose each company based on excellent reviews from Cruise Critic and well as Trip Advisor members. Sometimes you are paying for almost the exact same thing. For example, the Deadliest Catch tour in Ketchikan is cheaper to book direct, because you walk down the pier to the crab boat - a 5-minute walk, rather than have a Princes rep (I think) - walk/escort you there. But you still get on the same crab boat!
There was a significant difference between the White Pass Railroad/Yukon tour we took with Chilkoot, and the Princess excursion. We were in a group of 12 in a very small bus with an incredible tour guide who whisked us away from the Fraser train depot in British Columbia, while the larger tour buses were still loading up passengers. We were able to make many stops on our scenic drive to Emerald Lake and eventually back to Skagway, because we didn't have to wait for 50 people to get on and off the bus.
The Island Wings Misty Fyords float plane tour included time for us to get out of the float plane and walk around the lake a little.
In planning the excursions, I found communication with all 3 companies to be easy, either by email or telephone. For the Coastal Helicopter and Chilkoot excursion, there was someone who met us right at the cruise ship dock, and Island Wings turned out to be right next to our dock.
The one place we did do a Princess excursion was to Butschart Gardens in Victoria, only because we were there from 7 p.m. to midnight, and we were concerned about making it back to the ship. (This was our least favorite excursion, as it got dark too quickly for us to really appreciate the beauty of the gardens, and it was packed with cruise ship visitors.) If we had been there in the day time for a longer stay, we would have gone to the Gardens on our own, rather than with a large group.
One reason sometimes given for booking through Princess has to do with a very valid concern about making it back to the ship on time. If you go to the websites of the companies, however, many of them have guarantees about getting you back to the ship on time, or free cancellations if your ship is delayed or never makes it to port. On some of the tours (White Pass Railroad, Deadliest Catch, etc.) you are on the same train/crab boat as the Princess passengers. As a precaution, however, we were very careful to book times for our excursions that allowed plenty of time to get back to the ship, and the companies already take the departure times into account.
If you're interested in more details and pictures, I did a review of our recent Ruby Alaska RT Seattle (7/29) trip. Just scroll down to the part about excursions.
Have fun with the planning, as I think it really makes the excursions that much more enjoyable!