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Ship Excursion VS Private Excursion


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No answers on port thread so hoping someone can answer me here. We're considering either the ship excursion or a private tour at a port (Cartagena) on an upcoming cruise. The tours are basically the same and close in price. The benefit of the ship excursion is knowing they would hold the ship for us if there were any problems. The obvious benefit of the private tour is it would be smaller so more personalized. Are there any other benefits of each that we should consider? Normally on Caribbean islands we just grab cabs and ask for a tour but we don't feel comfortable doing that in this port. Thanks for any advice.

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I live in a port city that gets over 240 cruise ship stops each season. My work deals directly with the ships, and has nothing directly to do with passengers. Almost every day a ship sails missing a passenger or two. Not one of them has been on a ship's tour, and almost all of the missed passengers have been on private tours. When things go sideways with traffic issues and passengers are missing, the ship will wait for hours for organized ship tours, but will not wait 5 minutes for independent passengers. When borders, passports, and onward transportation are at stake I would strongly suggest sticking with the safe option.

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I live in a port city that gets over 240 cruise ship stops each season. My work deals directly with the ships, and has nothing directly to do with passengers. Almost every day a ship sails missing a passenger or two. Not one of them has been on a ship's tour, and almost all of the missed passengers have been on private tours. When things go sideways with traffic issues and passengers are missing, the ship will wait for hours for organized ship tours, but will not wait 5 minutes for independent passengers. When borders, passports, and onward transportation are at stake I would strongly suggest sticking with the safe option.

 

 

As the vast majority of these ship stops you get are for ending/starting a cruise, I would think it is NOT a private tour that is causing the misses you refer to, but flight delays or related problems.

 

 

As has been discussed on the various Ports boards frequently, the private tour venders stake their reputations of making sure you don't miss your ship. I seriously doubt every day a ship in Vancouver has a missing pax due to private tours. If they do, the local tour venders really need to step up their game...

 

 

Personally, we do a mix. We do ship's excursions, (including a ship's excursion in Cartagena), private excursions, and DIY. We have had great experiences with all. The only time in 18 cruises we have ever come close to "missing" a ship sailing was actually due to a ship's excursion insisting we do everything on their agenda, even though delays due to traffic had us almost an hour behind. We were the last pax back on board.

Edited by CruiserBruce
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I take private tours when I have done my research very carefully and feel very confident the tour leaves plenty of time for getting back to the port in case of something arising such as a flat, traffic, etc. I opt for ship tours when I feel less comfortable about the area.

 

I see you are wondering about Cartagena. I went thru the same dilemma when we were going to Cartagena. My gut feeling was never real secure with a private tour so I opted for the ships tour and I was very glad I did. I would not want to be left on my own there, trying to catch up with the ship. You said it was close in price, go with the secure option.

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princess shore excursion are never the cheapest, so if it price your looking for, don't book with princess. With that said their are two important reason to book with the ship.

1. The ship wont leave without you. We have all seen many many cases where the ship is held in port and we wonder what the delay might be. Then we see the late tour bus or group making a dash for the ship. If you book a private tour you would be on the dock waving bye bye. On a princess excursion the ship will late for all princess excursion to arrive back.

 

2 .The excursions operators are supposed to be vetted by princess. They all have the proper license's and insurance that princess requires its contractors to have. The quality of the excursion are monitored and outliers corrected or removed.

 

So its about peace of mind vs money, what you intend to do and how long it will take. We are traveling in foreign countries and things can go wrong, with little chance of recourse.

 

cheers

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Gonna be contrarian (my middle name) because DW and I (we are seniors) have visited Cartegena (Colombia) twice and did it on our own (both times). Our first visit was nearly 15 years ago when the city was a pretty wild place (run by drug cartels) and it actually felt a bit "creepy" walking around on our own. But more recently (about 18 months ago) we again visited the city and were amazed at how much it has changed (for the better). In fact, I just looked at Trip Advisor and out of 221 reviews, 199 folks rated the city as "Excellent" which is something with which we agree.

 

The downtown area (easily reached from the port by inexpensive taxi) has a lot of old world charm. There are some pretty squares where it feels more like a European city (with outdoor cafes) then South/Central America. The large indoor market is fascinating although we were not overly impressed with the stuff being sold. And as always, this is a terrific place for those that want to shop for Emeralds...but you really need to know what you are doing to get a good quality gem at a fair price.

 

We would add that there were plenty of taxis and van/taxis at the port and it was easy to hire them for a tour (are far less cost then cruise ship tours). At one point DW and I were sitting at a cafe near the Plaza Santo Domingo (a very central area) having a beer/snack and met an American gentleman/businessman who happened to be spending some time in Cartegena visiting his daughter (who lived in the city with her banker/husband). He told us that he had been coming to Cartegena for several years and could not believe how much the city had cleaned up its act. He told us that he really loved the restaurants (not of much interest to cruisers) and night life and thought the city was now safer then most US cities. Not sure we would want to be walking around after dark, but DW and I felt very comfortable exploring during the daytime.

 

When it came time to return to the port (about a 10 min ride) we simply hailed a taxi on the street and negotiated a price to the port (I think we gave him about $5).

 

Hank

P.S. For the doubters (or those interested) we recommend looking at some of the comments/reviews on TripAdvisor

Edited by Hlitner
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First of all, there is no guarantee they will 'hold the ship' for you if you are on a ships tour. The guarantee is that they will make sure you get to the next feasible port to meet the ship. If the Harbormaster says its time for the ship to go, or weather kicks up, or tides change, etc, the ship goes.

 

Unless the day in port is very short, I never use a ship tour. In Cartagena, did a custom tour for 8 people with Lee Miles who set us up with Claudia, who was amazing. We covered more than all but the most aggressive bus tour (you are only as fast as the slowest person in line at the bathroom), and paid about 30 percent less (tour was shared via CC). We could have actually covered more, but we opted for a sedate pace. Claudia also handled the vendors, when we got back we found in general we paid about 50 percent less for stuff than people trying to haggle on their own (if you speak Spanish, this is not an issue. Basically English=markup).

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We were in Cartagena last month and took a private tour. We had about a dozen people. At no time was I ever concerned about safety. Our tour guide has an excellent reputation. In fact, the day before we were there, she had given a tour to the Prince and Princess of Sweden. Just do your research on here and Trip Advisor. The only time I would not take a private tour is when the city is a long distance from the ship. The only negative I had about Cartagena was the combination of heat and humidity was unbearable. Make sure your guide has an air conditioned van.

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I have been on a couple cruises and tried both ship tours and private tours. My husband and I was always watching the clock when we were on private tours, whereas when we went on ship tours we were much more relaxed. There are liability components to be considered when using a private tour so we decided to stick with ship tours. Times have changed and so at this time we voted for the safety of the ship tours.

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I'll start by saying that I've never been to Cartagena. I've done lots of excursions in other ports--some thru the ship, some independent (found operator on my own), and most recently a couple that my TA set up and offered only to people who had booked the cruise thru them. Frankly, there are good and bad to each.

 

Generally those thru the ship are a little more costly. The line negotiates a discount price with the vendor, but then tack on a bit more of a surcharge to increase their profit. Yes, using an excursion thru the ship, you know you won't be stranded--they will either hold the ship for you or get you to the next port. We deal with this issue by making sure we are back at least an hour before the ship's "all aboard" time.

 

Excursions with the ship are generally large groups. These are noisy, you end up waiting for people who are late getting back to the bus (if there was any on your own time), and you may not see as much due to the crowds. In addition, you'll get a standard tour, not one geared to you.

 

Examples of semi-private benefits....we did an Alaska tour booked thru ShoreTrips (suggested by TA). The driver asked us what we liked or were most interested in and my daughter said "waterfalls." I'm sure he made several extra stops at places where she could get very close to and even touch the flow from waterfalls. At another location, we went private and arrived about 10 minutes before the cruise line group departed. This was an animal area and while the cruise line was there, the animals hid and went as far back in the area as they could get. When the cruise group left, only 4 people remained. It was as if someone had flipped a switch--the animals started walking around, a butterfly landed on my daughter's hand, totally new experience.

 

Best excursion ever--Ephesus arranged thru travel agent in conjunction with a partner agency. First we did the standard tour stops but were in groups of 5-6 with a guide, then we had a Turkish lunch at a private estate. The lunch was fantastic, but in addition our group of about 16 had access to the grounds--people were there to allow kids to feed and ride the donkey, people could pick grapes or apples, we had a tour of the downstairs of the main house, etc. It was about an hour of "on your own" time to do/see whatever we wanted on the property.

 

Another consideration--sometimes the cruise line books all available spaces for a particular excursion at all the time slots that work with the ship's schedule. We've encountered this with zip lining, some wildlife things, etc. We could get them privately a day before or after, or even other time slots the same day...but the only slot that would work was not available for private booking.

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We did 49 days around South America in 2013 and only took one Princess tour. In most ports we did private tours and a few times we went out on our own. We and others on the roll call who did private tours never had a problem getting back to the ship on time. Like mentioned earlier, we always ask to be back to the ship at least an hour before all aboard time. The only people on this cruise who missed the ship and had to catch up at the next port were on a Princess tour. They were on a trip to Machu Picchu and their flight was delayed. They were really mad when the finally caught up to the ship at the next port. Just shows that you are not guaranteed to get back to the ship before it leaves even if you are on a Princess tour.

Edited by mreasier
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We aren't that experienced of cruisers, but this is our general rule:

 

We found out right away that for sight seeing excursions, avoid the ship excursion. At every stop you spend 5 to 10 minutes on the bus while they do a head count and find one family still missing.

 

For Catamaran, snorkeling, kayaking, or "thrill" type excursions (like zip lining etc), we tend to stick with the ship excursions. Though they may be a bigger group - there is generally only one stop, and so little waiting. Plus, with a Catamaran or similar boat excursion, you have just a little more security of mind if you encounter contrary weather that slows you down or a breakdown. Finally, If there is an injury on a more "exotic" excursion, at least you can work through the ship if there is any liability issue. These are unlikely scenarios, but if peace of mind is valuable to you, then you may well think along similar lines to us.

 

If we are simply heading to the beach - we do it ourselves (usually cab, but have done local bus as well.)

 

Don

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We were in Cartegena in March of this year and had a great tour with Dora of Cartegena Tours. You can find information on the web or reviews on Trip Advisor. She is wonderful and will get back to the ship in plenty of time. You can contact her by email or call her direct. I would recommend her if you choose a private tour.

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Just got back from my cruise. Did tours both ways-tour company and Princess. Both went well. The private tour was only a few hours and had plenty of time to get back. On the Princess tour which was a tender port- the last tender was for 4:15 we got back at 4:20 and we were not the last group. We waited for 30 minutes for the last group. I have always felt better doing the ship tours no matter the cost. The private tours make me nervous. I think it's what's your comfort level, can you relax on your tour or are you going to be worried about getting back in time. I tend to worry. To me the tour guide makes the trip-on our trip the best guide was on the Princess excursion. Enjoy whatever you choose!

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I did a lot of research and we chose to do the stop on our own using cabs. We really enjoyed the city. If we stop there again, we'll use a private guide to see a couple corners we missed.

 

It's so hot and humid there, that we spent enjoyable time at a lovely outdoor restaurant enjoying cold drinks. More time than we had planned.;)

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We were in Cartegena in March of this year and had a great tour with Dora of Cartegena Tours. You can find information on the web or reviews on Trip Advisor. She is wonderful and will get back to the ship in plenty of time. You can contact her by email or call her direct. I would recommend her if you choose a private tour.

 

I will second that

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