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cruisefamily217

Any advantage to booking excursions through NCL?

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Hi guys!

 

We're sailing on the Epic out of Port Canaveral in February which will mark our sixth cruise with NCL.  We've always booked excursions directly through NCL but, in our research, noticed that there are a number of excursions available in the ports we'll be visiting.  Any opinions on booking these "other" excursions?  We'll be visiting Falmouth, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.

 

Steve

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40 minutes ago, cruisefamily217 said:

Hi guys!

 

We're sailing on the Epic out of Port Canaveral in February which will mark our sixth cruise with NCL.  We've always booked excursions directly through NCL but, in our research, noticed that there are a number of excursions available in the ports we'll be visiting.  Any opinions on booking these "other" excursions?  We'll be visiting Falmouth, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.

 

Steve

Steve, IMHO you will find these “other” excursions less expensive and they go to the same places that most NCL excursions go, and tend to be less people in the group.  The only advantage I see is if you are late to the ship on an NCL excursion the ship will wait for you, but not for non NCL excursions.  They are some “others” that have guaranteed arrival, but IMHO it would not be good business if any outfitter got customers back late with all the social media comments they wouldn’t be in business long.  

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The only reason to book through NCL is if you have the $50 per port credit and the total price after applying the $50 is less than you can get from a third party.

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It is more money to get the cruise line to do all of the coordination.

 

There is also an implied obligation for the ship to wait for late returning tours. We never have been anywhere near late, even when our tour bus was disabled in a traffic accident and we had to wait for a replacement. 

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We were late twice on NCL excursions and they waited for us, both times in Europe.  The one time we were late but were not the last ones, another bus pulled in after us.  I see the additional charges for NCL excursions as reboarding insurance. 

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We do it both ways and occasionally just get off the ship and pick up a tour. The biggest benefit to going through NCL is a time element. If, for any reason the tour is running over and you book through NCL the ship will wait, if you book privately you are on your own. we cut is close one time and I was beside myself with worry. I could see that wonderful ship from the van we were in and knew they were going to leave us behind. We made it back with about 15 minutes to spare. Now, we make certain we book tours that are due back to the ship at least an hour and 1/2 or more prior to sailing. The other advantage is the $50 off if you have the shore excursion promo. Otherwise, booking privately is less expensive and often a better tour. The best prices are picking up a tour after you exit the ship. 

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As other have said the $50 credit is one good reason and also the fact that the ship will wait for ship

sponsored excursions. We were in Curacao once and our taxi broke down on the way back to the ship.

We made it in time but I vowed to myself that unless I can walk back to the ship from whatever

we are doing I am going with a ship tour. But that's just me. Lots of people successfully book

independent tours that are less expensive and less crowded and have had no problems.

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We occasionally book the ship's excursions, especially when the tour we want is a long one and getting back to the ship late could be a problem.  Some private tours will guarantee getting you back on time.  Compare your ship's excursions with available private tours.  We have seen ship's tours that are as much as three times the cost of the same private tour.  However, occasionally, the price is not a huge difference.

 

Another thing about private tours, you are usually with a smaller group, like 10-12 instead of a bus full of 45 persons.

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We are by no means expert cruisers (4 cruises) but we have never done a ship excursion - not even on our first cruise.

The private excursions are much cheaper and there are less people. In our experience we also got to the destinations before the big buses which gave us time to explore before it got really crowded. I did make sure that all excursions I picked got us back to the ship a couple of hours before departure.

 

Last time we went to Cozumel we hired a driver to take us around, we went to San Gervasio and to a few other places, had lunch and were back with plenty of time to shop around the port area. BUT our upcoming cruise goes back to Cozumel and we want to go to Tulum. This is one of those excursions that I will pay extra to make sure we are back on time. It is too far (and it involves buses and a ferry) for me to feel comfortable if anything happens to delay us getting back.

 

 

 

 

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We have done excursions both ways. For our upcoming Epic cruise(only 10 days away!), we will have 7 port days. I took several factors into consideration when looking and booking excursions. First I looked at the port-had we been there before? What type of excursion we wanted for each port and what the cost was. For ports that are new to us, I feel more comfortable booking with NCL, mostly for the reassurance that they are not going to leave without us.

 

So for Jamaica-we don't care about  climbing the falls at Dunn River and NCL offers a Ocho Rios Highlights tour that takes you around the city and you go to a botanical park, cost is $59/pp and we have the $50 shore ex credit-$68 for 2 of us sounds good so that's what we booked.

 

Cozumel on the other hand we've been to a few times, we know how to get a taxi and are comfortable with going on our own. I have booked Nachi Cocom on my own for that port and we will go early so we can have plenty of time to get back to the ship. 

 

Costa Maya-new port to us and we want to see the ruins-we booked through the ship. The cost isn't much different with our shore ex credit and I know we'll be back on time or they will wait.

 

One other thing that I didn't see mentioned is that for ports where you tender, the excursions booked with NCL will include your tender so you won't have to book that. Small detail, but IMHO it's nice to not have to worry with it.

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As others have mentioned, I like that the ship will wait for me if a tour I booked through NCL is late getting back to the ship.  Yes, the tours are more expensive than what you can purchase off the ship, but not having to worry about getting back in time and then having to make travel arrangements to get to the next port because I missed the ship, is well worth the extra money.  On my last NCL cruise we had one departure delay because of a late arriving tour.  I don't recall which port it was but I do remember wondering why we had not sailed yet so I watched on the promenade deck as about 40 people hurried on the dock to get to the ship.  We were almost an hour late for departure, so they do wait for NCL excursions.

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I like the simplicity of it. Book via the NCL website,  tickets are in my cabin when i arrive (or close to it), central meeting location (theater in my experience), off the ship first as a group to the waiting bus and the cost is just added to my final bill. One bill and if something is cancelled for whatever reason they (NCL) just credits my account and i don't have to deal with another vendor. 

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Think of it as insurance so-to-speak, is it worth the extra money to know you will have a ship waiting and the peace of mind it gives you?  We have slowly weaned from NCL excursions to privates based on port of call and what we want to do and the savings, if any, we can gain.  It's easier now that we have some experience traveling.    Another interesting side note is that when in Tortola we did an NCL beach excursion (first cruise, first port) and we were very late getting tendered into port cutting the time we would have on the beach.  NCL altered the time of departure to allow for our particular tour to be out for the original length and we ended up arriving back to the port about an hour after the original departure time, tendered back to the Gem and off we went.

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Thanks so much for the info folks!!!   We're traveling as a family and I love the "insurance" an NCL booked excursion provides not to mention, the convenience of ticketing.  I think we'll book this round through NCL as the ports are new to us but we may try booking a half day on our own once we get back to "...that one particular harbor..."  🙂

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Posted (edited)

I usually book NCL excursions and have been quite content with my experiences.

 

  1. Tickets are in the room on Day 1 if I've pre booked, if booking onboard they are at the door at night, same day
  2. If port has a tender, your excursion ticket is your tender ticket so a bit of priority for that and you avoid the tender ticket line
  3. If port is cancelled or delayed NCL takes care of any adjustments or refunds no action from me, had this last cruise
  4. I easily cancelled an excursion by writing cancel on the ticket and dropping it in the overnight slot 1-2 days ahead
  5. If an excursion is sub par there is some opportunity for a credit, refund or discount, but not guaranteed
  6. Guaranteed return to ship for timely boarding
  7. Generally polite, informed guides with good English skills
  8. Well planned excursions "tested" by NCL
  9. Preparation guidance provided on ticket (closed toe shoes, bug spray) are good reminders for an enjoyable time
  10. I have found excursions generally deliver what was advertised, no bait and switch
  11. Safe, easy and a great way to meet people if cruising solo or taking an excursion solo
  12. Easy to give feedback on the experience, good or bad
  13. Often back to ship and still have time to do my own thing (shopping, nearby sites)
  14. Schedules can be modified due to late arriving ships, tendering, etc. we have come back late at the direction/agreement of NCL to be sure we received our full experience
  15. Buses/transit is typically in good working order with safe drivers, when I've taken local taxis they have been been near jalopies at times
  16. $50 ShorEx credit makes excursions very reasonable or free
  17. With ShorEx you don't pay for excursions until you're onboard and credit is posted after completing the excursions, reservations can be made prior to cruise, just call NCL, so cash a management feature
  18. Payment by credit card, some 3rd party vendors want cash
  19. Good way to spend OBC on a cost you'll have anyway, not buying trinkets or candy to use it
  20. End of cruise city tour and airport transfer makes for a low stress end of cruise process, put luggage out the night before, come to onboard meeting location, hop the bus enjoy your day, gather your luggage at the airport
  21. Latitudes discount for Silver and above, per member, not per cabin
  22. Included meals have been good, not amazing but hit the spot for an adventurous/relaxing day
  23. Price break on some attractions, Sky Ride in St. Thomas, it is slightly cheaper to buy tickets at NCL vs at attraction. I've also heard that you can return them if unused, but I've not personally tested this feature, we weren't Silver at the time, so not sure if latitudes discount applies too (sky ride is a do it on your own, walking distance from the dock)

I have not booked 3rd party excursions. We have done our own thing, grab a taxi to the beach or walked an area. When I travel solo I take the ShorEx so I book with NCL and have had great excursions in a safe environment. When I have the family we will book 1-2 excursions with NCL and do something on our own 1-2 ports to manage expenses, experiences and ease.

 

Hope this is helpful.

Edited by Nola26
grammar

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NOTE:

That $50 shore excursion credit is per cabin not per person.

If the shore excursion is less than the $50 no cash or refund is applied on your onboard account.

Also note that the $50 is not an automatic given credit - it is part of a perk or current promo.

The $50 credit will be applied to your on board account after the excursion.

If the shore excursion cancels - no $50 credit is given - you are refunded credited the original cost of excursion.

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NOLA26 makes excellent points, all 23 of them. I would just like to highlight #19, regarding OBC. If you have a lot of OBC, booking excursions through NCL is a good way to spend it.

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Great points, all!  As I go through Nola26's list and all the other responses, I'm convinced that the only material advantage of booking an excursion on our own is if we really want to do something in port that NCL doesn't offer.  But even then, I'll need to think about it.  For example, I was trying to convince the family to go fishing with me for a half day in Grand Cayman.  To be clear, my wife and daughters don't fish so it was a tough sell anyway.  But not being able to use ShorEx credit or our OBC made that half day pretty expensive.  Not to mention the "what-ifs" of getting a small fishing charter back in time.

 

I get the fact that booking our own excursions may be cheaper (assuming the excursions are apples to apples) and that the group sizes may be smaller, but we typically book our cruises through 3rd party cruise companies who offer OBC's as a means of discount so that's a really compelling argument for us.

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once we were on a ship based excursion to Panama City.  On the way back to the ship 2 semi trucks had a accident and the first 3 mini buses of our group were ahead of the accident.  We were right behind it.  The ship waited 3 hrs for us 🤗 It was an exciting ride back to the ship...police escort ( 2 men in a pick-up truck with a siren on top) Going against the traffic in and out of neighborhoods...we arrived at the ship with only one rope tied and a small plank to walk over...and all of the passengers out on decks cheering us on !!:classic_biggrin: took the elevator to our 8th floor balcony only to see that the ship had already left the dock !!!

 

Once we opted to take the ship 2 day excursion into Egypt...one day in Cairo and the next day in Alexander.  There was a CC group that was organized for the 2 days with an overnight hotel stay in Cairo...it was $100 pp cheaper than the ship.  The CC group made it on board 15 minutes before we were ready to sail-away and they didn't get a chance to even go thru Alexandra.

 

Once we were in a CC 8 person Van tour with the Hill cities in Italy. It started to snow and we opted not to go to a winery but back to the ship.  Our guide told us not to worry, if we missed the ship he would take us to his sisters house and she lived near our next port and he would take us to the ship the next day. As it was the ship tour people were in the same snow storm and were late getting back from Rome....so we didn't miss the ship ( but we really would have liked to:classic_cool:)

 

Once my husband and daughter and 3 grandkids were the last tender to board the ship in Cozmel because they were going off the phone time not the ship time.....My heart was racing on that one...my brother and nephew did miss the last tender and was delivered by a guy who goes around to the dock and takes the stragglers to their ships as a community service so that do it yourselfers don't get left behind.

 

I could go on an on because we have taken almost 70 cruises and the only way to judge if you want to go on your own is ask yourself....can I get to the next port by myself?  In Europe it's pretty easy...on an Island your going to have to find a way... On TA's it's really tough when your ready to cross over LOL  Just decide if it's worth the difference in price.

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I really hate the big bus tours run by the ships and have had great success with private tours in taxi or minivan sharing with fellow roll callers

we mainly cruise within Europe where the ships tours are eye wateringly expensive and $50 shore excursion credit wont make much of a dent

in Europe we are now all inclusive but I can always use any OBC for a massage or Thermal spa pass

each to their own

However I always research carefully the tour companies and ask about their insurance policy if fail to make ship-has never happened

In fact we are usually back on ship loads of time before sailing and watch ships tours arriving back from top deck

and yes we often see pier runners but they tend to be stragglers who went off and do their own thing and lost track of time  

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It depends on your comfort level and how much you want to personally coordinate.  Also depends on the port you are going to (some locations make it very easy to get off the ship and go on your own, others are a little more remote).  We usually do about half through NCL and half through a private company, or just do stuff on our own.

 

Some benefits of going through NCL (already mentioned):

- the $50 per port (per cabin) perk cuts into the cost a little.  NCL excursions tend to be more expensive.  But, if you are also able to book a distinctive voyage, you can stack that $50 with the $50 Free at Sea for a total of $100 credits per cabin.  That could make the NCL excursions cheaper than other options.

- less stress.  You don't have to worry about getting back to the ship on time, language barriers, or anything else.  NCL does everything for you, from telling you the time and location for meet up, directing you off the ship, and towards whatever bus you need to get on. 

 

Some benefits of going through private:

- Cost benefit.  More often than not, you can get the same experience for cheaper than NCL.

- On the flip side, you can pay more than a NCL excursion but have a very small group (4-8 people), with a private tour guide, that can be tailored for whatever you want to do.  It allows you to ask more detailed questions and not be shuttled around like cattle to your destinations.

- I have never had the experience, but some private groups guarantee you back to the ship.....so if you are late and the ship leaves, they will get you to the next port.

 

There really is no right or wrong answer.  Just do whatever is comfortable to you.

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One other issue touched on by Nola26 is that if the ship misses the port entirely you will not be charged for a NCL excursion, however depending on the outside tour policy there may be a no refund policy.

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As other have said, we have been booking shore excursions with outside companies. There were usually 6-12 other folks with us also taking the shore excursions, we all go to the same places, but without the cattle call for getting on and off the big busses. Nor do they force you to the sales gimmick stops, selling snake-oil; cancer curing herbs, vanilla, rugs, leather jackets, etc., that give the cruise ships a cut of the business, for over priced stuffs.

And because there are not so many people on these outside companies, no sales stops, you will usually see more, and still get back to the ship earlier then using the ships excursions. As well as being 25-50% less then the ships.

I have had some very bad ship excursions, and when I brought up the issues with the cruise excursion desk, there is no resolution. If you write up a bad review for the ships excursions, they will not list them for others to see. Only the 'Good' reviews get posted.

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14 hours ago, cruisefamily217 said:

Great points, all!  As I go through Nola26's list and all the other responses, I'm convinced that the only material advantage of booking an excursion on our own is if we really want to do something in port that NCL doesn't offer.  But even then, I'll need to think about it.  For example, I was trying to convince the family to go fishing with me for a half day in Grand Cayman.  To be clear, my wife and daughters don't fish so it was a tough sell anyway.  But not being able to use ShorEx credit or our OBC made that half day pretty expensive.  Not to mention the "what-ifs" of getting a small fishing charter back in time.

 

I get the fact that booking our own excursions may be cheaper (assuming the excursions are apples to apples) and that the group sizes may be smaller, but we typically book our cruises through 3rd party cruise companies who offer OBC's as a means of discount so that's a really compelling argument for us.

Booking with NCL could allow you to take the fishing excursion solo, but not alone and your "girls" can select something to make them happy for the day. Meet back to compare notes after the cruise, everyone happy.

 

I'm considering this on our family cruise, my mother will be content to chill on the beach, but my nephew and I will want something more active. I would feel pretty comfortable sending her on a NCL beach excursion while my teen nephew and I do something more active/adventurous.

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We do mostly private excursion and have never been disappointed. I can't say that for the ship excursions. I only book a ship excursion if the next port is far away. We booked one in Maui because our next stop (about a week later) was in Fiji. 

 

The independent sorts like me tend to do a lot of research. I'm always surprised when cruisers wait until they board the ship and then look to see what's left at the excursion desk.  Sort of like doing your research when visiting the Vatican and knowing that you should prebook and also know the secret door at the Sistine Chapel...

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