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luxurysailer

Is HAL over classifying degree of difficulty on shore excursions?

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Two years ago we and friends went on a wildlife viewing excursion in the Falkland Islands which was classified as strenuous.  We found it to be very difficult and vowed to take the activity level classifications seriously on future shore excursions.  

 

We're cruising from Amsterdam to Rome in September, and I note that the vast majority of shore excursions in Portugal and Spain are classified as moderately difficult.  Since we're both in our late 70s and have knee issues, this concerns me about booking excursions classified as moderately difficult.  However, when I note that the excursion to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica is classified as moderately strenuous, I begin to suspect that degree of activity is being over classified. We've been to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's, and we'd classify both of these as easy.

 

So, what I need to know is whether or not we should be overly concerned about going on shore excursions classified as moderately difficult.  Both of us are active, climb stairs regularly, and have no difficulty walking distances of a mile or so. Your opinions will be appreciated.

 

Thanks,

Luxurysailer

 

 

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I would read the reviews (if there are any).  You can get a better idea that way.  But from your description of your activity level (in spite of knee issues) I wouldn't think you would have any problem.  I've noticed that if an excursion involves walking over cobblestones HAL tends to mark it as more strenuous.  Any "easy" levels are pretty much just sitting on a bus.  

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At least HAL doesn't seem to impose age restrictions on their tours, at least not that I have noticed.

 

I was really taken aback recently when I noticed that Celebrity specified a maximum age of 70 for guests to participate in a simple boat snorkel tour listed for an upcoming itinerary (ABC islands). I'm guessing it is the policy of the tour operator ashore (probably the tour operator's insurance company).

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It’s been a few years but I recall a lot of standing in line at the Vatican.  I would not classify it as easy, maybe moderate.  I’d use the easy for an excursion where you just got on and off the bus and maybe walked a few steps.  

 

 

 

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There are age and weight restrictions now on HAL tours - assume this is a factor of the insurance companies and has nothing to do with HAL, except their requirement their tours have adequate insurance coverage..

 

Weight for ZipLines and age for snorkel tours. 

 

Strenuous can also include perhaps long time standing in any entry lines, being required to move at a fast pace when scheduled  as a group for entry times or bus connections etc., or even limited access to rest rooms. As a general rule I would say HAL will err on the conservative side - their tours will be slightly less "demanding" than what they claim.

 

Elevation also matters more than distance covered when it comes to being strenuous. Rain forest walk in Sitka was gorgeous, but that had some steady hill climbs in it and Pulpit Rock summit in Norway was really off the charts strenuous, but you could pace yourself to what you could do - some dropped out right away.

 

Glad HAL has been offering more active tour options - virtually all of them have been very good and delivered what they promised ( in our 70-80's).

Edited by OlsSalt

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This is a tough one.  I do think they perhaps overestimate difficulty when rating the activity levels.  This was brought home to me when touring the Alhambra.  One lady felt that the tour required far more walking than she was able to do.  Unfortunately, her needs derailed the entire tour while we found a spot for her to sit and found an escort to get her back to the bus, etc., etc.  It came perilously close to spoiling the expensive tour for everyone and our guide was terribly distracted by this one participant. I'm sure many complaints were made as some of the tour was missed while our friend was tended to.  Since people make their own decisions regarding suitability, I do not blame the operators if they err on the side of caution.

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Knowing that we both have health issues and have to be careful what excursions we book, once we are on the ship, we do go to the shore excursion office and explain everything and what we are capable of doing.  

 

Just to be on the safe side so as not to be disappointed, we do pre-book excursions.  If the shore excursion people say "that tour isn't for you" -- we cancel and get our money back.  Never had a problem with cancelling.

 

Only once were we steered wrong for an excursion and we ended up staying on the bus so as to not ruin the tour for everyone else.  Did tell the shore excursion people about it when we got back to the ship.

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I find, overall, that the classifications of easy, moderate, and strenuous are fairly on target. I can do the 'easy' ones, and can't consider the 'strenuous' tours. Those marked 'moderate', depending on the description, are sometimes all right for me, and other times beyond my ability.
I book in advance, based on the classification and tour description, then discuss my choices with the Shore Excursion Office shortly after I board. They are willing to get more information, such as distances to walk, how many stairs, things like that.

Sometimes I have to make adjustments, while other choices work out well.

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1 hour ago, mkl55 said:

This is a tough one.  I do think they perhaps overestimate difficulty when rating the activity levels.  This was brought home to me when touring the Alhambra.  One lady felt that the tour required far more walking than she was able to do.  Unfortunately, her needs derailed the entire tour while we found a spot for her to sit and found an escort to get her back to the bus, etc., etc.  It came perilously close to spoiling the expensive tour for everyone and our guide was terribly distracted by this one participant. I'm sure many complaints were made as some of the tour was missed while our friend was tended to.  Since people make their own decisions regarding suitability, I do not blame the operators if they err on the side of caution.

 

I agree with this completely, having had a similar experience in Egypt -- a woman assigned to my tour bus was clearly unfit for the amount of walking required to visit Temple of Karnak, which has a long walk even from the parking lot to the entrance, and then requires several hours of walking or standing on uneven ground with no chance to sit down. AS WAS CLEARLY STATED IN THE TOUR DESCRIPTION. She realized -- about three quarters of the way along the walk from the bus to the entrance -- that she would be unable to do the tour. There were some nice benches just a bit further on, where she could have sat and awaited the group's return. But this was not 'satisfactory' for her -- she basically bullied the guide into walking her back to the bus instead, which took about 20 minutes going back to bus (she was slow) and 10 minutes for the guide to return at a quicker pace. Meanwhile the rest of us were left standing and waiting 30 minutes for the guide to come back. 

 

I think people often vastly overrate their current level of fitness -- thinking they are still at the same fitness level as their previous trip a couple of years ago, when they rarely do any strenuous exercise in between....   

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46 minutes ago, cruisemom42 said:

I think people often vastly overrate their current level of fitness -- thinking they are still at the same fitness level as their previous trip a couple of years ago, when they rarely do any strenuous exercise in between....   

 

Totally agree. This has been a problem on our cruises, to the point we try and avoid many ship's excursions.  We are (now retired) emergency medical personnel, and we found ourselves rendering aid to people with very serious pre-existing health conditions attempting exertion beyond their capabilities.

 

It is very unfortunate to have to say it, but people need to recognize their limitations.

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On our Grand Voyage, the shore excursions people did excellent presentations of the tours beforehand which included the steps. A medium excursion 2 "legs" then became a 2 1/2 "legs" excursion with lots of steps.

 

In the Vatican, the bus cannot park close. The long line in the sun is the next problem. Overall, our Rome tour was awful because of the crowds. I wish we had done a more leisurely private tour and we have no walking issues.

 

 

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As others have posted, I have seen people take shore excursions that are beyond their ability. One man had to rest on the short walk from the bus to the Palace of Knossos, no way he could make it through the palace.

 

I spent some time checking out excursions on the HAL website. I was surprised to see that a trolley train ride in Cartagena was listed as moderate. "Minimal walking is required." Sounds pretty easy to me, as does the Flamenco & Traditional Spanish Meal in Cadiz. "Leave the motorcoach at Plaza de España and walk to a nearby taberna. Step inside at Flamenco la Cava for a stylish demonstration of typical Spanish flamenco dance." Cruising-along could be correct that any walking on cobblestones automatically earns a moderate rating.

 

You will have to hope for good guidance from shore excursion staff, luxurysailor.

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Many, many years ago, a Maasdam shore excursion to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia, was described as moderate to difficult with stairs.  It was very annoying and frustrating for all of us to have to spend our precious time there with the local excursion tour guide, while one passenger had to find and ride the elevator on their scooter(maybe it was a walker) to get to the next floor.  No reason was given as to why that person was permitted on the excursion tour, but the inconvenience it caused was rude to the others.

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1 hour ago, Walfam said:

Many, many years ago, a Maasdam shore excursion to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia, was described as moderate to difficult with stairs.  It was very annoying and frustrating for all of us to have to spend our precious time there with the local excursion tour guide, while one passenger had to find and ride the elevator on their scooter(maybe it was a walker) to get to the next floor.  No reason was given as to why that person was permitted on the excursion tour, but the inconvenience it caused was rude to the others.

Was the elevator hidden?

 

Years ago we were in Paris (on a land trip). While we were in the Palace of Versailles, my DW started up a narrow stair case, and I yelled to her that I could not go on it since at the time I was in a walking boot on my left foot and felt that I would definitely fall. An attendant saw what was happening, and said elevator. She led us to an elevator that we never would have found on our own.

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15 hours ago, cruisemom42 said:

I think people often vastly overrate their current level of fitness -- thinking they are still at the same fitness level as their previous trip a couple of years ago, when they rarely do any strenuous exercise in between....   

 

This is part of the reason we no long book ship's excursions.  We've been held up too many times by people like that.  

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1 hour ago, ontheweb said:

Was the elevator hidden?

 

I really do not know or remember, but I did not see it.  This was nineteen years ago, summer of 2000.   I just remember thinking 'that person should have cancelled their shore excursion' because 'lots of stairs' was in the description.  There was not an elevator that I could see, from where we were standing. The place was crowded, too.  They might have had to wait for the elevator, who knows?  The building was not designed for that volume of people.

Edited by Walfam

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It is wise to check with ShoreX about any physical limitations. Because of the people with disabilities act they can not refuse to honor someone's request for a tour unless the info specifically states the requirements. Son who worked in ShoreX and received many complaints from people sharing that a passenger should not have been on tour because affected time and waiting. So glad may be updating policies!

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14 hours ago, whogo said:

I spent some time checking out excursions on the HAL website. I was surprised to see that a trolley train ride in Cartagena was listed as moderate.

If you are talking about the trolley tour in Cartagena, Spain, then I have taken that tour, and would definitely classify it as 'moderate', and not easy.

 

At one point during the tour the trolley stops to let passengers off for some sort of snack break. It is a several block walk to the place, and then a several block walk back to reboard the trolley.
I stayed with the trolley because I knew the walk was too far for me, and could see how far the people were walking. I had taken other 'moderate' tours that cruise that I was able to do, so this one was not over classified.

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2 hours ago, Aquahound said:

 

We no longer book ship's excursions.  We've been held up too many times by people that do not know their physical limitations..  

 

While it can be more expensive, we book private tours with full explanations as to our physical limitations and agencies like Rome by Taxi, Tours by Locals etc would response and let us know what would be entailed, what can be done etc.

We do this so that we won't hold people up.

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Thanks to all for your replies.  I never thought about asking shore excursion personnel on the ship for their advice concerning

degree of difficulty of an excursion.  I've never previously dealt with the possibility of an excursion being too strenuous for either DW or me.  I'll also look for any reviews of the excursions we're considering to see if the reviewer remarked on the degree of difficulty.  

 

Just a word of advice to anyone considering taking the wildlife viewing excursion in the Falklands.  The one we went on was very strenuous, and we were glad when it was over.  Perhaps the worst part was frequently having to walk in what looked like deep ruts left by 4-wheel vehicles.  These were only about 6-8 inches wide and about 18 inches deep, requiring that in order to take the next step you had to place your moving foot directly in front of the planted foot.  This really increased the degree of difficulty.

 

Luxurysailer

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I'm relatively new to cruise travel (3 cruises so far) with some fairly significant health issues that make some excursions/tours extremely difficult or impossible for me.  I'm also extremely sensitive to the issue of possibly slowing down a group's pace, so I would never book any excursion rated higher than "easy," paying careful attention to how much walking/stairs/etc. are involved.  I'd rather stay on the ship and take photos from my balcony while sipping a glass of nice red wine than run the risk of being "that person" that caused a tour group to proceed at a snail's pace.  

 

That said, there's an aspect that seems to get lost:  It doesn't matter if the excursion itself is "easy" if getting to the departure point involves maneuvering a lot of stairs, walking 1/4 mile or more, or steep or slippery inclines.  I got burned once by this -- so I now will not pre-book an excursion unless I know that I can get to the departure point.  Sometimes I can tell from close up/street views on Google Maps (Hilo, HI is one example -- Google Maps shows the cruise ship dock with the busses/excursion vans directly across the street).  Otherwise, waiting until I'm onboard to talk to the shorex folks (who should know this stuff) is the best option, even with the risk that excursions I might be able to do are sold out.

 

Lana in Bellingham, WA (where it's snowing ... again)

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2 hours ago, ArtsyCraftsy said:

That said, there's an aspect that seems to get lost:  It doesn't matter if the excursion itself is "easy" if getting to the departure point involves maneuvering a lot of stairs, walking 1/4 mile or more, or steep or slippery inclines. ...  Otherwise, waiting until I'm onboard to talk to the shorex folks (who should know this stuff) is the best option, even with the risk that excursions I might be able to do are sold out.

I've found you have to be very specific with the questions you ask the shore excursion people, and insist on a specific answer. If I ask "How far is it from the ship to the tour bus?" I am likely as not to get "Not far." as a reply. That person's 'not far' and mine might be very different. I have learned to ask "How many yards/meters is it from the ship to the bus?", and still I get a vague answer at first. Pin them down when you ask.
"Not many" is not an answer to "How many stairs?". "Five", or "30" is---and they are very different when stairs are a difficulty.

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