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Booking Excursions - Caribbean ports


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If this question has been posted before, sorry for oversight.

General question, do most cruisers book excursions thru the cruise line or thru independent vendors?  We always book thru the cruise line, but doing some price comparisons for our upcoming New Year's Eve cruise, independent vendors are less expensive.  We primarily cruise the Caribbean.  Our biggest fear about NOT booking with cruise line, is that the vendor won't get us back to the ship for port departure.

Any thoughts?

 

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Go to the ports of call forum

Look for recommended guides  in the ports you are visiting

 

No guide is going to ruin their business reputation by not getting you back to the ship on time

 We always plan to be back 1 hr prior to sailing time

 

Those horror stories you read about are usually those shopping or sitting in the bar without a watch 😉

we have not missed  the ship once in all our cruises

JMO

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Although, recently there was a busload of zipliners that didn't make it back to the ship, I believe it was a HAL ship in the Caribbean.  The captain was aware that the bus broke down and reluctantly made the decision to leave anyway.  I don't know how the 20 or so passengers made it to the next stop, but it does happen that one might not make it back before departure.  

 

 

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If we are familiar with the port we might be more inclined to do something like this. The big benefit for us with the ship sponsored excursions is there is no need to do independent research. That time savings alone warrants saving a few dollars.

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On 11/2/2022 at 3:37 PM, Steirisch said:

Although, recently there was a busload of zipliners that didn't make it back to the ship, I believe it was a HAL ship in the Caribbean.  The captain was aware that the bus broke down and reluctantly made the decision to leave anyway.  I don't know how the 20 or so passengers made it to the next stop, but it does happen that one might not make it back before departure.  

 

 

In this case it was a mudslide that blocked the only road.  Since it was an excursion through the cruise line, HAL put the people up at a Marriott hotel (on *that* side of the mudslide) and flew them to join the ship at a future port a day or 2 later.

 

Had it been an independent excursion, those passengers would have had to make their own arrangements, at their own expense, and since their passports would have been left at the pier they may have been further delayed until the mudslide was cleared.  Problems are rare, but they do happen.

 

Sue/WDW1972

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On 11/6/2022 at 5:33 AM, BVILady said:

What I have been wondering the passport does usually stay with the purser on the ship, so do people take their passport with them going on individual excursions? How can you catch up with the ship without the passport?

Some people leave them in the safe (if you miss the ship the crew will retrieve your passport and turn it over to the port agent), some people take them ashore- since it is a matter of personal preference there is no right or wrong. For what it is worth we leave ours onboard unless they are required for some reason (some excursions cross international boundaries, for instance, and you would need it for that).

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  • 3 weeks later...

After going on a full day excursion to the rainforest in Dominica in a small 8-10 person van with much of the day spent driving around to see lookout points and a "city tour" and limited time at the actual rainforest (which was beautiful), we said never again. We could have skipped all the other stuff and had more time at the rainforest had we done it ourselves.

 

We vastly prefer a DIY island experience over a group tour. I search the ports of call boards here and the cruise planner excursions for ideas and suggestions. Then we discuss the things to do, decide what interests us, and we figure out how to do it ourselves. We get to do what we want while in port, it's less money, and we get to decide where to spend our time and for how long. Sometimes we still do an actual excursion but have found many great companies that are less expensive and have smaller groups of people simply by doing some online research.

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  • 3 weeks later...

We have done cruise line excursions in ports where the main sight (such as a historic city) was 1.5 hours away from the port, but it's a rarity for us.
Commonly, we book a 4-5 hour excursion from a local vendor that starts in the morning, allowing us plenty of leeway to get back to the ship. In the Caribbean, that usually costs $45-$55. I read reviews from multiple sources before selecting a vendor.
Sometimes, we've rented a motor scooter, quad, or car to tour the island on our own.

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  • 1 month later...

I only worry about a private excursion when we are very far away from the next port. In Maui, our next port in Fiji was six days away. That would have been been an expensive problem. Otherwise, I strategize:  I can take a train or ferry from Naples to the next port. Everything depends...

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 10/31/2022 at 8:47 AM, sunshine4me2 said:

... We always book thru the cruise line, but doing some price comparisons for our upcoming New Year's Eve cruise, independent vendors are less expensive.  We primarily cruise the Caribbean. 

Private vendors are superior to the ship's shore excursions.  That they're generally cheaper is nice, but the real benefits include: 

- You're with a smaller group.  Think 15-passenger van instead of a bus (or three).  When we went to Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica, we were the second group to climb, and we had the place to ourselves ... as we were leaving, the ship's busses were just arriving.  Our table mates told us later that the place was beyond packed.  They were hurried through and didn't really enjoy the experience.  

- You get more choices.  For example, once on an excursion in Cozumel, our tour leader told us he would take us to our excursion ... and afterward he'd either drop us at a beach (and we'd have to taxi back to the ship later), drop us at a shopping area, or return us to the pier.  A few people in our group chose the beach; we opted to go back to the ship ... but who doesn't like to have options?  The ship's excursion would have made us hurry by a cute little bar (with bathrooms!) then spend an hour in a straw market that doesn't interest us.  

- Your group leaders know they're working for tips, so they try harder to make you happy.  

On 10/31/2022 at 8:47 AM, sunshine4me2 said:

Our biggest fear about NOT booking with cruise line, is that the vendor won't get us back to the ship for port departure ...

This is a fear created by /boosted by the cruise line so they can sell their expensive trips.  Reading this board will give you the idea that people are left behind on a regular basis -- it's just not true.  Does it happen?  Sure, any time you're talking about large numbers of people, someone's going to do something stupid and emergencies will happen, but being left behind is a very uncommon thing -- it doesn't even happen even once on every cruise.  When it is happening, you'll know:  as the time for sailing departs, the ship will announce, "Passenger John Doe from Deck 6, report to Guest Services immediately".  They're hoping he somehow "wasn't counted" as he re-boarded the ship.  

 

Having all said that, you should choose carefully: 

- Don't go too far from the port.  You're only on the island for a few hours.  

- Know your ship and your dock (some large ports like Cozumel have multiple docks).  Recently I was re-boarding, and a woman ahead of me was told, "I'm sorry, M'am, but you're trying to board Explorer.  You are a passenger on Independence, which is docked over there."  

- Always have a back-up plan to return to the ship.  This probably means enough cash money to get a taxi (in case someone twists an ankle or something). 

- Don't allow your group to break up.  It's too easy to lose someone in a straw market or even a bathroom with multiple exits.  If your group is large, have a plan in case you lose someone.

- Know ship's time vs. island time, use a watch or be sure of what time your phone is telling you, and return to your ship two hours before all-aboard time -- if something goes wrong, you'll have a buffer of time to get back to the ship.

 

Consider what makes sense for the experience you want: 

- If you just want a beach day, don't pay anyone for a guided tour.  Choose your beach based upon advice from this board (and similar boards), then take a taxi on your own.  In Aruba, we even took the city bus to Eagle Beach -- cost about $5 round-trip for the two of us.  

- Accept that some excursions don't make sense to do on your own -- or maybe not during a cruise.  The prime example is the very popular Tulum Ruins experience in Cozumel.  This excursion requires that you get across the island to the ferry, then take a bus on the mainland to Tulum.  This is a long day that requires multiple forms of transportation (in a Spanish-speaking country); this means multiple opportunities for trouble to pop up.  If you want something like this, it's better to use the ship's excursions.  

On 10/31/2022 at 10:00 AM, LHT28 said:

... Those horror stories you read about are usually those shopping or sitting in the bar without a watch 😉   ...

Yes, most dock-runners have been hanging around in the shadow of the ship -- drinking or shopping -- not paying attention to the time.  And still, the vast, vast majority of them make it back to the ship.  

On 11/25/2022 at 10:33 PM, TwinMamainMN said:

After going on a full day excursion to the rainforest in Dominica in a small 8-10 person van with much of the day spent driving around to see lookout points and a "city tour" and limited time at the actual rainforest (which was beautiful), we said never again. We could have skipped all the other stuff and had more time at the rainforest had we done it ourselves ... 

Yes, I have zero interest in any "city tour" in the Caribbean.  I'd be much more interested in the rainforest.  A private excursion gives you the option to choose what interests you.  I just emailed a private vendor and asked, "We're a group of 12 and don't want the city tour portion of the tour -- would you drop us at ___ restaurant instead?"  They said yes; admittedly, they might not have said yes for a couple or a small family -- we are bringing a van-ful.  

On 12/15/2022 at 5:19 PM, Andee said:

... Commonly, we book a 4-5 hour excursion from a local vendor that starts in the morning, allowing us plenty of leeway to get back to the ship. In the Caribbean, that usually costs $45-$55. I read reviews from multiple sources before selecting a vendor ...

Yes, I could've said this.  I fully support doing your homework and reading multiple sources.  Only thing with which I'd argue:  the prices.  They've increased (like everything else) recently.  

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16 minutes ago, ruru107 said:

How far is too far?

Depends.  

-  A young couple who can walk easily could safely travel further than a person with mobility issues or a family with a couple kids in tow. 

- In general, I'd say 30 minutes from the port /knowing how you'd get a taxi to get back is safe.  This would depend upon how easy transportation is.  

- And, of course, you have to consider your own comfort zone.  If the ship's sailing at 6:00, I personally want to be back on by 4:00 ... that way, if anything bad happens, we have time to regroup and figure out how to get back. 

Edited by Mum2Mercury
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On 2/13/2023 at 11:13 PM, Andee said:

Our cruise was last month. We paid $35 to $55 for our excursions with local tour operators.

It does vary:  In October we'll spend $75 for an ATV excursion in Cozumel but only $40 to visit the sloths and monkeys  in Roatan. 

Don't forget to include any money you need for tips, taxis or snacks.  

 

I like to make up (at home) an envelope for each island stop -- the company, contact information, meeting place, anything we should wear/bring, etc. on the outside and any money we expect to spend on the inside (including small bills so we can tip as we want).  

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  • 2 months later...

I went on a large family trip to Grand Cayman.  My husband and I did independent for the stingray excursion.  We were on a boat with about 10-15 other people and away from all the other boats.  Had plenty of time in the water with the stingrays and had free rum punch and snacks as well. Got some great pictures to at a reasonable rate.

My cousin and his daughter did a similar excursion through the ship.  They were on a boat with about 50 other people, in the middle of a bunch of other boats and spent about 5 minutes in the water.  They did NOT have free anything on the excursion and barely saw any stingrays.

They also paid more than twice as much as we did.  

I always go on these boards to find reputable excursions and have never gone wrong 🤞.

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On 2/16/2023 at 9:38 AM, Mum2Mercury said:

It does vary:  In October we'll spend $75 for an ATV excursion in Cozumel but only $40 to visit the sloths and monkeys  in Roatan. 

Don't forget to include any money you need for tips, taxis or snacks.  

 

I like to make up (at home) an envelope for each island stop -- the company, contact information, meeting place, anything we should wear/bring, etc. on the outside and any money we expect to spend on the inside (including small bills so we can tip as we want).  

I do the same thing with the envelopes.  It gets me excited about the trip as well.  I also have an envelope for the airport and hotel with all of our info in it.

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  • 1 month later...
On 4/21/2023 at 7:06 AM, sydney dog said:

I went on a large family trip to Grand Cayman.  My husband and I did independent for the stingray excursion.  We were on a boat with about 10-15 other people and away from all the other boats.  Had plenty of time in the water with the stingrays and had free rum punch and snacks as well. Got some great pictures to at a reasonable rate.

My cousin and his daughter did a similar excursion through the ship.  They were on a boat with about 50 other people, in the middle of a bunch of other boats and spent about 5 minutes in the water.  They did NOT have free anything on the excursion and barely saw any stingrays.

They also paid more than twice as much as we did.  

I always go on these boards to find reputable excursions and have never gone wrong 🤞.

I think this is a pretty typical comparison of ship's excursions vs. private tours.  A couple examples: 

 

- We did a private tour to Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica with Peat Taylor.  He got us to the falls quickly, and we were the second family to climb that day.  We had plenty of time to stop and play in the pools, and the guides took pictures for us.  As we were leaving, the ship's excursion busses were just pulling into the parking lot.  We learned yesterday that our tablemates were on those busses.  They said they stood in line and were hurried up the falls.  They did not enjoy their day. 

 

- Same trip we did an ATV trip that stopped at a couple areas of minor importance in Mayan culture.  It remains probably the best excursion we've ever done.  Same day those same tablemates did the ship's excursion to Tulum.  They came to dinner looking frazzled.  They said they rode on a freezing cold bus; when they asked the driver to turn down the air, he ignored them ... they weren't sure whether he didn't speak English or pretended he didn't speak English.  

 

I could give a couple more examples, but -- yeah -- private tours rule.

Edited by Mum2Mercury
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  • 5 months later...
On 4/21/2023 at 6:06 AM, sydney dog said:

I went on a large family trip to Grand Cayman.  My husband and I did independent for the stingray excursion.  We were on a boat with about 10-15 other people and away from all the other boats.  Had plenty of time in the water with the stingrays and had free rum punch and snacks as well. Got some great pictures to at a reasonable rate.

My cousin and his daughter did a similar excursion through the ship.  They were on a boat with about 50 other people, in the middle of a bunch of other boats and spent about 5 minutes in the water.  They did NOT have free anything on the excursion and barely saw any stingrays.

They also paid more than twice as much as we did.  

I always go on these boards to find reputable excursions and have never gone wrong 🤞.

That was our experience as well. While we were in the water with the stingrays, petting them and feeding them multiple times, we could see the ship's excursion about 100 meters away, sharing maybe two stingrays among them, having paid twice the fee. And in this case, there was virtually no chance of missing the ship when it left.

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