In the general order of planning, it makes sense to book a cruise at a convenient time and at an attractive price. Once deposited, planning airfare to get there seems a logical next step as well as transfers from the airport to cruise embarkation port. At that point, we have the lion’s share of cost solidly defined. But what about the total cost of travel? While one cruise line may be more inclusive than another, it is entirely possible to get a good idea of the total cost of any fabulous cruise vacation in advance. We get a realistic number that by looking in on what will be offered for sale on board. The first stop: Shore Excursions.
What Is Our Budget?
At first glance, establishing a budget for shore excursions is one of the most elusive $ items of the entire cruise cost. Prices vary widely from a walking tour of the local area for $30 to $60 per person with a local guide to getting up in the air for flightseeing opportunities for $thousands. That’s not to say one is better than the other. For the purposes of budgeting, they are just different numbers. While the cruise fare as well as the airfare and cost of getting to and from the ship get a lot of attention, we do not want to be left with $0 when it comes time to plan what we will actually do while traveling on our cruise.
Start by actually having a budget. Many travelers do not. Start with the cruise fare and cost of getting to and from the ship. Those two elements we know we have to pay. Nearly everything else is optional.
What Are Our Interests?
There really is no point in trying to teach someone a new love in life on a cruise. If they did not care for history before sailing, odds are they will not be thrilled about engaging it while traveling. On the other hand, if someone rides a bike every day for exercise, there may be nothing better in the world than riding a bike in the part of a country you might visit on your cruise.
That said, countless new interests have been sparked on a cruise. As travelers sail around the world, they are exposed to people, places and customs they don’t normally see in their everyday life. Travelers would be passing up a big opportunity not to engage in new things while on a cruise. For some reason, that concept is difficult to wrap our heads around. Trying different things in the dining room? Easy. Just Ask. Trying something different ashore?
My best story of opportunities at destinations: A retired school teacher is on a European river cruise with us. Seeing others on tour taking notes is something we have become accustomed to seeing on river cruises. When I see this happening and the opportunity presents itself, I ask of the note taker “Are you a teacher or just interested in this topic?”. Usually the answer is one or the other. In this case the reply applies here. I have a grandson who is in second grade in the school system I taught in so I am taking photos and writing about the places he will study that I have been to. It will them real because someone he knows visited them.
What Are Our Abilities?
Like trying to encourage a traveling companion to share our interest in history, asking someone to do something they are not physically capable of is another matter entirely. Cruise lines rate tours by physical ability and those ratings are quite accurate.
A strenuous hike at an amazing place is not a good choice for someone who needs help walking. For them, a visit to the ship’s shore excursion desk where qualified crew can recommend appropriate tours based on
Do We Have To Book These Tours In Advance?
No. There is something to be said for visiting the tour desk on the first day to plan the entire itineraries worth of tours, as many cruise travelers do, for two big reasons. First, the qualified shore excursion crew members who work on the ship and visit these places every week are one of the best sources for personal recommendations. Also, that they can see you, have a conversation about your interests and present the best choices is something that simply can not be done better than in person.
Still, tours do sell out in advance so pre-booking is advised. But even if booked in advance of travel, a stop by the tour des upon embarkation is a wonderful idea. As good as cruise line are at describing tours, what we read and what the experience is actually like is one of the biggest opportunities for disparity to raise its ugly head and deliver something less. It’s a matter of interpretation on one hand, timing on the other.
Example: I booked a tour months in advance that suggested grand sweeping vistas and panoramic views I thought would look nice in photos. When time to travel rolled around, the forecast indicated about a good chance of fine weather for those photos. Day of the tour: downpour all morning. An entirely different experience than anticipated. The ship was only in port for part of the day so that was that. Stopping by the shore excursion desk they told me “it’s about a 50/50 chance that tour will go as advertised…but when it does? Oh man, that is one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit.”
On any type of travel, something will happen that is not part of the plan. Weather disruptions are one of those things. Still, it’s that unknown element, the part we can’t control, that can often bring the best experiences. I took that photo opportunity tour anyway, water pouring down hard the entire time. What can be seen through rain streaked glass is absolutely not what we look for in good photography. Still, the conversation I had with a retired wedding photographer was a priceless part of the entire trip.
Chris Owen shares frank, inside information about cruise vacations on ChrisCruises.com