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In a world of ups and downs, right and left, good and bad, you never really know what you are going to get.
I have seen safe and unsafe everywhere I go. I really can not defend anyone cause I Iknow that we all have made mistakes some where along the way.
I can only tell you that we at Countryside tours do our best to make sure that everything goes well.
Sometimes its not easy but we will try our best to do the right thing, to be reliable, punctual, accomodating and do the best we can.
I tend to err on the side of vetted tours, in other words, those recommended by the line. Another option, if you have a sense for adventure is to research the destination, compile a list of what you want to see and give a cab driver at the port the list. Be firm, tell him you want to spend four hours, x number of dollars and that's what you want to see.
But, and this is true, no matter how you tour, leave the flashy jewelry, wads of cash and other valuables on the ship. Take a credit card, your camera and the suggested sunscreen, good walking shoes, etc. But don't call attention to yourself.
I use Shore Trips quite frequently and have always had great service, quick commission, and very happy travelers. Shore Trips is very good about keeping me informed if there are any questions / concerns.
Once had a ship clearance delayed in Honduras; Shore Trips called me to get a cabin number for my passenger so that they could get a message to him that they would wait the tour on him, and to just follow the meeting instructions that were on his vouchers.
Most of the tours are capped at about 15-16 people, so very intimate compared to the cruiseline tours.
Debbi Lastinger, Global Express Travel, 813-684-3770
I've been in the Alaska cruise industry since 1990, and can count on one hand the number of bad operators I've seen in that time. In the Internet Age, a tour company can thrive or die because of comments made online, and they all know it. Many of the Alaska excursion operators guaranteee that they'll get you to the next port at their expense if anything goes wrong, and I've never heard of anyone having to make good on that guarantee. In the event of a mechanical breakdown, other operators will pick you up - machines being machines, that does happen occasionally, with both independent and cruiseline-booked operators.
The summation - I never book excursions through the ship except when an excursion I really want is only available that way (it does happen every now and then - most recently in Martinique 4 months ago). Independent operators are often cheaper because they aren't paying massive commissions to the cruiselines (reported to be about 30%), and they're usually better because you travel in smaller groups. On Alaska whale watches, for example, I often go out on 6-passenger boats instead of 120-passenger ones. Waiting to see what's available on the dock is not a good use of short port times, you just get what's left over, and waiting for the bus or boat to get enough people to go with can take a long time (the one time I tried that in Ketchikan, it never did happen - we gave up after 45 minutes and went for a walk).
Have a wonderful cruise!
I tend to take shore excursions on my own to better maximize time ashore. It always depends on what you are interested in, some people are better off with the cruise line's excursions since they would rather "leave the driving to us" .
I would also highly recommend Shore trips. They work with reliable vendors in each destination, and have personally vetted them. Shore Trips will also guarantee you will get back to your ship on time, and if you don't they state they will pay to get you caught up with the ship. I have used them for myself, as well as for clients, and have been extremely happy with them.
Ships 'N' Trips Travel
It really depends on where you go to. Once a year I work as a cruise ship doctor and I have been on some of the excursions on offer as a medical escort.
E.g. Most ports in the Baltic sea and Med are close to the main city centres and one can explore these easily. I think it is much more fun to do this by your self or with friends. Other trips may require a coach trip and actually they can be fun too, they often include snacks or lunch and can be a nice way to meet other travels. E.g. I remember one excursion on the Canary Islands, Tenerife perhaps. We went up a volcano, had a nice walk and then some wine-tasting afterwards. This can't be arranged independently easily. So it's a matter of time. In Barcelona one can easily wander off the ship and head towards the main square and have a nice lunch. In other places this is not so easy.
Hope this helps
At the home page of www.smallshipcruises.com we have hundreds of shore excursions that you can take indnependently in various cruise ports, along with prices and the means to reserve ahead of time. You can usually save money, but don't cut the time too close for getting back to the ship. The ship will wait for passengers booked on their own shore excursions, but may or may not wait for others who return later than they are supposed to.
There are 100s of private suppliers promoting on the web and yes its difficult to determine which ones are good, reliable and not cowboys. A starting point is to check out what other cruisers have experienced by checking out cruisecritic.com and reading the various forum entries, they are unbiased and genuine (I assume) and provide contact details with suppliers who have been found to be good.
The benefit of a private excursion is that it is geared to your needs, you have more personal attention and you are not one of a large crowd following the flag or worse the umbrella held aloft by a generally bored tour guide who only communicates with the first few in the group as a general rule. So yes you'll probably pay more but you will get back your investment 10fold by going private.
Here at Disabled Accessible Travel we are one of the few companies who will organise accessible excursions without a cruise being booked through us. We cover the mediterranean and offer both accessible for the disabled excursions and excursions for the non-disabled. Checkout our site www.disabledaccessibletravel.com