In this post, we take a closer look at how we were able to save about $1,000 by planning independent shore excursions rather than booking them through the cruise line.
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Planning Independent Shore Excursions for India
In late December, 2017, we embarked on a 14 night cruise that included ports in the UAE, Oman, and India. Our three Indian ports were Cochin, Goa and Mumbai. For the three ports visited in India, after some preliminary research, we determined that we could achieve meaningful savings if we booked private independent shore excursions instead of booking excursions offered by the cruise line.
Our travel party included a total of 7 passengers – 4 adults and 3 children. No one in our travel party had ever visited India before. So, any excursion we selected would be an adventure.
We started by identifying appealing excursions on the cruise line website. An internet search yielded several tour companies offering excursions similar to our top choices. (See, e.g., the Viator website.) We compared quotes from several tour companies. From those quotes, we identified one reputable company that offered excursions in all three cities. Ultimately, we saved about $1,000 across all three ports with our independent shore excursions as compared to comparable cruise line excursions.
In addition to this financial savings, all of our tours included our own private transportation on a climate-controlled 15-seater mini-bus. They also included an English-speaking guide (separate from the driver). The private aspect of the tours gave us the flexibility to adjust the schedule to suit our pace and energy levels. A big plus when traveling with kids!
We could also make itinerary adjustments on the fly. So, for instance, when we wanted to seek out some local souvenirs, we were easily able to deviate from the original plan. Our guide took us to the shops we wanted to see. We were also able to make a detour to find a working ATM for some local currency. (This last detour actually entailed several stops because many ATMs were out of money due to an extended bank holiday.)
Similarly, when we encountered some exceptionally long traffic delays on one excursion, we were able to adjust the schedule based on our priorities. We were also able to make several unscheduled bathroom breaks. Overall, we gained lots of benefits from having the added flexibility of a private excursion.
Excursions in Cochin, India
In Cochin, we decided to do an excursion involving the Backwaters Of Alappuzha. This tour ran for 6-7 hours. It required an extended drive from the site where the cruise ship docked to the pier area from which the backwater tours departed. The cruise line version included the drive (on tour bus) to where the Alappuzha cruises departed, a motorboat cruise through the interconnected waterways of Alappuzha, and lunch at the Lake Palace Resort with some free time. (Trip Advisor Reviews of Lake Palace Resort here) The cruise line offered a second version of this tour where passengers cruised on a refurbished houseboat instead of a motorboat for a higher fee.
Our independent shore excursion basically followed the same path as the cruise line version. Key exceptions: Our 1-hour drive to Alleppy was by private transport, and instead of stopping at the Lake Palace Resort for lunch, our lunch was prepared and served on the houseboat. Of course, I have no way to do a head-to-head comparison of the meals, but ours was quite tasty authentic local cuisine that was served family-style.
Also, our party had the only passengers on the houseboat. Once we reached a wide-open waterway, the boat captain allowed each of the kids to take a turn at the wheel driving the boat. Of course, they were thrilled! At one point, our boat also stopped at the captain’s home along the river where we were able to meet his family. Our kids had a fun time playing with his kids and taking a short hike in the jungle. Finally, on the return drive back to the cruise ship, we were able to stop to shop for some souvenirs at a local shop (our request).
Prices: For the motorboat version of this excursion, the cruise line charged $125.75 per adult and $99.75 per child. (Total for our party of 7 would have been $802.25). For the refurbished houseboat version of this excursion, the cruise line charged $199.75 for adults and $155.75 for kids. (Total for our party of 7 would have been $1,266.25). For our independent shore excursion, the total charge for our party of 7 was $575. This was about $225 less than the cruise line’s motorboat version and about $690 less than the cruise line’s houseboat version.
Excursions in Goa, India
In Goa, we elected to see the Temples and Spices of Goa. The cruise line version of this excursion entailed a picturesque drive through the small towns and villages of Goa, a visit to the Durga Temple, and a visit to a working spice plantation. The visit to the spice plantation included a guided tour by plantation personnel and a buffet lunch.
Our independent shore excursion also involved a drive through the towns and villages of Goa. We visited the Mangueshi Temple instead of the Durga Temple. We visited the same spice plantation that the cruise line tour group visited. As it happened, we arrived at the same time and enjoyed the same buffet lunch. Our excursion also included a trip through historic Old Goa and a visit to the Basilica de Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Prices: The cruise line charged $89.75 for adults and $69.75 for children. (Total for our party of 7 would have been $568.25). For our independent shore excursion, we paid $523 for our party of 7. This was a modest savings of about $45. But, we also had the advantages of a private transport (as described above).
Excursions in Mumbai, India
In Mumbai, we elected a city tour. The cruise line version included a ride on the local trains, and a stop at the world’s largest outdoor laundry. The tour also visited one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the Haji Ali Dargah. This is a mosque set on an islet near the city’s center. The tour also included Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, the former home and workplace of Mahatma Gandhi. That multi-level building now houses a museum and research center. The tour ended with lunch at The Oberoi Hotel. (reviews here)
Our independent shore excursion for Mumbai also included the outdoor laundry and the Mahatma Gandhi museum. (At the museum, we once again saw some of our fellow cruise ship passengers). It did not include a visit to the Haji Ali Dargah mosque. Rather, our tour included a visit to the Gateway of India, a visit to the Prince of Wales Museum, a drive by Churchgate Station, in time to see the “ Dabbawala” at work. We were also able to visit to the lovely Hanging Gardens. Instead of lunch at the Oberoi Hotel, we had lunch at the restaurant Indian Summer. (Reviews here)
Prices: The cruise line charged $135.00 for adults and $119.75 for children. (A total of $899.25 for our party of 7).
Our actual full day excursion cost $597, including lunch. This was a savings of about $300.
Independent Shore Excursions Saved Us $1,000
Overall, we saved approximately $600 to $1,000. The variance depends on whether you select the motorboat or the houseboat option in Cochin as a comparator. Arguably, the cruise line excursions in Cochin and Mumbai may have offered better lunch options. But, that potential difference does not seem worth $600 to $1,000.
For more information about planning independent shore excursions for your own family, please check out our earlier post: How To Actually Plan Affordable Family Shore Excursions With Remarkable Ease.