Previously, we highlighted the compelling reasons for considering alternatives to booking shore excursions sponsored by the cruise line. As explained, your family can save substantial sums by planning your own independent shore excursions instead of defaulting to booking the official excursions. Nevertheless, the official cruise excursions have wide and popular appeal. Let’s take a look at the why. Here are 5 unassailable reasons that stand out.
1. Official Cruise Excursions Offer Safety.
One of the primary advantages of the official cruise excursions is overall safety. Meaning both your physical safety and your financial safety.
First, the cruise lines have some basic expectations regarding safety precautions for guests. And, they have means of assessing whether individual tour operators share those expectations. This can be hard to figure out on your own when you are thousands of miles away at home. And, activities such as water sports and zip lines warrant a high regard for safety concerns.
Although individual tour operators are independent contractors, cruise lines generally have some legal obligation to exercise reasonable care in selecting those contractors. Not surprisingly, they take that obligation seriously. To that end, the cruise line will conduct some reasonable level of investigation into the tour operators, their safety records, and whether they have required licenses and insurance. (See, e.g., Norwegian website where it touts “Insured tour operators, offering peace of mind” as a “key benefit” of booking the official cruise excursions. Here.)
As noted by Cruise Critic: “Cruise lines thoroughly investigate the tour operators they do business with. They conduct independent background checks, evaluations of safety and maintenance records, interviews with local authorities and on-site inspections (some of which are undercover).“ 9 Tips for Staying Safe on a Shore Tour. (To read more skeptical views, see this article: Can cruise lines ensure shore excursions they offer are safe?)
Booking official cruise excursions also offers some measure of financial safety. The prices for official cruise excursions may be more expensive, but you have a quick and easy way to get your money back. If the tour operator disappears, goes bankrupt, or otherwise fails to perform, you will not get stiffed.
Although you can undoubtedly find offerings that are comparable and equivalent to what the cruise line sponsors in terms of safety, you are unlikely to do better. So, the official cruise excursions may be the best option for the truly risk averse, or for those engaging in inherently risky activities.
2. Official Cruise Excursions Offer Maximum Convenience.
Overall, cruise line excursions are more convenient to book, modify, manage and execute. This point really can’t be overstated. You have easy payment options — book in advance using a credit card or book on board and charge your shipboard account. You can easily cancel or change your choices (usually up to 2-3 days before the scheduled excursion). The cruise line offers a wide time window to make your selections. You have weeks before departure on-line and up to the day before on board. The cruise line also offers one stop shopping. You have a wide range of different excursions for every port on your itinerary in one place. And, often times passengers booked on official cruise excursion may have priority as to disembarkation at port and/or boarding tenders.
Side Note: It is possible that popular excursions will be sold out by the time you arrive on board, but you can join the waiting list. And, don’t assume that the waiting list is a lost cause. People frequently change plans and there can be lots of movement on those lists. I have been surprised by how often we have gotten off a waitlist – even with a large party of 6 to 8 passengers.
Some folks could care less about convenience. Some folks place a premium on it. You know which one you are.
3. Official Cruise Excursions Offer Peace of Mind.
One of the oft-touted benefits of booking through the cruise line is that the ship will wait for you if the tour is late getting back. In contrast, the ship has no obligation to wait for the independent passengers. If they miss the ship, they must find their own way on to the next port at their own expense. As noted elsewhere, the risk of something like that happening is actually rather remote. But, even a remote risk is still a risk. So for 100% peace of mind, the only sure thing is the official cruise excursion.
4. Official Cruise Excursions Protect Against Itinerary Changes.
Booking official cruise excursions offers some insurance against the unexpected. If the ship is late to port, you will get a refund. Weather conditions prevent your planned activity from safely proceeding? You will get a refund. If there is a last minute itinerary change post-embarkation, you will also get a refund.
This is not necessarily as true for independent tour operators. While you may be able to get your money back eventually, there may be several hoops to clear. With an official cruise excursion, you may have to have only one conversation, if you have to have any at all. The cruise ship can issue refunds in the form of on board credit immediately and sometimes, automatically. You don’t have to give a certain amount of notice. You don’t have to jump through hoops or follow a special protocol. Nor do you have to follow up with customer service weeks later. Instead, you will promptly receive a refund. No tears required.
5. Official Cruise Excursions Offer Better Opportunities For
So, let’s say you embark on an excursion and it turns out to fall far short of its billing. Do you have any recourse? With an official cruise excursion, quite possibly you do. If a tour is truly awful or there was a major discrepancy between the excursion described on paper and what was actually delivered, we have often found that ship will make amends in short order.
For example, we once sailed on a cruise that stopped at the recently-added port of Costa Maya. One of the excursions being offered involved a “new” resort. The resort was billed as a luxurious retreat with access to a fantastic beach, access to a wide array of water sports and other land-based activities, and many other attractive amenities. In truth, it was absolutely horrible. Nothing was as described, and what was available was rather nasty, dirty, dilapidated or otherwise completely undesirable.
The cruise brochure allotted 5 to 6 hours for this excursion. After the first 20 minutes, there was a line of people waiting for a bus to leave — a very long line of people. Back on ship, guest services received a stampede of complaints. The ship issued refunds in the form of onboard credit to everyone upon request.
Closing Thoughts: Although they often come with a premium price tag, the official cruise excursions can be a relatively safe and convenient way to plan your time ashore. So, if you’d rather spend more time actually on the beach rather than figuring out where to go and how to get there (and back), the official cruise excursions can be your most convenient and least stressful option.