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Cruising – Booking an Organised Tour
When you book your cruise you will be sent a whole lot of information, including shore excursions, which you can either book beforehand or on board ship. If there is a tour which you really don’t want to miss then it might be wise to book it before you go, in case it sells out before you can apply for your tickets on board. This can often be done via the internet. Most cruise lines will send you a special booklet with details of each excursion, their cost, duration and itinerary. You can usually look the tours up on the cruise lines internet sites, too. As well as this there are many internet sites where people write reviews of cruise ships as well as excursions. However, always be aware that these are very personal reviews and may need to be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt, as your experience may well be different.
At first sight, these organised tours may seem expensive, particularly if you have several members of your family to cater for, but do remember that everything is organised for you, from the coach to the meals that you will receive on a full day’s tour. You can also be sure that if the excursion is delayed for any reason, the ship will wait for you, no matter how long the delay is. Should you decide to ‘go it alone’ and fail to return to the ship in time it will simply sail without you. You will be left to pick up the bill for your transfer by air to the next port – if that is possible - and any other costs incurred, such as overnight hotel, transfers to the airport etc. and of course, food. Unfortunately you will only have the clothes you stand up in, so that is an extra expense as there will be necessities that you will have to buy. It is unlikely that your travel insurance will pick up the bill for this, unless there are very good reasons why you ‘missed the boat. ’
On an organised excursion guides will be provided to give you a commentary along the way, and they can be an invaluable source of information about the islands, their culture, industry and people. They are often very amusing, and love to talk about their island home. On a recent trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica, we had a wonderful tour to the Martha Brae River, where we embarked on a leisurely and very beautiful raft ride down this stunning river. There was a drive of approximately an hour each way, and during this time we were given an insight into life in Jamaica, and the guide finished by singing us a most amusing song by Harry Belafonte. She was able to point out all the places of interest, and also explained about the agriculture and industry of this area. This was one trip that we felt was better when experienced through an organised tour from the ship, as the distances were great, and it would have been too worrying to have driven there ourselves, in case of delays or breakdowns.
Sometimes the cruise lines are able to access certain tours which you would be unable to do on your own, so here you have no choice. It certainly is a great advantage to be able to sit back and enjoy the tour without any worries. However, be prepared for your tour to return via some shops as, frequently, there is a ‘kick back’ to the cruise line from shop owners for every tourist who passes through their doors. This can be frustrating if you are just not interested in diamonds or tanzanite, and can mean that part of the tour is cut short in order to include a stay at the shops.
My advice would be to look through the tour brochure carefully and if you want to find out more information then use the internet to investigate the best places to go, prior to your cruise. Then when you board the ship go to the Tour Desk and ask one of the Tour Assistants about the tours you are interested in. They should be knowledgeable about all of the places that the ship will visit and are usually a good source of information. There will probably be lectures about the various ports, but on American ships we have found these to be of little use as they concentrate purely on shopping, and tell you very little about the history or culture of the islands you are to visit. If they can persuade you to go to particular shops on shore they will receive a payment so it is not surprising that the emphasis is rather one-sided.
If you have any mobility or health issues then check in the brochure to see if there are difficult terrains or numerous steps to encounter. These booklets usually state how much mobility is needed and some may even state the number of steps and gradient where walking is required. Some tours may not be suitable for someone in a wheelchair, for example, and it is no good booking a long tour if you find yourself unable to climb the many stairs, or if there is no wheelchair access, or the streets are cobbled and hilly. You are sure to get friendly advice on board ship to help you decide which tour to take.
But if you feel a little more adventurous, or if you have cruised before and visited some of the islands already then consider hiring your own car or taxi as this way you can decide what you see, rather than having to go where you are taken. One of the main benefits, of course, is that you won’t be sitting waiting for that inevitable family who are always 20 minutes late, and wander back to the coach where you have been sitting waiting in the heat!
Onboard ship you will have leaflets delivered each day about the next port. In our experience these are usually pretty useless, with little information about the history or culture of the islands, or about anything except shopping. There may be a small map, but in the main it will simply list all the shops they hope you will visit – and of course, these are the shops which will pay the cruise line for the privilege of taking your money! There are normally Tourist Information Centres close to where the ship docks and they will have good maps and booklets about the main places of interest, which beaches to visit, etc. The people will also be locals with more local knowledge, and that can be handy, as they will know how to avoid the crowded beaches, for example.
One downside of an organised tour is that if insufficient people book then it may be cancelled, often at short notice, so check up on this on a daily basis, in case you have to re-think your choice. They will normally offer you an alternative destination or a full refund.
So it is well worth doing a little research before you go so that you can pinpoint what you want to visit and choose an appropriate tour before you embark.
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