THIS IS ONE TIP YOU’LL WANNA READ! As you all know I’m heading across the pond for a great grand Mediterranean cruise in 13 days! While I love the fantastic deals you can score on cruises, I hate the highly over-priced shore excursion that get pushed on you from the cruise. Back in the day when I was 13 and just discovering my love for travel my family and I took a cruise to the caribbean on RCI, we did an overpriced excursion in Cozumel, one of the largest wastes of money we’ve ever had, for an honestly borderline OK excursion (except the taco’s we enjoyed, that alone almost makes the price be excused, but alas… no). So for this trip I thought to myself there has to be a better and cheaper way to see the landside, and thus I found private group shore excursions, this is the way cruising was meant to be! The first step to booking group excursions is connecting with other cruisers to form your group, so keep in mind that this is an easy way to save money and enjoy more for any traveller, whether single (which is fantastic) or multiple groups. The best place to find other travelers on your sailing that are new to cruising, or well seasoned veterans is to make a free account on cruisecritic.com (feel free to add me on there, ia321 is my username). What is Cruise Critic? It is a community site for fellow cruisers, a place where novice and veteran (some of them with over 20+ sailings!) cruisers chat and connect. Under the forum tab you can search for your sailing date and ship and join the conversation with other passengers and book excursions. If you’re one that lacks the time to look through travel sites and excursion pages, coming here will give you quick good options to join in on that are well chosen by fellow cruisers, and that you can simply just ask to join and go! But feel free to look for your own tour company and ask for tour rates (many sites and companies are already set up for this type of travel) and simply post on your board and keep checking back to see who joins so you can book. This alterative to self-exploring or ship sponsored excursions gives you the best of both worlds, my largest group is 13, and smallest is 8 so you get a private experience while paying less than someone going on the ships overly priced and packed excursions. Most of these private excursion, if not all, will pick your group(s) up from the port of call and take you to the main sites, but be aware that in Europe your driver cannot come with your group to the sites, but most will share a textbook amount of history and information before arriving to the sites. Thus most sites are self-guided and although many companies offer tour guides they come at an extra charge per hour (so still not unreasonable for a group), however to further save money do not book a guide and simply study the sites and their history before going, that way you’re just as informed as a guide (wikipedia can work wonders). Also be advised most of these excursions do not include museum/site admissions or lunch in the fare so budget appropriately. Most of these tour companies also offer pre and post cruise tours and excursions and some multi day tours to multiple destinations (although those will most likely be you alone since it is hard to get a group to do the same thing in such occasions). A simple google of “City name shore excursions” will bring up most of the companies available, look at their reviews too on sites such as trip advisor as well, make a choice and e-mail them for rates. Be aware of the time difference so try to e-mail them at a convenient time for them for the quickest contact, be advised the UK, Ireland and far west coast Europe are 5 hours ahead of EST here in the US, central/western Europe and part of eastern europe are 6, and far eastern Europe including Russia, Turkey and Greece are 7 hours ahead (ALL TIME DIFFERENCES ESTIMATED FROM EAST COAST TIME). Most of these tour companies are operated by locals eager to help you and your group out, so feel free to let the questions flow although some might be more impaired in English than others. Another thing to know is that some will require your credit card for a simple hold of the tour and others will charge a small fee upfront, but the whole fare is to be paid at the end of the tour for almost all the companies (please ask yours for their details on payment and cancellation), most of them will also be OK with cancellations as long as they are the appropriate time in advanced, over all reasonable people that love what they do! I have had the best experience with the people who run the companies I’m using, also most of them will be flexible when it comes to personalizing your tour and changing a place on the tour, I planned a great Florence and San Gimignano tour instead of the standard Pisa most others will take you to. If you have kept reading all of this than here’s my best tip for group excursions, I won’t capitalize this, haggle the price! These are not American’s or big corporations which have their prices set in stone, so feel free to throw a lower number for your rate but be reasonable as well especially, if you have a larger group, (keep in mind these people have families to feed and this is their main income). Haggling can also be time consuming and you don’t want to anger your guide before you get there, so if you have the time and can be patient and nice try lowering the price, I myself got a great deal whose price I will not say since it is up to everyone to get their fares, (keep in mind the season you are going on as well whether high or low). Also know that almost all of the fee’s you will discuss with your guides will be in Euros or the country’s currency so be aware of the exchange rate, also tipping is customary for things like this and is not included in the fare, most will take dollars but will have a surcharge for converting it. The two companies I am directly booking with are:
http://www.romeprivateexcursions.com/ with Manny (One of the nicest Italians I have had the pleasure of talking with, this is coming from an Italian himself haha)
http://www.toursofathens.com/ with Dionisis who is also very nice and while with some flaws has near perfect english typed!
Feel free to visit their site if you are ever heading over to Italy or Greece, as for Spain I’ll be using Viator and for my other tours I will post those sites soon as I’m not the one planning them (a fellow cruise critic member is). So now that I’ve blabbed enough on excursions (feel free to e-mail me with further questions) let’s move on to meet and greets!
Who doesn’t want to make instant lifelong friends on your cruise? when you sign up for cruisecritic, one of the many perks is the meet and greet, a closed event for those who get on the list from the forum to meet on board on the first full day at sea. One member should hopefully plan this if not why don’t you take the helm and contact the line? Most lines will happily host this event for free and offer refreshments and a chance to meet you captain and crew in a more personal format (ours is up to a staggering 65 attendees on the list!). While another member on my forum is planning this event feel free to ask around CC for advice if you want to get the ball rolling on this on your sailing. The M&G is also great to get money divided and put together for the group excursions so it is easier later on. This meet and greet is also great to meet fellow travelers whether new or experienced and seek advice, I for one am excited to meet my fellow travelers who have gone to Asia, I have many questions! Well everyone that is my post for now and my tips! This is one tip you want to follow to save hundreds literally on your cruises! For an excursion very similar to the ships (if not better) priced at 125 USD, I’m paying 35EU so around 50USD tops! Thanks for reading and to all my new followers since I’ve been back! Please feel free to comment, follow, or ask me any question! all my information can be found on the contact section of the blog. Remember, adventure is out there! 13 days to go!