Shore Excursions and Meet and Greets.

Shore-ExcursionsTHIS 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?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).eutimetwo 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)

and

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!

Meet and greet thanks to CC on Carnival.

Meet and greet thanks to CC on Carnival.

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!

Cheers,

Ian.

RCI and cruising in a nutshell.

Much like my airlines I’ve flown, I’m doing a cruise lines I’ve sailed on! Till today I’ve only sailed on Royal Caribbean, the only reason being their ships, RCI ships feature the best onboard activities, including the signature rock climbing on all ships, great old school dinning options and activity filled days on board. I sailed on RCI back in 2007 on the Enchantment of the Seas for a western Caribbean cruise, covering the Florida Keys, Mexico, and the Bahamas. She was a lovely ship from the 90’s, at that time she had just come out of dry dock where a multi million dollar renovation and expansion was done, that’s right expansion, she was cut in half and had a section inserted in her that added rooms, expanded the pool deck, added food options, and two awesome suspension bridges over the pool deck. Rooms were clean and we always had a towel animal on the bed at night, over all it honestly was a great cruise on a little bit of an older ship that can give modern ships a run for its money, and that’s what I love about RCI, even their older ships are still great! RCI is currently renovating all their ships under their ‘prepared to be wow’ed’ campaign. Renovations include; new interactive atriums featuring acrobatics and light shows during the day, new dinning options across the board including cupcake shops in larger ships like the Freedom or Liberty, and their new signature item the giant pool side LED screen to show movies that’s being added to every ship. The renovation will very well take place into the next year or maybe two, but all of that comes with the piece de resistance, the new Quantum class of ships that have just begun construction, no words on what their interiors will be like or feature, nor if they will surpass the floating metropolises that are Oasis and Allure they will not be passing the Oasis class, but will surpass the freedom class to be the second largest ships, never the less they say prepared to be wow’ed and they always deliver that, so quantum must be amazing!

When booking cruises it is important to know your nearest port of course, because whether it’s far or near determines the airfare to reach it. Also DON’T BE AFRAID to look at really long cruises, while most people think that the longer you’re out the more expensive it gets, but you are wrong… sort of… while the length of the cruise has some power in its pricing, it is the amount of ports of call and their location that drives the price. While generally yes longer sailings cover more ports so hence are more expensive, some exotic cruises might be a bargain for a long sailing! Example A when I was looking into a vacation this year I found an RCI western Mediterranean (7 night) cruise for 600+USD while a 15 night exotic middle east cruise with stops in Israel, Egypt and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) was only 540USD per person! What a bargain! Yet one must consider that of those 15, only 5 are spent on land and 10 at sea, but when compared to how much you would spend visiting those places this is a steal! When hunting for prices, be aware that those ‘brochure’ prices websites post to show you how much you are ‘saving’ isn’t true, most websites only aid you in finding mass result from all cruise lines in the time you want and the destination you prefer, but cruise line’s themselves don’t sell their itineraries at this ‘brochure’ price, in fact most of them match whats on the websites. If you know me, you know my #1 rule of booking, TRY TO BOOK WITH THE COMPANY DIRECTLY. Always check to see if prices match, and unless the difference is substantial or the website is highly trusted, book with the line itself, it’ll save you the hassle if something was to arise with your travels since life is unpredictable. When booking on separate travel sites, one can run into the whole, call the cruise line for issues thing that’ll be met with I’m sorry you didn’t book with us and we can’t help, so play it safe especially of you’re a first timer. Try not to book with any site that charges fee’s for agents or usage, and make sure when viewing prices that all government and port taxes are applied, they can add a hefty amount onto the bill if not already listed, so read the small print on that so called deal! Single travelers, be aware all prices shown online are based on DOUBLE OCCUPANCY unless stated other wise, so make sure you’re looking at the right price. If you are boating solo, try NCL (Norwegian) as your line, they were rated #1 in singles cruise, and now offer studio like cabins on their newer ships like the Epic and soon to come Breakaway and Getaway, which offer you a cozy, Japanese hotel inspired accommodations, and a private lounge for all studio passengers. My favorite site to look at and compare cruises on is Cruise411.com give them a try and they offer great deals. Be aware that when booking a cruise early timing is key, the earlier = the cheaper, and since cruises only require a deposit of anywhere from 100-400 per person depending on the sailing, it’s cheap to book early! Final payments on most lines are due 80-90 days prior to the sail date, so if you book within there, be prepared to dish out the full amount at the time of booking. Many lines offer great deals on half priced deposits as well as some sites do too, check out deals all over the place. Just like flying, spontaneity might score you a bargain! But who can just drop everything and sail away on an over hundred thousand ton vessel into the sunset? Tipping onboard is a whole ‘nother story, but be ready to shovel out some good money on gratuity on board, and be aware some lines will automatically charge their standard amount to your card at the end of the trip without asking, so get that squared away before you sail, you can add it on before you sail as well. Ill go more into drinks and such things onboard in a later post, pretty tired now, so I’ll give you that review of RCI you’ve all been waiting for;

Royal-Caribbean

Royal Caribbean International (code: RCI)

Parent company: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Affiliates:  Celebrity CruisesAzamara CruisesPullmantur Cruises and CDF Croisières de France.

Ship type(s): Mega ships (73,937GT the smallest)

Destinations offered: The America’s, Caribbean, Europe, Northern Africa, Far East, Middle East (select dates), and the South Pacific.

Ratings (1-10) :

Ships: 7.5 on the luxury scale

10 on the activity and onboard product scale

Cleanliness: 8.5

Food: 9

Staterooms: 8

Variety of ports: 7.5

Itineraries offered: 7

Staff: 8

Entertainment: 5

Over all satisfaction: 8

My over all satisfaction is really nothing more than the average of the cruise line’s hard product. Rates on RCI are reasonable factoring in the ships, food, rooms, etc. Perhaps my largest let down of RCI was the variety of ports and itineraries offered abroad (meaning not in the US or Caribbean which are well covered). When searching for a European cruise I was disappointed at how short their options were, not even reaching 9 nights I believe, and the port combinations offered nothing exciting. The same issue came when I was looking through the ‘exotic’ asian cruises, reason I say ‘exotic’ is because how exotic can a 3 night cruise be? Besides that, they offer some great common routes (Caribbean) on amazing ships that will wow you (the best in the industry). While RCI isn’t a luxury cruise in my opinion, it is for the younger crowd (16+) and the ships cater a lot to those with adventure at heart, being packed with activities unlike their rival lines. A vacation on RCI is nothing short of fun, the rooms are all up to date, although TV programing could be a lot better. Ships are clean and well maintained, some common deteriorations bring the score to a 8.5 (you’ll probably never see a 10 there). Food was great, a lot of variety and alway flavor full, also know that there are a la carte restaurants onboard which charge a separate fee, from sit down, to buffet, to room service is offered, and the pool side ice cream is delectable on hot afternoons. The staff were nice, on land and onboard, always willing to help, and our cruise director was magnificent, she always had a joke to crack. As for entertainment they left a lot to be desired, the comedian was the only really enjoyable show. But I do hear with this wow renovation that entertainment onboard will be upgraded to match those of their bigger ships which include full Broadway productions, and the new standard giant LED screen poolside will provide great entertainment once installed. Over all a vacation on RCI is definitely worth it no matter the ship, they all have something to wow (as cheesy as it sounds by now). Jump onboard on the nation of why not? Visit royalcaribbean.com for more.

cheers!

-Ian

Cruise Corner

Oasis-of-the-SeasI also enjoy getting on a big boat and wandering off into the sea, of course while pigging out on the buffet! Here I’ll post things about everything big floating out there! For up to date information while the blog is being made and growing visit cruisecritic.com or any cruise line’s website

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