This article is part of a series of "cruise secrets' - links to the other 9 articles are at the bottom of this page.
If you take a cruise in Europe you already paid thousands of dollars just to get there, so it makes no sense to skimp at the last minute and not see the destination. However, there are ways to save money on tours, and ways not to do it.
This article will take a look at alternatives to the tours offered onboard from the cruise line. You go on your own, or you can book tours through independent tour providers who specifically cater to cruise passengers, such as Viator.com
In ports that cruise ships visit on a regular basis you can always find independent tour providers on shore who will give you the same tour at a fraction of the cost. But there are some risks to using them as well. They may have car trouble; get lost, not speak English very well, may not be very truly knowledgeable and frankly just might take you someplace and disappear.
If you are going to use independent tour providers you need to take a few precautions. First, we strongly urge you to use the Internet to find well-established tour guides. Assess their web sites and ask other cruisers for recommendations. The well-established ones depend on their reputations and will do the best job for you. They want to be recommended to your friends.
Make the arrangements with them before you arrive, but do not make full payment until the tour is complete. Use a credit card if possible. As a general rule, if your tour requires a car and guide you will save money by spitting the cost with a group of people. If you can get a van that carries seven people suddenly the price of $400/day does not seem so outrageous. This should buy you the same tour as a cruise ship might charge $150 per person.
Renting cars in various ports of call is easier than you might think, and usually fairly affordable. Once again, splitting the cost will save you a good amount of money. The only drawbacks are that you do not get a driver and tour guide. You are on your own to see what you can, and you may get caught in traffic or lost. It is up to you to weigh the pros and cons, but if you do decide to rent a car we recommend you spend a lot of time studying road maps before you go.
The golden rule of touring is that if you go on your own you are responsible for what happens. If you miss the ship at sail away time it is your own fault, even if it was because the taxi driver ran out of gas. To be sure – using the cruise ship provided tours is always the best way to make sure you will not miss the ship.
Now, I say this with one caveat. We always tell people that taking a ship-sponsored shore tour will guarantee that the ship will not leave port without you. But this only applies for as long as you follow the rules given to you by the tour guide, you cannot "disappear" for an hour and expect the ship to wait. One couple actually thought they could do exactly that, and during a shore excursion to "Atlantis" in Nassau they made a dash for the casino just before the tour guide started gathering up the rest of his flock to return to ship just before sailaway. He looked for the missing couple, keeping in contact with the ship, but after an hour he was advised to head back without them. They missed the ship – don't be "those people."
Another thing you need to watch out for is taxi drivers who take you to a remote place for one price and then try to change the cost to return to the ship. In general, it is not a good idea to rely on taxis to go to a remote or isolated beach. You have no guarantee that you will find a ride back to the ship. You can negotiate with a taxi driver to come and pick you up, but you are putting yourself at his mercy. It is a better idea to either rent a car or to stick to going to places that are well-known to taxis and tourists. Generally, there is a reason why they are popular.
Since taxis are a primary way to get around in a port of call let's talk about foreign taxi drivers for a second. Most taxi drivers in the U.S. are well regulated and your biggest protection is getting thei name and "medallion" number. If you report a taxi driver in the U.S. for anything there is a very good chance he will have to pay for what he did somehow.
But in foreign nations and especially islands or nations (Mexico) where corruption and bribes are common you never know what might happen. Surprisingly, in Mexico the cab drivers keep each other honest because they have a good reputation and they do not want to spoil it. Tourism is already tough enough in Mexico without cabbies making it worse.
But in Europe and the Caribbean here is what you need to watch out for...
In the Caribbean always ask how much a ride will cost before you get in. Ask if it is a set price or whether ot goes by the meter. If they say "the meter" ask them to approximate the cost. then ask a few more taxis the same question. If they all agree you should be all right.
Never pay a cab driver in advance for a "pickup." He may have to take his child to the hospital and forget about you. I really recommend that you never take a taxi to a remote location that is not frequented by taxi drivers all day. You could get stuck, even if you think you arranged for a pickup. If you really want to see a remote spot you should rent a car. Renting a car can be a very effective way to tour if you have enough people to share the cost.
One common taxi scam works like this; at the end of the ride the meter says $25 Caribbean dollars, so you hand him fifty without thinking about it too much. The cabbie will then take the bill, fiddle around in the frint seat where you cannot see him and then suddenly hold up a $20 bill and say "you did not give me enough." You are stuck, it is his word against yours. So, you must give $5 more dollars and that means you just spent $55 on a $25 cab ride.
When you pay a cab, ask him if he has change for a $50 bill before you hand it to him. If possible, pay him from a position where you can watch his hands all the time. If not, wait until he has the change ready before you hand him the bill. Make sure he sees and acknowleges it is a $50.
In Turkey before they changed their currency a taxi ride used to cost $35-million Turkish Lira. One day I got ripped off three times by giving each driver a 5,000,000 Lira note and they them held up a 500,000 Lira note and said "you gave me the wrong bill." I didn't figure out the scam until I got back to the hotel and counted my millions - I was about 90,000,000 short (about $75, U.S.).
Also watch out for undisclosed "luggage charges." If you get hit that (Amsterdam) ask other taxi drivers if it is ethical. Better yetm ask a policeman.
Gypsies and Pickpockets
Gypsies are common in the Southern Mediterranean. Their tactic is to swarm you, often with kids, who hand you a flower and then ask for money in exchange. They will not take the flower back. If you drop it on the ground they will pick it up and still not go away. Your best bet is to just hold up your hands before they even get close and say "No!" in a very loud voice. If they touch you (and they will to locate your wallet) - yell "Don't touch me!" The only thing that will stop them is undue attention.
Pickpockets can appear anywhere; Mexico, Caribbean, etc. Just be very careful in crowded areas. Put your money deep in an inside pocket - never in an outside coat pocket. Rear pants pockets are bad, too, especially if they are exposed. The main thing to watch out for is people touching you - just don't let it happen. By the same token, be suspicious of anyone who wants to engage you in conversation. There is no reason why a well-dressed man, or a teenager needs to know where you live or what you do for a living. They are setting you up for something. The tip-off is if they stop you if you try to walk away - if they do, then definitely walk away.
Next Cruise Tip >> 9. Seasickness and Health at Sea
Contents: 1. Selecting a Cruise Port 2. Related "Getting There" Costs 3. Picking Your First Cruise Ship 4. Timing Your Cruise Purchase to Save Money 5. Discounts and Other Credits 6. Cruise Ship Stateroom Selection 7. Saving Money During the Cruise 8. Shore Excursions and Tours 9. Seasickness and Health at Sea 10. Why Use a Cruise Travel Agent