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By PAUL MOTTER
We just finished a cruise in Europe, and while we all know the price of traveling in Europe is exhorbitant with the current exchange rate, it didn't occur to me until we got there how much it was going to affect the price of shore tours.
With the "convenience" of cruise lines now offering us the ability to book shore excursions online well in advance of the cruise, they have created an unexpected drawback for those of us who like to get as much information as possible on the ship before we commit to any one tour.
Emerald Princess has a wonderful port lecturer who gave us plenty of wonderful ideas and great recommendations for what we should see and do in each port of call. His lectures were always presented with a few days notice and shown repeatedly on our in-cabin television sets. The problem is that many of the tours he recommended were already marked as sold out by the very first day we arrived on the ship and opened our tour information booklets.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the most comprehensive, and hence expensive, tours were the first to sell out. Well, I have always said, if you are going to spend thousands of dollars to travel half-way around the world, it doesn't make any sense once you are there to suddenly get penny-smart and pound-foolish, missing an opportunity you may never get again just to save a few dollars.
I do wonder, however, if today's ships may be allowing people to over-extend themselves with pre-cruise tour bookings and that some people may be booking them impulsively.
I received a letter from a woman who was on the same cruise we were, who was upset with the quality of the tours being offered on the ship. Not only were they pricey in some cases (as much as $300 per person), but the weather was working against us with an unprecedented heat wave. We found ourselves climbing the Acropolis and walking the Plaka (the shopping district in old city Athens) with the temperature hovering near 110 degrees.
This woman contended that the cruise line should have offered people the option of cancelling their tours based on the heat. Well, they don't, that is if it is less than 24 hours before the tour leaves. But you can cancel for any reason at all as long as it is more than 24 hours before the tour leaves. That is enough time to do your research and figure out if you really want to go. You can watch CNN international in your cabin, and our ship even had a channel that runs international temperature reports every 10 minutes. If you think you might want to cancel, then be vigilant about following the ship's rules about cancellation.
The woman also mentioned that she had two younger people with her, one teen and one barely older. My guess is that they were not very cooperative with her when it came to going on these tours, and at the cost of several hundred dollars apiece there was some buyer's remorse which she wanted the cruise line to make up to her - blaming it on the weather.
Well, it happens this cruise line will authorize a last minute cancellation if you get a note from the ship's doctor saying you are unable to go due to health reasons. A visit to the infirmary is not that expensive, and if you have health problems you might save some money by going to the doctor and simply asking for a note.
In any case, with a family of four, some of them possibly being less-than appreciative teens (I am well acquinted with the teen mindset) one should think carefully before loading up on thousands of dollars worth of shore tours - especially in advance of the cruise. Keep in mind that no vacation destination gives you a weather guarantee. Sometimes it rains for a week in Hawaii, for example, and that's just too bad.
Frankly, I would prefer it if I didn't have to make any decisions at all before I got on the cruise ship - especially about shore tours. I like to see what I am buying before I commit. But pre-planning is part of the artistry of being a great vacation designer, and the reason why web travel information web sites are so popular.
It has never been easier to find out information about a destination in advance than it is now. Before the Internet how would you ever find a review about a particular motel in Alabama, get a restaurant recommendation in Katakolon, or find out how any single hurricane affected a particular beach in Cozumel? How easy is it to find out what the weather will be in any place in the world 48 hours in advance these days?
Her argument also reminded me of the woman who wanted the cruise line to compensate her because a hurricane caused the ship to change itineraries. She was mad because they didn't go to St Martin whent at the time the winds there were gusting at 130 mph. I had to ask her, if the ship had offered to take her there, would you still really want to go?
Well, this woman's complaint about shore excursions is similar, but in reverse. Since she paid all that money to take four people to Athens, does she really want to miss the Acropolis just because there is a heat wave? How much would it cost her to go back when the weather is more agreeable?
In any case, this dual-edged sword of Internet information means people are booking more cruise shore excursion tours in advance than ever before. When we arrived on the ship most of the more expensive and comprehensive ones were marked as sold out in our tour booklet - before we even arrived! However, we subsequently discovered that all of them were actually available, so I am guessing that many people are booking a lof of tours in advance, and also cancelling a lot of tours as soon as they get to the ship.
I urge people not to be so impetuous about shore tours. Think about alternatives before you rush in and book them online. If a lot of people are loading up on tours online with the idea of cancelling them the day they arrive on the ship, once they actually talk to the shore excursion department, then this means that a lot of tours are being marked as sold out when they really are not.
The exception, of course, is the tour you are sure you want - book it online as soon as possible.
If you were not on a cruise ship you would be taking taxis and paying your own way to museums. That is often fine. In Santorini we took the tram lift to Fira, got out and walked to the best museum on the island with authentic murals from Akotiri for a 5 Euro entrance fee. For a total of 20 Euro we got the same thing people on tours paid $100 apiece for.
If you have a family of four, a taxi to the Acropolis for $20 and a $10 entrance fee is certainly a better deal than paying $150 per person for a guided tour. You will likely find you actually have more time to do what you want to do rather than waiting for a group of people to make up their minds.