Cruise Vacation Shore Excursions: A Better Value With New Service

Cruise vacations may have an all-inclusive nature but, as anyone who has sailed knows, the cruise fare paid far from covers everything. Incidental, but nearly mandatory, expenses like gratuities, soft drinks or alcoholic beverages and transfer services to and from the ship can add up fast. One part of it all that can make or break a cruise vacation experience is shore excursions — what we do off the ship. A new service now offers remarkable savings on the same or better tours than those offered by the cruise line.

Going live this week, Viator Shore Excursions offers more than 500 shore excursions in over 80 of the most popular ports around the globe, including new destinations Juneau, Monaco and Mykonos.

“The new Viator Shore Excursion platform builds on the increasing popularity of independent shore excursion bookings on,” Barrie Seidenberg, CEO and president of Viator told Gadling. “We’ve taken our great inventory and added innovative technology to create the new user experience and give cruise passengers direct access to the best excursions in their ports of call to help them make the most of their time and money in every port.”Commonly thought of as the safe way to go, tours offered from the cruise line are often priced much higher than when bought from independent operators. Those tour companies are often the same people that provide the service to cruise lines. Now, our friends at Viator, a leading resource for researching and booking tours and activities around the world, unveiled a new website specifically designed to help cruise passengers find and book shore excursions with savings up to 60 percent off typical rates offered by cruise lines.

“For far too long cruise passengers have been beholden to the cruise lines for shore excursions that are often overpriced, over crowded and represent only a fraction of what’s available locally,” added Seidenberg.

The site has been designed for the complex nature of shore excursion bookings and will offer only relevant tours and activities based on the specific itinerary of the most major cruise lines.

Passengers select the cruise line, ship name and departure date, and Viator instantly loads the cruise ship’s itinerary and then shows only those excursions that can specifically work for each port of call based on arrival and departure times and availability.

Comparing Viator tours to similar tours offered by cruise lines, Viator comes out on top often with savings of up to 60 percent on tours we compared to cruise line prices.

Still, one of the big concerns passengers have with using third-party sources is missing the ship if the tour runs late. Viator has that covered too with their service “Viator’s Worry-Free Bookings.” If a passenger misses the ship because of a Viator excursion, Viator will transport them to the next port of call at no cost to the traveler.

On top of that, budget-conscious travelers will enjoy their Low Price Guarantee that really nails down their pricing as the best.

“Viator’s Low Price Guarantee also protects you two ways. First, if you find a lower price for the same tour or activity offered by the same operator (priced in the same currency) within 72 hours of booking, send us the details and we’ll refund the price difference. No gimmicks, no exceptions,” says Viator on its website. “Second, we also protect you against arriving at a destination and finding the same tour or activity offered at a lower price from our operator. If you do happen to find a lower price direct from our operator, simply send us the details and we’ll refund the price difference. It’s that easy.”

Low price, good availability and the worry-free policy make the new Viator Shore Excursions a great tool to consider when planning a cruise vacation. We suggest a simple comparison test. Open two screens on your computer — one with the ship’s offerings and one with Viator’s shore excursions for that same itinerary.

Going port by port it looks like Viator’s savings could be considerable.

[Images via Flickr user JorgeBRAZIL]

10 ways to save money on a cruise without being a cheapskate

There are good ways to save on a cruise vacation and not-so-good ways to save. Simply clicking after the lowest price may seem like a good idea. On the surface, the variables are limited to ship, sailing date and cabin category. Three variables. That’s probably fewer variables than we consider when clicking to book an airline ticket. That should work. For many, that strategy does work but that’s only part of the story. Great savings can be had both on booking the cruise and what we spend on-board by considering a few guidelines.

None of these 10 ways to save include stiffing the crew to avoid tipping, smuggling booze on to save on the bar bill or otherwise trying to outsmart the system which pretty much makes you a cheapskate.

  1. Be realistic– Often we get all caught up in the price of the cruise, what we pay for the cruise fare, that we don’t pay near enough attention to the other expenses that go along with it. Yes, a cruise vacation does offer a lot for the money. But a cruise vacation is far from all-inclusive as some want to believe. That’s nothing to be scared of, just something to investigate and consider first.
  2. Shop for travel insurance– As unexpected chaos from weather or politically-related sources continues to play a bigger role in travel plans, affecting more than ever before, travel insurance of some sort is becoming more of a smart move than in the past. Look beyond the cruise line for options, starting with your personal life/home/auto insurance agent.
  3. Beverage packages– do the math. Most lines offer soda packages that can be a good value. It all depends on how much you will drink though. The idea of “unlimited” sodas for one set price may be appealing but you may need to drink far more than you might anticipate for it to pay out.
  4. Shore excursions– These too may or may not be a good value. Packages that include the word “beach” in them are often more expensive than grabbing a cab and heading to the beach on your own. Almost anything the cruise line offers you can do on your own. Should you? Maybe if its a simple trip to the beach. If your interests take you far from the ship and are more complex, maybe not, especially if it is a port you have never been to before.
  5. Tipping– It’s not required but most cruise lines make it easy by automatically adding it on to your shipboard account each day. The easy way out is to accept that and be done with it. Greater value can be gained by opting out of the automatic tips and taking care of that, in cash, with each individual personally IF you let them know that at the beginning of your voyage.
  6. Bribe people– Some call this pre-tipping” and it involves slipping your cabin steward and headwaiter or Maitre ‘d $20 on the very first day saying the words “Take good care of us and we will take good care of you”. You’re banking on the fact that most other guests on the ship do not do this so you will stand out from the crowd and get better service. Better service = a better overall experience and that means value.
  7. Watch pricing- Most people consider the day they put down a deposit the day they have locked in to a price. That’s true but other opportunities may come along down the road that will get you the exact same cruise for less money or the same money but you get more with it. Again, “value” rather than “lowest price” is king here.
  8. Budget on-board purchases– Simply making a budget and sticking to it works wonders. Casino freaks often bring along an envelope for each day of the cruise, each with the amount of cash they will have to gamble with each day. Once that is gone, that is that. No more gambling until tomorrow. Winnings are often not considered for the most successful gamblers, placing those elsewhere or having win money applied to their on-board account.
  9. Try to use a Cruise Travel Agent. I say “try” because travel agents are not all created equally. A general travel agent that books everything from land tours to airline tickets is often a waste of time. One that specializes in cruise vacations may save you time, money and make for an overall better experience. This is a must-do for first-timers. Seasoned cruisers either swear by travel agents or swear at travel agents. The difference is if they have a good one or not.
  10. Pick the right line in the first place. I saved this for last because it is one of the very most important ways to save money on a cruise without being cheap. You can have a good time, whatever that may mean to you, on any cruise line. Booking with a cruise line with a standard experience that will let you have your good time without having to spend extra to make that happen is the key. A friend who knows you and has cruised a number of lines can help with that as can a good Cruise Travel Agent.

Along those lines, consider this example. Our first 8 sailings were on Carnival Cruise Lines. We found that our family of four did well with the Carnival product and we had no reason to look elsewhere. Carnival has their fleet of “fun ships” and that is not just a catchy slogan: these people know how to have fun. Better yet, they know how to make it possible for anyone to have fun. When we first started sailing with Carnival our two girls were pre-teens and did well with the on-board programming.

Flickr photo by bradipo