Don’t Go Ashore without this Cruise Tip

by Kay Lynn

Cruise fares are not where the Cruise Lines make their money.  It’s on those extras: gambling, beverages, spa treatments and shore excursions.

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Being a conscious spender, I try to limit their profit margin on us as much as possible . One strategy is to book private tours or make our own arrangements at the port calls.  This caused some stress on our recent Alaska vacation thanks to bad weather.

Alaska Cruise Planning

The cruise season in Alaska is May through September.  The result of this short season is a limited number of vendors and the ships book a lot of them.

Private tours and excursions need to be booked months in advance to be assured of getting our first choice.  Even booking five month in advance wasn’t early enough for the selected whale watching vendor in Juneau!  Because of the demand, deposits or full payment are required by most to ensure maximum revenue.

Best Laid Port Plans Go Awry

It rained every day of our vacation except except the final day in Canada.  In addition to the rain the seas were so rough, the ship missed Ketchikan entirely!  The stop at Juneau occurred, but the water was too rough for the prepaid whale watching expedition.  The missed stop scuttled plans for a flightseeing trip to the Misty Fiords which was also paid for in full.

The total amount of money involved was $850 for both stops.  Although we were assured refunds would happen, I was feeling a little nervous about the reality.  Ironically, the one booking which didn’t require prepayment occurred!

Post-Vacation Follow-up

When we got home, one of the first things I did was check for credit for the cancelled tours.  They weren’t there.

I sent off emails to both vendors and had responses within two days assuring that refunds were being processed. A week later the credits were online.

This experience left me rethinking my belief that it’s always better to book our own tours.  The amount saved wasn’t worth the risk of not getting a refund.  Passengers who booked their excursions through the ship received immediate credits to their on-board charge account.   The new threshold is tours with prepayment of $100 per person or less.

What are your tips or experiences with touring on vacation?  Do you prepay? 

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

20's Finances October 3, 2011 at 10:19 am

Scary moment there. I would be really worried about not getting a refund as well. My wife and I usually plan out some things ahead of time, but learned early on that the best policy is to just find things to do once we are at our location. It is much easier on our vacations because we don’t do cruises. Glad to hear it “worked out” (partially at least).

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Kay Lynn October 3, 2011 at 11:42 am

In retrospect, we could have just made arrangements at the port (at least in Juneau). There were lots of vendors selling tours.

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krantcents October 3, 2011 at 10:32 am

I stick with the ship tours only because they are responsible to get me back to the ship. My alternative is to book a taxi with friends and take in sights. It is for limited excursions only.

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Kay Lynn October 3, 2011 at 11:41 am

In the Caribbean we often use taxis to get us to the beach or sights, but Alaska and Hawaii are unique cruises being in the U.S. Higher prices and more formalities.

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Shelly October 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

First off, sorry your trip to Alaska had such bad weather. We also went on a cruise to Alaska this summer. We had absolutely beautiful weather the entire trip with the exception of our stop in Canada. We had been on 1 carribean cruise in the past and booked our own excursions. However, those port stops were much longer in length and we didn’t need to worry so much about getting back to the ship in time. With the amount of money involved and the tight port times, we booked directly with the ship for our 1 big excursion (the glacier/helicopter tour). I was very glad we did as this tour is cancelled quite frequently. Fortunately it wasn’t cancelled, but I had the peace of mind knowing we’d get a full refund if it was. We did another excursion in Ketchikan and Juneau and just purchased these when we got to port. I hope you still had a good time.

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Kay Lynn October 4, 2011 at 6:18 am

Shelly, glad to hear you had great weather! I still enjoyed the trip as it was vacation after all :). Sounds like you had a good plan for the excursions.

Who knows maybe some day we’ll be on a cruise ship together.

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Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot October 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Thanks for the insight, a cruise is one type of vacation I have yet to do! Definitely been considering it more recently.

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Kay Lynn October 4, 2011 at 6:20 am

Justin, I think cruise vacations are great but have a couple of friends who don’t care for them. Everyone should try it once and decide if its the vacation style for them.

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Invest It Wisely October 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm

That must have been scary when you weren’t sure if you were going to get a refund or not. I’ve been on one cruise in the Caribbean that was a pretty fun adventure, but in our case the tours basically consisted of randomly grabbing a tour driver to take us around the island. Would probably have to plan it out a bit more than that if we did something like an Alaska cruise.

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Kay Lynn October 4, 2011 at 6:23 am

We’ve prebooked in the Caribbean before but the costs were much lower and I didn’t mind the risk. More expensive tours are changing my tune.

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Maggie@SquarePennies October 3, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts. I would not have anticipated not being able to take a booked tour. That is very valuable information. We are thinking about taking a cruise or two within the next 5 years, so this is important. I can only imagine how difficult it could be if the tour was booked in a foreign country yet. Happy travels!

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Kay Lynn October 4, 2011 at 6:24 am

Maggie, good point about foreign countries as we consider a Mediterranean cruise in the next couple of years.

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cashflowmantra October 4, 2011 at 7:49 am

I prefer to go through the cruise line. It is worth the extra cost for simplicity in only dealing with one entity and knowing who to contact if I have a problem.

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Kris @ Everyday Tips October 4, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Oh my gosh, I am so sorry you have such bad weather, I would have been crying.

I have never been on a cruise, and I am not a world traveler. However, we are considering doing something extra exciting when my son graduates high school this year, so I will take this advice into consideration.

By the way, I figured out Mail Chimp!!! Still have to finesse it, but it actually was really easy to set up. So glad I talked to you (for many reasons)

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Lead Generation October 5, 2011 at 4:43 am

Thank you for sharing this very useful tips. I have not experienced this kind of vacation but just like others, this is one of my dreams. T o have the cruise ship later is one of the most desirable moment in my life and thank you for sharing this tips.This will be my guide in the future…

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