People like cruises for a number of reasons. Some enjoy the nightlife. Some enjoy the on-board activities, like limbo contests on the pool deck or trivia games in the lounge. Some enjoy the all-inclusive nature of the vacation (1). Some enjoy being able to see many different places without ever having to pack and change hotels.
This voyage makes stops in 11 ports, including the first and last nights where we overnight on the ship. That means planning (or not) what to do on each day. Now, the cruise line, as always, tries to make it easy. They offer excursions which you can book directly online at their website, and usually have choices for each port.
These are not cheap. The prices shown are per person, so the third one, for instance, is $69 for a 3.5 hour bus ride. There is a stop for pictures included. The second one, at $99, is a four hour bus ride where you get to go shopping at two large markets in Barcelona. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve been there, and the markets are actually quite enjoyable. But paying that much money for a bus tour is just beyond what we consider a bad value.
So our approach has been to find our own guides and book them ourselves. As they usually charge by the tour and not by the number of people in your group (2), this can actually be quite economical and much more enjoyable when you’re traveling with another couple.
So, much like our dining plan, we set about identifying what we intended to do at each stop. This is much easier these days than in the past; we start by checking travel forums like TripAdvisor to see if there are any local guides or tour companies which have worked well. Using this technique, we discovered a website – Tours By Locals – which intermediates between independent guides in many locations and potential clients. This ultimately gave us three tours. We found another two independent guides in two other ports. We decided to take the cruise bus in one location where it was reasonably priced and all we wanted was transportation to the site. At one stop we’ll rent a car, which I’ve arranged, and in the remaining four we plan to just wander around, or perhaps take taxis to get to where we want to go.
(1) If they are looking forward to this, they are likely to be disappointed. Every cruise I’ve been on has lots of ways to spend extra money after you board, starting with drinks. On our ship, some of the restaurants have a nominal upcharge which is more than Sally and I usually spend for dinner when we go out.
(2) There is an appropriate charge if the guide needs a larger car or van for a larger group, of course. But four people plus the guide will fit in pretty much any car that any guide we’ve used has driven.