We sat waiting in the cruise ship's theater seating area with a few hundred other travelers, waiting for our "cattle call." That was when the cruise directors would begin allowing us to leave the ship to begin our cruise-line-sponsored shore excursion at our latest port.
People jostled for a better sprint at the shoot-gate where cruise line employees waited to brand us with a sticker showing our bus number and color coding. Then there was the long wait as our line snaked down the corridors, around corners, down stairways until we reached the gangplank and our release.
Yes, we have all heard the stories about people who went off on "excursions" with guys in taxis, only to be left stranded and perhaps even robbed. Or, about the people who didn't make it back to the ship on time and were left at the port to find their own way to the ship's next port, or worse, home.
Urban legends? Some probably are. Have people had bad luck with going on excursions with some unsavory folks? Probably.
Maybe I'm just lucky. We landed in Mexico City one year and met Roberto as we strolled around the streets of the city. He offered to take us on a private tour of Mexico City over the next three days. We accepted his offer, but didn't pay him until he showed up at our hotel at the appointed time (he waited downstairs, not at our door), until we got where we were supposed to be going, and got back to our hotel in one piece. Roberto was a gem. He took us to shows, to the bull fight, and more. He would be at our hotel every morning, waiting for the day's excursion, very polite, informative, and friendly.
In Scotland, we had pre-arranged a private tour from Glasgow with Craig McCall Flynn (www.mini-tours.com/contact_craig/index.htm). Craig was another great find, and it took nothing more than a quick Google search and a few email exchanges to know that he was our guy in Scotland. We've done the same in Hawaii, Iceland, Bergen, Norway, the Faroe Islands, and more. Had he reneged on his promises, I had my credit card company to back me up to get a refund.
Yes, I did have a seeming problem with one tour company that I booked excursions with. They didn't show up the morning they were scheduled to meet us in Norway. It turned out to be an email problem. They had written to tell me that they had had to cancel our excursion, but I hadn't bothered to check my email that day before we left the ship, and I wasn't available via phone. So it wasn't totally their fault, but it "kind of" was. But, when all was said and done, the excursion company made good. We did our own tour that day...it wasn't a hardship: there are usually tourist information offices that can offer maps and suggestions. I had my credit card company to back me up in case I didn't receive a refund. But the best part was that in the next two ports, including Dublin, the same shore excursion company arranged private tours for us at NO CHARGE for our inconvenience. I thought that was a bit of alright.
So I've decided to actually "hook up" with one of the excursion companies and let you in on a better way to see the ports where you will be cruising this winter, spring, summer and fall, without feeling like you need to chew some cud, or baah loudly as you wait for your cruise line shore excursion. You can follow the link below, or go to my web site and click on the Cruises tab: http://geristravelclub.net.
What are the benefits? Well, first of all, there is no cattle call. You can put in your sail date and the ship you are cruising on and pull up your itinerary, with links to all the excursions offered in that port. There's a good variety, there's backup, and there's a money-back guarantee. And I've never missed the boat, or been left stranded. We were the only ones in the car or jeep or van, and had the full attention of the tour guide. You can't go wrong with that.
Fair winds! I'm off to the Caribbean in the next few weeks and I'll be using Shore Excursions Group for my travels beyond the ship.