People choose to cruise for many different reasons; one of the most compelling is the chance to visit a variety of places from one single location - the ship. It is the most hassle-free way to travel. Everything you need to enjoy a vacation is in one place including ready-made guided tours to enhance your time in port.
Organized shore excursions offered from the ship are an excellent way to explore. One of the good things is that they come with certain guarantees; the provider is insured and offers services commensurate with the standards of the ship. Another bonus is that if something happens like the tour bus breaks down, the ship will wait for you — a courtesy not extended to those who venture out on their own. That said, tours are a good deal and people want to take advantage of them. But which one to choose? On this cruise, I have been asked more times than I think I ever have been asked in my twenty years at sea - “which tour will I like? which tour should I take?”
Obviously, I cannot tell you which tour you will “like” - my tastes are not yours - that is way too subjective. However, which tour should you take? How do you know?
To back-track, I used to have a company that operated land programs - tours - for Society Expedition Cruises. As part of my job prior to operating the tours I would count all the steps, inspect all the restroom stops, and coordinate the menu - what would be prepared, how and when. I would then mark each tour with symbols for the amount of walking, climbing, sitting, etc. With all these painstaking attempts at being proactive - it still was never good enough. Invariably, what one person would consider a little another considers a lot. I remember assuring someone that there was only three steps to enter a building without consideration that the height of the steps without a handrail would be problematic. So what can you do? How do you know?
Here’s my secret to fulfilling and profitable shore excursions - communication. Every player involved needs to communicate accurately from the tour operator to the participant.
Mr. Tour Operator, please provide the ship with the best and most accurate information possible. Once an itinerary has been published - stick to it. Unless there has been a natural disaster or something that prevents you from operating the tour as published - do not make any changes; there are people depending on it. No short-cuts or personal deviations - as much as it might seem like your guides are going out of their way to do something extra for the guests they could be compromising someone who is not prepare.
As for the ship’s tour department, dear Shore Excursions, forget the flowery prose and historical statistics, stick to the facts. Give us as much specific information as possible so that guests can make an educated decision based upon their interests and abilities. If someone asks a question, please try your best to find the answer as there may be more to it than you know.
Now for you dear guest; you need to communicate as accurately as possible as well. If you have concerns or limitation like a food allergy or a walking problem, let us know - the Shore Excursion team is good but they are not mind readers. After being on the ship where everything is near perfect sometimes we forget that ashore things may not run as smoothly. Tolerance, patience and compassion is a necessity while traveling. Every place has its own unique sounds and smells. Old streets are uneven, thresholds are often high, not all buses are air conditioned and awful rush-hour traffic does not stop just because there is a ship in port. Being forewarned you should be forearmed and ready for anything. Oh yes, and it could rain.
One last possibility exists at the industry level. There is no real “regulatory body” that governs the international cruise industry but there is CLIA - Cruise Lines International Association. It is a professional organization located in the United States that strives for excellence in the cruise industry. CLIA exists to, “promote all measures that foster a safe, secure and healthy cruise ship environment, educate, train its travel agent members, and promote and explain the value, desirability and affordability of the cruise vacation experience.” So maybe you - CLIA - could help? Perhaps with the encouragement of the cruising public CLIA could propose some form of standardization of tours offered on cruise ships as well as better codifying the level of activity involved. Even proposing some kind of a system to all its affiliated members might get them thinking. In the end its all about having a more satisfying cruise experience which means more cruises, right? It’s a thought/