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Pros and Cons of Optional Tours

There are several pros and cons regarding optional tours which you could buy on a cruise or on a group tour. Some of these extra trips are not worth your time and money, and there are a few that you should definitely take.

Optional excursions and tours add quite a lot to the total cost of your trip. The cruise lines and tour companies sell them for $30 to $150 per person (or even more). It means that as a couple you can spend a thousand dollars just for the additional trips.

Of course, you may run a risk that some popular shore excursion from the cruise ship may sell out before you start your journey, but it rarely happens. As to the group tours abroad, the optional tours are never sold out: the tour companies hope that these trips will be purchased by all people in the group.

The mistake of buying ALL optional tours
before the trip

We’d like to give this advice: do not buy ALL available tours on the list provided by the tour company before your trip. You’ll spend too much money, and later you may regret it. Personally, we stopped purchasing any additional tours before the trip. We buy some of them onboard or during a group tour, and only if we are sure that it’s the only option to see something worthwhile.

On one of the cruises, we met a couple from Georgia (Lana and Boris). It was Lana’s 50th birthday, and they decided to celebrate it by going on their very first cruise. Lana and Boris bought ALL optional tours from home.

We socialized every evening, and we noticed how Lana and Boris’ faces would get longer and longer after each tour. By the fourth day, they canceled the remaining tours. What broke the camel’s back? It was an optional tour called “A day on the island.”

Lana and Boris came to our dinner table sunburned and angry. Lana said that the optional tour they just came from included a boat ride to a small island where they were supposed to swim and relax for the whole day. She said there was no shade whatsoever: no trees, umbrellas, nor any possibility to hide from the hot tropical sun.

To protect themselves from the sun, they had to cover their bodies with beach towels and wait when that optional tour is over.

To save money on extra trips, use
the following options:

Before the trip, find local tour operators at your destination

By booking with a local tour operator, you can avoid the tour company’s “middleman” profit. If you travel by cruise ship, you may check some online sites such as PortPromotions.

By booking with a local tour operator, you can avoid the tour company’s “middleman” profit. If you travel by cruise ship, you may check some online sites such as PortPromotions.

Purchase extra trips through the hotel

We did it many times through the concierge service, and it saved us a bunch of money on each optional trip.

Find a tour operator at the port and negotiate the price

As soon as you leave the cruise ship, local tour operators will approach you with offers of different side trips.

Hire a local taxi driver

This way, you can visit all sights that you are interested in and skip the ones that you do not want to see. It will be less expensive if you find other people from your ship to share the taxi.

Rent a car

We never did it ourselves, but we met quite a few travelers who often use this option and save a lot of money. Besides, it allows them to visit the places they want to see and skip shops and factories included in a group optional tour.

Possible risks of taking extra trips on your own

  • Do not disregard the warning from the cruise staff that the ship will leave on time even if you do not make it back. However, if you buy an optional tour from the cruise and your group will be late, the ship will wait in the port until you are brought back.
  • Not all cab drivers are honest. During the trip, they may ask you to pay more than you agreed upon. Once, in Jamaica, a taxi driver started threatening us that if we do not pay the new price, he’ll drop us in the middle of the deserted road.
  • If you rent a car and you have an accident, you may miss your cruise ship or the departure of your group to another city or another country.

Good and not so good optional tours
that we bought

Not a great day in the Cayman Islands
(a tour bought on the cruise ship)

We bought the optional tour of the Grand Cayman Island from the cruise ship. We really liked the description of the sights we would visit. One of the highlights was the famous 7-mile beach.

We were unpleasantly surprised when instead of “visiting” the 7-mile beach, we just got a glimpse of it. Through the bus windows, we were able to see only the beachfront resorts, trees, and bushes.

After returning to the ship, we came to the purser’s desk and complained. We explained that according to the description of the tour we had to visit the sights, but instead, our bus was just driving by them. The cruise ship company gave us a refund.

Happy experience in Valparaiso, Chile (a tour bought at the hotel)

We had a choice: to purchase an optional trip from our tour director or to book a comparable trip through the hotel in which we were staying. We checked the price of such a trip at the front desk. It would be half as much.

Next morning, we were met by a guide/driver and hopped in his van. In Valparaiso, we took one of their famous funiculars to the top of the hill from which we could see the port and the city below.

Suddenly, we heard a familiar voice. It belonged to our tour director who was leading the people from our group who joined his optional tour. He told them that they have one hour for shopping at the tourist stalls. Instead of shopping, we spent a lot of time walking and enjoying the views from the overlook.

In the evening, when we talked to the members of our group, we found out that the optional tour they paid a lot of money for was identical to the inexpensive trip we bought through the hotel.

A great day in San Juan, Puerto Rico (a tour purchased at the port)

On one of our Caribbean cruises, we decided to buy a tour of San Juan, Puerto Rico, from the tourist office on the shore.

As soon as we disembarked in San Juan, we came to a little kiosk which advertised the half-day tours of the island. We joined a few other passengers from our ship already sitting in the van.

We were taken through different neighborhoods and then were dropped off at the beachfront hotel. There, we could use the hotel’s beach and amenities – restrooms, beach chairs, umbrellas, towels, all free of charge.

Two hours later the van driver met us at the entrance of the hotel and took us back to the port. We even had time to walk on the waterfront promenade before getting back on the ship.

Wieliczka Salt Mines, Krakow, Poland
(a tour bought at the visitor center)

Another optional tour we did not buy through the tour director was a trip to the famous Wieliczka Salt Mines. The price looked steep, and we decided to buy the trip to the Salt Mines from the visitor center.

The bus picked us up at our hotel and went directly to the mines. We were fascinated by what we saw. In the evening we compared the notes with the people who went on the expensive tour. The only difference was – they were taken for lunch, while we had to find a meal on our own.

Whirling dervishes in Turkey
(a tour purchased from the tour company)

We were glad that we bought the optional tour to see the whirling dervishes.

We stayed in a fantastic hotel. The rooms were spacious and tastefully decorated. But there was a problem: the hotel was far from the town where the show was held. If we would go on our own, we’d have to catch a taxi.

This optional tour included transportation to the show and dinner. The ride to the show took an hour. The show itself was mesmerizing: the slow movements of dervishes dressed in long white robes and tall hats; the total silence in the theatre.

While I was enjoying the show, I couldn’t help but think of a story I was told by a woman, Kelly, I met on one of the previous trips. Kelly told me how she went to see the whirling dervishes’ show just two days after arriving in Turkey from Los Angeles. She was terribly jet lagged.

Kelly was watching dervishes whirling around the room. Soon, her upper body started moving in circles, imitating the dancers. In her weakened, jet-lagged state, Kelly did not even notice what she was doing. Finally, going through another “whirl” she fell on the floor! Everyone was startled. Just dervishes continued their dance as if nothing has happened.

 Exploring the picturesque town of Sorrento on our own

Our group stayed in Sorrento, Italy. We had a choice: to join an optional tour to Capri, to go to Capri on our own, or to spend a day in Sorrento. We opted for staying in Sorrento. The day before we had a short included tour of this Mediterranean town and decided to explore it on our own.

The day started with a light drizzle. We stopped on the veranda of one of the seaside hotels. It was empty. The only people we saw were the maintenance workers. It was spring, the low season on Amalfi Coast.

We sat under the roof of the veranda and watched the Mediterranean. The boats were coming and going, the seagulls were calling to each other. The rain finally stopped, and the sun came out.

The rest of the day was dry and sunny. We walked all around this hilly town, following all possible sightseeing trails we could find in our book. Even if we did not get to see the Capri, we had one of the best days during this trip. We plan to visit Capri on our own during our next trip to Amalfi Coast of Italy.

 Fez, Morocco (a tour bought from the tour company)

We bought the optional tour of Medina (old town) in Fez, Morocco. We are not sure it was the right decision. Read about it on our blog.

Our worst optional tour “Belgrade by Night”
(bought from the tour company)

We purchased this optional tour during our first group trip to Europe. It was in 1998, before the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the summer of 1999. Yugoslavia was falling apart. The economy was bad.

Very soon we discovered that the expression “Belgrade by Night” just meant driving and walking through the very dark city. There were practically no street lights. The buildings were not lit. We couldn’t see anything.

In addition to being in almost total darkness, we had another problem: none of us could understand our guide. His heavy accent was impenetrable. Very quickly our group lost all the interest. The only highlight was the dinner in downtown. We were brought to a small tavern in a basement. It was warm, and the food was excellent. We were entertained by the local professional musicians.

Conclusion

We could describe many more situations involving optional tours, but we hope you got the idea. You’ll save yourself a lot of money and frustration if you remember about the pros and cons of optional tours. Before each trip ask the question: should I buy them?

About us

Hello! We are Elena & Alexander, the Florida-based world travelers, and bloggers. We are humbled to admit that we visited only 74 out of 197 countries in the world. But we are greedy travelers, and we want to visit at least 74 countries more.

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