The Upside Of DIY Cruise Excursions

by Ming Tappin

The line up of tour buses in Alexandria,
Egypt on the morning of our arrival.

A fantastic day in Giza and Cairo with a private
car and tour guide I was glad we weren't with
the big throng of tour groups!

On our epic walk from Fira to Oia on Santorini
- our best self-made tour yet. Price $0. Views: priceless!

Working hard on the 12M America's Cup
excursion in St. Maarten.

Kayaking on Mendenhall Lake with my
husband, we paddled up to
Mendenhall Glacier.

Our friends and family know that my husband and I are big on DIY projects, performing most home renos and improvements ourselves. When it comes to vacations, we're the same way. Before we go on a cruise, you'll find me clicking away on my computer late at night, planning each port visit. But it hasn't always been this way.

When we first started cruising, we always purchased excursions through the cruise line. It was peace of mind knowing that we were guided in a group, and we would never miss the ship. However, after a few cruises, we grew tired of being herded and following a time-restricted agenda. We started to do things on our own.

Through my research I found many tour companies online that offer excursions at each port. Their rates are competitive, often lower than what the cruise lines charge. And most also compensate travel agents for sending clients their way.

And to ease any concerns about missing the ship, many offer the same guarantee that the cruise lines do - should they miss the ship, they will make arrangements to bring the clients to the next port of call.

For those who want to set their own itinerary - like us - a private tour with guide and driver is the way to go. This is what we did on our visit to Egypt during our Mediterranean cruise.

On an early morning in Alexandria, as the masses from the ship packed onto the endless rows of motor coaches, we climbed into our private SUV with a driver and Egyptologist guide and headed off ahead of the giant convoy of buses.

We customized our itinerary, visiting the must-sees on our list. It was great to bypass the shopping traps included in regular tours, although I did succumb to ordering a gold and silver ring with my name written in hieroglyphics - a cherished memento to this day.

After this experience, whenever we travel, I seek out private tour operators to take care of our sightseeing. We've toured Paos Volcano in Costa Rica, snorkelled with jellyfish in Palau, circumnavigated Bora Bora by bicycle, all through small group or private tours.

Another benefit of using 3 rd party excursion companies is the ability to find unique tours not offered through the cruise line. As a travel agent, it is often difficult to differentiate your offerings from your competitors, but providing unique options for shore excursions can ensure your clients have a special experience... and a little something to brag about on their return to the ship.

On our last Alaska cruise, I found a company that offered kayaking on Lake Mendenhall outside of Juneau. They were the only company with a license to operate on the Lake. Being avid kayakers, we jumped at the chance and had a spectacular day there.

Experiences like these are what make travel so fulfilling. We have the freedom to explore and immerse in the destination, without following a group schedule and agenda.

Key to any DIY excursion is having the time and willingness to do the research. My husband jokes that the time I spend researching on a place is probably 3 times the hours that we will actually spend there. He's right of course, and it has to be worth the investment. For me, it's what I love doing and it helps us anticipate each exciting port of call.

Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with 20 years' experience in the industry and has sailed on 35 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is passionate about cruising and is always looking forward to her next adventure.

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