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Ship Tips

Shore Excursions

by Douglas Terhune

Let's just say that the average cruiser spends $1400(USD) for a seven day cruise including airfare. That works out to $200/day - which is a lot of dough. The time most passengers spend planning a cruise varies, and I am totally going to pull the average number of hours out of a hat that we spend planning the cruise - so I'll say we individually spend 24 hours in our planning process. Now that includes time on the internet searching deals, time to and from and with your travel agent, time on the phone talking to people, time spent looking at brochures and other trade collateral, and time discussing this with the person(s) you are going with. This does NOT, ladies, include time spent shopping!!!!!

Now let's consider that while on a 7 day cruise - that you spend 3 days in port. Three days in port is a very large part of your cruise. Now, let's just try and guess how much time we spend planning our excursions. My guess is about 30 minutes. Hmmm, does that seem right that we spend only 30 minutes planning three days of excursions?

Very often excursions happen - they are not planned. That's not to say that many cruisers are not doing their homework, because many are - they log onto the cruise lines' websites and get downloads, they ask their travel agents and friends, they find websites like the Sealetter, and so on. However, so often I have seen people board a ship and have no preset excursions in mind.

Ship Tip: Research your excursions before you go.

Once you board a ship, excursions begin selling - and if you are not careful, you just might miss out on some of the best ones. Your typical ship nowadays holds 2000 passengers. Each excursion holds from 6 to 100 people - so I'll let you do the rest of the math.

Ship Tip: The good excursions sell out fast.

On my rare one non-Caribbean cruise to Alaska, I was surprised how much the excursions cost. People were paying upwards of $300 each to have someone fly them to a remote river, put them in a boat and pull out a salmon, and then take the salmon back to the ship and have the chef prepare it for them. I just ordered the salmon on the menu and saved $300.

Ship tip: Excursions can be very expensive.

So now comes time for me to rack my brain and throw out some tips on good excursions that I have done in my 20 years of cruising. Keep in mind these were experienced in my 20s and 30s, and that they may not be appropriate for all ages. (Then again, not much of what I do is!)

THE BEST EXCURSIONS

St. Thomas - Pretty close to a tie for the two best excursions in the Caribbean. The first is the Kon Tiki party boat. The boat is an old 2 story converted barge with a partial glass bottom. It picks you up at the pier as you exit the cruise ship and takes you across the port of Charlotte Amalie. You continue to a small reef where the ship lets you peak at fish through the glass. No big deal - in fact, your naked eye can usually see more fish in the crystal clear waters of the Virgin Islands. Then you continue to a secluded beach and snorkel and sunbathe for about 90 minutes. But the highlight of the trip is the free rum punch and the ride back. The Captain cranks up the music and in no time everyone on board is doing the conga line. The music is great and when the boat returns to the ship - everyone not on the Kon Tiki wishes they were.

The alternative is the Wild Thing - a twin hulled 70+ foot boat designed for fun. It too picks you up at the pier and within 3 minutes or so, has you off the coast of St Thomas at Buck island. Here you grab your snorkel equipment and jump off the boat and swim with some beautiful tropical fish, rays and occasional sea turtles. Than back in the Wild Thing for a 15 minute swoosh over to a secluded beach on St. John. This is a sunning beach with limited snorkeling - but quite picturesque. The ride back is a rum punch fest with music to spare. This boat is fast, WICKED FAST. There is no moving around while at top speeds nearing 50mph - but the fun is there.

Another very nice excursion in St. Thomas is a 6-8 person sailboat with your private Captain that sails to Buck Island. You enjoy the view of St Thomas, relax, and learn about the Virgin Islands from your experienced skipper. He'll let you snorkel for an hour or so on the reef before heading back. Enroute he'll uncork some white wine and have a cheese and cracker board for your enjoyment.

St. Maarten - My favorite thing to do on this pretty island is to rent a cab for the day. Downtown is nice and small - but pretty boring and the beach is average. A cab driver can take you to places not all tourists see, plus you can safely leave whatever you need in the cab. My favorite highlight on St Maarten is of course, Orient Beach on the French side. Try to overlook the topless beach and the nudist colony resort that is open to the public, sans camera. The water, beach, sand, cheap lounge chairs, abundance of food and drink and surroundings make this one of the best beaches in the world. There are other sights to see and places to shop and places to dine all over the French and Dutch side - you just need to tell your cab driver what YOU want to do for the day.

GOOD EXCURSIONS

In Jamaica, most ships stop at Ocho Rios. From afar, this is a very lush and tropical island, but up close, you can see the poverty. In addition, the street vendors are way more pushy than the average tourists cares for - so escaping them could be key. While thousands of people climb the nearby Dunns River Falls daily, I'd skip it. You can walk along the road and peak over a fence and see the people waiting to climb, and waiting and waiting and waiting. Here too I rent a cab and have the driver show me the sights. Go into the rain forest, find an out of the way bar and have the driver take you to a secluded beach. The mainstream area off the pier is just a large straw market - and in 30 minutes there you can purchase all your island nicknacks that you'll ever need.

Grand Cayman is best known for its 7 mile beach - and it is a beautiful one at that. You do not need to do a shore excursion to see it - just take a cab there and hang out on the public beach - which is near the Hyatt Regency's beach. Don't waste your time seeing the little town called Hell. I have heard that Sting Ray City is good for snorkeling, but cannot pass up the serenity and beauty of 7 mile beach.

Cozumel has Mayan Ruins that are definetly not worth visiting, unless you just absolutely love that kind of stuff. They are relatively small and a fairly long and hot cab ride from the ship. I usually do the Fiesta Party Boat - which is a much bigger 3 story version of the Kon Tiki. Besides the non stop rum punch, they add margarittas and shots of tequilla - yee haaaaaaa!!!!!!

Ketchikan, Alaska was my favorite port on the northbound 7 day Alaska cruise. After seeing the prices of Alaska shore excursions and having to be revived by the Purser, I realized I really did not want to spend a minimum of $75 to do an organized excursion on this trip. Ketchikan is a small fishing village tucked along a small ridge on the inside passage. I went out on foot and explored the area. The salmon were spawning and with the river in the middle of town, you could smell fish from wherever you were. I went to the river's edge and watched the thousands of salmon jump upstream - something I'd seen in movies and on television all my life - but was ecstatic to witness in person. I then walked to the fishery and learned lots about the salmon. I encountered a gill-netting fisherman at the marina and he provided me with a priceless look into the commercial fishing industry of the northwest.

Receiving an honorable mention, is a small place on St. Croix where I witnessed one of the funniest things I have ever seen. We rented a car, drove across the island to a marginal beach at best (very rocky), and then stopped at this bar where the woman who lives there (and it is in the woods) introduces you to her pig in the back yard. You hand this 7' tall pig an unopened can of beer and it will bite it to open it, turn it's head up to drink it, than discharge the beer at your feet. Worth the price of admission for sure.

One of the more popular days on a cruise is the day your ship stops at the cruise lines' private island. HAL, Disney, RCI, Princess and NCL are several that have them in the Bahamas & elsewhere in the Caribbean, and if you love a day at the beach, than prepare to get off the ship and enjoy the day. One caution is that the first hour of debarking (ships tender people to these little havens) is a mob scene. You might have 1500+ people trying to get ashore and the tenders only hold 100-300 people. But once you are on the island, find a quiet place and relax. Snorkeling and other water activities are usually available, but you may want to wait till after lunch when the crowds slow down. These are very nice days and you can relieve a lot of stress by leaving a little later and than catching the last tender back.

If you spend 24 or 100 hours preparing for your cruise, don't you think that some homework on excursions should be done? Good excursions can make or break a cruise. Your time is valuable on a cruise - so make the best of it.

Line

Doug TerhuneDoug Terhune is quite the experienced "solo cruiser" and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His monthly "Ship Tips" columns are very popular with our readers.

Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Sensation's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Douglas Terhune" as your search phrase.

Doug can be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.


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