to the walled city of Korçula, Croatia & starting point
for a walking tour
to Read an Excursion Description
What are you getting? Or, more importantly, what are you
getting yourself into?
Some of the most frail
appearing Senior Citizens can run circles around me, so when I see
they are part of a tour group I generally think nothing of it.
Except on a tour of Valletta and Mdina, Malta... a walking
tour. When the bus delivered us to the city gates of Valletta, a
spry little woman informed the guide that her husband couldn't
possibly walk the distance to the Palace of the Grand Masters. At
that point it was apparent he'd never be able to handle the
cobblestone streets of Mdina either. Unfortunately, the couple had
either misinterpreted the tour description or overestimated their
abilities. They also hadn't researched the port, otherwise they
would have realized the streets are too narrow to accommodate a
"city tour" on a bus.
Pay particular attention to
the symbols or comments in tour brochures which indicate the level
of activity participants will encounter—walking, strenuous
walking, or climbing. Be realistic when determining the suitability
of excursions, especially if you have physical limitations.
Words & Catch Phrases
If shore excursion
descriptions sounded boring, no one would book them, so it's no
surprise that they contain phrases like "incredible marine
life" and "pristine waters." However, ordinary words
and phrases can take on an entirely different meaning when applied
to organized tours.
tour" or "Introduction to..."—The bus
passes a lot of sights, but won't stop at them all. Often
referred to as "Highlights"
will see..."—The bus
will drive right by as the guide describes points of interest.
stop"—Have your camera ready for a brief pause to
tea, soft drinks during the day. Possibly champagne at night.
Unless specifically included in the cost of the tour, you're on
Bar"—Usually included on sailing/snorkeling tours
and includes beverages such as beer and rum punch, plus soft
drinks. If the "theme" of the boat is "pirate
ship" or something similar, it is probably not suitable for
kids. When returning to the pier, guests on party boats have
been known to moon cruise ships as they sail past. Oh my!
to and from the beach, often near a hotel resort where
facilities are available to participants and a beverage is
sometimes included. Bring sunscreen and a beach towel from the
offered during an all-day tour. Food is generally pretty good,
sometimes a buffet, but when it's sit-down service the menu is
usually "set"—don't plan on being offered a variety
comfortable shoes and be prepared for hilly terrain and walking
on uneven or cobblestone sidewalks/streets. Stairs may also be
encountered. These are not tours for wimps.
Island, off the Cozumel coast
Cruise lines don't own the tour companies—they are
independent contractors, chosen based on their reputations for
safety and service. Oftentimes, several cruise lines use the same
tour operators and, in some instances, individuals can even book
tours with them independently.
An example is a beach
day that can be spent at Passion Island when Carnival Cruise Lines
and Princess Cruises ships visit Cozumel. Following are their
descriptions for the five-hour shore excursion:
Island Beach Adventure With Lunch
"Travel to Passion Island, crossing a tropical
lagoon, and visit a stretch of secluded beach far from the crowded
resorts. WHAT YOU VISIT: Board your air-conditioned transportation
at the pier and drive through town, headed for Bahia Ciega on the
northwestern coast of Cozumel. To reach Passion Island ride
through the calm lagoon on the motorized transfer boat. On arrival
receive a brief orientation on the island's amenities and sip a
refreshing welcome drink. Then enjoy ample time to relax on the
white-sand beach, swing in a hammock, swim, sunbathe, or explore.
Complimentary beach chairs, freshwater showers, a volleyball court
and other beach activities are available. The complimentary open
bar serves both non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages; lunch
features a Mexican-style buffet lunch. SPECIAL NOTES: Participants
must be at least 21 years old to consume alcohol. Bring a towel
and adequate sun protection."
Cruise Line: Isla
Pasion Beach Adventure VIP
"Escape to a
private island beach paradise for a day of fun in the sun. On this
excursion you will take a short ride from the ship to Bahia Ciega
Pier, cross over to Passion Island by motorized tender, stroll
along Passion Island’s white sand beaches where swaying palm
trees and a variety of birds welcome you to this tropical
paradise, relax on a raft or go for a refreshing swim in the
tranquil waters, or enjoy sunbathing or a relaxing swing in a
hammock soaking in the majestic charm, enjoy a traditional buffet
lunch of Mexican fare, grilled fish, and BBQ chicken as well as a
domestic open bar. Note: Travel time to the island is
approximately 40 to 50 minutes each way."
Check: What did CruiseDiva.com think of Passion
Island? We're glad you asked... "We boarded a bus bound for the
dock where, after a short boat ride, we would be on Passion Island.
Part of a natural preserve, and named for the fact that it was a
favorite spot for honeymooners, Passion Island was cut off from the
mainland by a hurricane in 1988. That quirk of fate makes it an
incredible 'private' island for a day of sun, surf, and
"Don't plan to
spend the day here if you want action. While an excellent Mexican
buffet lunch and an open bar are included, a maximum of 600 people
enjoy the island and its tranquility—Passion Island isn't a spot
to party hardy. There are no paddle boats, jet skis, or parasailing
to upset the ecological balance. Passion Island is ideal for
relaxation and some recreation. Plenty of great lounge chairs line
the beach, thatched huts and palm trees offer shade, hammocks sway
in the breeze, and, for more active beach-goers, there are
volleyball nets. Noticeably missing are the annoying vendors found
on many beaches, although there are nice souvenir stands with good
buys on silver and crafts. Bring your own snorkel equipment if you
wish as the water is incredibly clear. However, with no reef
offshore, the underwater scenery isn't abundant. It's a day of sun,
sand, sea, and pure pleasure!"
In short, we loved it.
Food was good to great, the staff was friendly, and it was an idyllic
beach day. Worth the cost? We say "yes"—if you are only
planning one "beach break" and your cruise itinerary
doesn't include a private island, this is as good as it gets... no
crowds and an abundance of privacy!
questions if you have any apprehension about the suitability of a
tour, particularly if you have mobility challenges.
early—Some ships' excursions sell out quickly, but to
assure that you aren't disappointed, you can often book ahead of
time directly with the cruise lines, either by mail, fax, or through
their websites. Once onboard, passengers can complete booking forms
and leave them in a drop box when the tour desk is closed or use the
interactive television system in their staterooms to book tours.
However, this means there is little or no interaction with the tour
desk staff. Go ahead and book early, but go to the tour desk once
you are on board to ask any last-minute questions. If you find the
responses not to your liking, you can always cancel.
with private tour companies—Make sure they have
adequate cancellation and refund policies in the event your ship
itinerary changes or cannot dock/tender you ashore due to
weather-related safety considerations.
are not mandatory, but it is customary to tip the tour guide a
dollar or two per person and the driver a dollar per person.
ashore are rewarding opportunities—Do your homework and
invest in a good guidebook
or search the Internet for the information you need to make the most
of your time in port.
Excursions vs. Independent Touring
Time" vs. "Island Time" — What's that all
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Ports of Call —
Getting away from it all shouldn't mean getting into trouble.
If you haven't done it
already, isn't it about time to get a passport?