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Cruising? Shore excursions or do it yourself

Author: Barry S
Date of Trip: June 2009

It amazes me how people love to experience different cultures yet herd together when they arrive in another country.

There are advantages in travelling in a group and having an expert guide escort you through churches, ruins, and other places of interest.

Yet surely you can do this on your own with someone who knows the area you are visiting?

What beats me are the numbers of people who take the organized shore excursions on European cruises. I can appreciate that you would want to be escorted in your own language in a totally strange environment, but to do so in a civilized country where people speak English has always baffled me.

Recently we took a Holland America cruise on board the Oosterdam which included a number of Greek ports.

We docked in Piraeus which is simply the gateway to Athens. The ship’s itinerary boasted ‘Transfer to Athens. From the ship to the Plaka for six and a half hours of free time on your own’. They were charging $79 per person for this Athens shuttle.

We walked from the port to the Piraeus train station with a few other passengers and took the excellent local train into the heart of Athens. We alighted at the station by the Parliament building. From there we walked to see the Changing of the Guard at the Presidents Palace. This is only three hundred meters from the 1896 Olympic Stadium.

I had already visited Athens and the Acropolis so we took a cab to the Temple of Zeus and, from there, to the Plaka where I humored my wife with a couple of hours of shopping before catching the train back to the ship. Our return train journey cost us both 20 Euros.

If it wasn’t for ancient Olympia nobody would get off the boat to visit Katakolon. It’s a small, one street, hick town that fails to cater to cruise passengers’ needs, except for a couple of car hire firms.

The advertised shore excursion on Oosterdam for Olympia was $68 per person. We hired a car with another couple for 40 Euro which equates to $56. That worked out $14 each as opposed to $68. We saw everything there was to see at Olympia and strolled through the local town. To be fair, I should add the 8 Euro for gas. Still a huge saving than taking the organized bus.

Finally for this cruise was the shore excursion that lots of people took from SANTORINI to OIA. I don’t know if you have been there. It is really beautiful and is a must to visit. The cruise line bused passengers between these two small towns at a cost of $74 a person.

We walked to the local bus station. The return bus ride was five Euro a person. That’s $7 against $74!

The ride is a pleasant twenty minutes but the cruise price was a rip off.

It amazes me that so many intelligent people seem unable to use initiative when travelling abroad. I don’t know if it is a sense of insecurity, or if they leave their brain at home.

It is possible to get off cruise ships, as we have done in Naples, Lisbon, the Caribbean, and other destinations, find a local English speaking cab driver, tested him on his local knowledge, negotiated his time, and had wonderful experiences.

It’s not that I save money on these cruise vacations. My wife gets it in the end and blows it away in the stores and shops…

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