Recheck your shore excursion descriptions upon boarding

If you read the fine print on your cruise documents, all excursions are subject to change and of course you do not have much say in the matter. Whether this is due to weather, lack of sufficient booking or perhaps equipment issues with the provider—we’ve experienced all of the above and been forced to scramble making last minute arrangements.

What we didn’t realize is that some cruise lines may in fact use some borderline misrepresentation to sell excursions when pre-booking and then change descriptions or complete them once you are on board. In our case, we had booked a nice ‘drive your own jeep adventure’ excursion and were looking forward to taking turns at the wheel, and perhaps heading out into a nature park for some 4x4ing. As the day drew near, we got the tickets out and noticed on the fine print that (a) the jeeps may be manual, which is a problem for me as I don’t drive standard, but ok my husband can drive, and (b) the jeeps take 4 people so you may be paired up—what?

Well, disappointed we were scratching our heads about whether we had missed the description when booking but both of us were confident we had not seen the ‘sharing’ part. Somewhat frustrated we went to tell the excursion desk who said they would check and update the description accordingly online. Even checking now I do see that this is listed in the fine print so perhaps it was a genuine mistake or we missed it. Either way, it’s a good practice to check.

This month’s tip is really to read over all the excursion descriptions when you get on board and make sure you still like what you booked. The cruise line gives you only until the first evening to change or cancel excursions coming up at the first port and typically 48 hours before the outing to change/cancel without penalty.

In the end, we had a good time and while we were indeed paired up with another couple, we shared the jeep with newlyweds from Atlanta who were easy going and a pleasure to drive with. We both took turns driving and the excursion was a fun one.

We had been to Cozumel before on prior trips but had always taken the diving excursions so we never saw much more than the port, the dive boat and the reef. This time we actually saw a bit of the island on land and enjoyed the adventure.

Punta Sur
Mayan Vestige
Punta Sur Eco Beach Park

A couple of other notes on excursions from the cruise line as you consider whether or not to sign up for the ship shore excursions.      Are ship shore excursions worth it or are you better off on your own? 

On some of the snorkeling trips, the tour operators told us that the cruise line INSISTS that guest wear life vests. This is one example of how I think there are extra stringent guidelines for the operators that are strictly enforced for cruise passengers as they would not want to lose the business brought to them by the ships. We sometimes felt like we were being wrapped up in cotton balls to protect us from anything too strenuous or hazardous. Even after signing all the waivers, which were commonplace, we were babysat and watched like hawks to get us back on the ship safe and sound. I guess it’s good but a little overbearing perhaps as we’re used to doing our own solo travel.

We had to laugh on one snorkeling adventure where the guide started with a 15-minute presentation starting with: “This is how the snorkel works, you put this end in your mouth like this…” Believe it or not it got worse, as he insisted that all 40 snorkelers stay as a tight group and go through a guided tour in 5-6 foot depth over a sandy bottom. With ½ the group kicking up sand and splashing and yelling—the creatures were either running for their lives or invisible in the sandy clouds and there wasn’t much that could be seen.

Even the guide had to use a life vest!

We managed to get to the fringes of the group and made the most of it, but we would have preferred to just jump in solo and quietly sit there floating to see what shows up. At the end of the tour we did exactly that, and swam towards our beach chairs instead of going ashore with the group. Only a short distance away, we saw a magnificent stingray glide through the water in front of us, a cowfish playing in the grassy bottom, and even a few arrow crabs under a ledge.

We also saw local folks offering all kind of excursions on the docks for much lower prices (and probably less cotton ball wrap) than the ship. Lessons learned for next time for us and we will bring our dive computers and certification cards too! In Grand Cayman we saw some excellent shore dives to Devil’s Grotto, literally a 5-minute walk from the tender port. We coulda shoulda woulda done 2-3 dives easily with the time we had in port.

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