I recently had an issue with Princess Cruise Lines about their charges for shore excursions. In Belize, we decided to go cave tubing, for which Princess charged us $99 each. People on the same bus that took us to the place said they booked the excursion online for $45 per person. Isn't Princess gouging the passenger?
That's a definite maybe.
When you book a shore excursion, essentially you are doing the same thing you do when you book any packaged tour, whether it's cave tubing in Belize or 10 days in Europe: You're leaving the details to someone else.
Generally on shore excursions, you're paying for what you get as well as for some intangibles, which include someone else (Princess, in this case) minding all those details, especially making sure you get back to the ship in time.
"We understand that sometimes passengers believe they have paid more for a tour booked through Princess than another passenger paid through an independent tour operator," says Karen Candy, media relations manager for the line. "It's important to compare the two fully."
Candy says that on a shore excursion, passengers sometimes get preferred treatment (including entrance to jammed museums without waiting in line), the knowledge of a trained tour guide, entrance fees and refreshments.
David Molyneaux, editor of TravelMavens.net, which offers advice on cruising, adds, "One of the responsibilities of the cruise line is to inspect the local tour operator for its license, its insurance and for any food preparation. Otherwise, the cruise line could be liable for negligence. For that, and for profit, the cruise line takes a cut."
Molyneaux suggests that the stout of heart might consider booking their own excursions by doing a little homework, working with the local tourist board. "They will know which operators can be trusted," he said. "Usually."
It is that last word that might give the risk averse some pause. If you spent $99 on a shore excursion and your neighbor paid half that, maybe what you're really paying for is peace of mind. And, really, isn't that why you're on a cruise in the first place?