Hi Frugalistas! I’m delighted to bring you this guest post courtesy of fellow Australian blogger, Lyn, from A Hole in My Shoe. Cruises are not my area of expertise, and I know they can be expensive. And that’s before you do any shore excursions. Lyn and her husband, Steve, managed to do their dream Mediterranean cruise in true frugalfirstclasstravel fashion. They did everything they wanted to do, in style, for a fraction of the cost!
Only rich people take cruises
There is a misconception that all people who cruise are rich. That is not true. It takes a lot of sacrifice and sticking to a strict budget for average 9-5 working Mr & Mrs to afford a cruise. We had saved hard for this once in a lifetime cruise on the Royal Princess and our first time in Europe.
Trying to keep within our budget and not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to sail in Europe on a brand new ship, we found it was cheaper to book the final sailing of the inaugural season. We shopped around and booked cheap flights and found a good deal on travel insurance. Now booked to cruise the Grand Mediterranean’s amazing ports in Europe we wanted to see as much as we could, so began looking at ship excursions.
Dreams come at a price
Can you imagine our anguish when we tallied it all up and it totalled a staggering amount of $2,350 for us to do the ship excursions and include the places on our ‘must see’ list? Ouch, as much as $2,350 would hurt the hip pocket, we knew we would be disappointed if we couldn’t fit excursions into our budget.
How could I go to Rome without seeing the Colosseum and Vatican City, Florence without seeing Duomo Square and Ponte Vecchio or to Naples without seeing the ruins of Pompeii and the great Amalfi coast? I could not imagine getting to Mykonos and not experiencing Little Venice or see the windmills or to Istanbul and not making it to Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar. And no trip to Athens would be complete without venturing up to the Acropolis.
How could we go to these cities and not see their main attractions we’d waited all our lives to see?
Pros and Cons
My goal now was to source other options and look at the possibility of independent shore excursions. A high percentage of passengers use ship excursions for convenience, safety and confidence. It is very convenient when the cruise lines have done all the legwork and you can either book in advance before the cruise or book onboard up to 24 hours before the ships reaches port.
We had the concern that if we had a delay getting back to the ship on time due to traffic delays or the tour bus breaking down we would run the possibility of the ship leaving port without us. That is the biggest advantage booking excursions through the cruise line, as they will hold the ship and will not leave port without a passenger if booked on their excursion.
Being our first time to Europe we were concerned to go it alone. It is a big safety factor and also the language is a barrier if a problem arises. The ship gives confidence too, using only use first class operators to provide tours to their passengers. We agreed convenience was not a factor and we had confidence we could trust reviews to select an operator. That said, independent tours are cheaper, but would we allow price to jeopardise our safety?
I searched high and low for tours online through City Discovery, Viator and similar and checked for reviews on Tripadvisor. After a lot of internet searches finally I came up with a shore excursion company that seemed to tick all the boxes. I selected our ship and the sail out date and up popped our ship’s itinerary and several options for each port. The in bold print I read the one thing that was the one comfort factor to me and a lot of cruisers.
“We GUARANTEE to get you back to your ship in time”
“All excursions and activities are fully insured”
“FULL REFUND if the ship does not port at the destination”
“Tour guides who speak YOUR language”
“Convenient collection points; full details provided at time of booking”
If it sounds too good to be true it usually is
We’ve all heard the saying, but hopefully this was the exception to the rule. I read further, not only could we book separate excursion options for each port, but also the choice of a package.
The package was for 7 ports, seeing the sights we wanted to see at each port. I couldn’t resist, I quickly hit ‘add to basket’ and went to the checkout and paid.
What had I bought and at what cost?
Mykonos – Combined sightseeing tour and walking tour, guided tour to Ano Mera and Panagia Tourliana Monastery with stop at Kalafati beach. Walking tour in Mykonos town through Little Venice, the Windmills, Cathedral of Paraportiani and other chapels and traditional houses.
Civitavecchia (Rome) – Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Vatican City, St Peters Square
Livorno (Pisa and Florence) – Pisa for Miracle Square, Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Baptistery and Cathedral. Through Tuscan countryside to Florence, Arno River, Fiale del Colli, Piazzale Michelangelo, the Piazza Santa Croce, Santa Croce Church, Piazza del Duomo and Giotto’s Bell Tower, Piazza del a Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza del a Republica, Ponte Vecchio, Brunelleschi Dome and Bell Tower, Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore
Naples (Pompeii, Sorrento & Positano) – Pompeii guided tour, view of Vesuvius, Sorrento, see Limoncello made, Positano
Kusadasi – House of Mary, Temple & Ancient Ephesus, Baths of Scholastica, Temple of Hadrian, Biblical and Grand Theatre, Tour of Temple of Artemis.
Istanbul – Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome Square and Grand Bazaar.
Piraeus (Athens) – Panathenian Stadium, Guided tour of Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Porches of Maidens, Temple of Athena Nike, Constitution Square, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier & Changing of the Guards, Plaka, Adrian’s Arch, Catholic Cathedral, Academy University, National Library, Omonia Square.
All this for $430 per person. Can you believe it? We saved a huge $1490 and got a lot for our money, including peace of mind.
When it came to the end of the cruise we’d had an amazing time; we saw breathtaking sights we had only dreamt about… and saved money. Oh and I spoke earlier about guarantee of refund in full if ship does not port. Well as it turned out we could not port in Kusadasi due to strong winds and we were automatically refunded $55 per person.
So who was this wonderful tour company I hear you ask? Cruising Excursions! I would use Cruising Excursions again without hesitation any time I felt I couldn’t organise my own way around within the timeframes of the itinerary.
frugalfirstclasstravel note: Lyn and Steve paid for their own excursions. Cruising Excursions price in Pound Sterling. All prices listed are in Australian dollars. At the time of writing 1AUD=0.94USD
About Lyn & Steve
We are Lyn and Steve, travel bloggers from Perth, Western Australia who married and began to travel at 50. Our thirst for travel started when for our honeymoon in 2011 we took our first overseas trip together and travelled South East Asia. Within the next 2 years we travelled to 16 countries and plan on seeing as much as we can of this beautiful world we live in.
We blog at http://www.aholeinmyshoe.com and can be found on
Going on a cruise is a dream of mine. I am really interested in river cruises in Europe, which are really not budget-friendly.
What a great idea. I’ve done a couple of cruises and have never even considered that this was an option. Great advice I’ll hope to use one day
Yes, Ele, I have a friend who does them regularly – particularly expensive, although a lot of them seem to have the shore excursions included, so at least it’s a one off price
Thanks – I didn’t know you could do this either. Lyn has come up with a truly brilliant travel hack!
Tamara (Globe Guide) says
Wow I’d never heard of shore excursion companies that handle all stops on an itinerary as opposed to just one- great find!
Isn’t it Tamara? Lyn has found one great travel hack!