If you were able to read my post last week you know that I just recently came back from a 16 day, transatlantic cruise. Oh, I'm still missing those sea days and all the great conversations!
While onboard, I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of people about their experiences in port. Some were similar to what I had done, others I had never
even considered and will definitely keep in mind the next time around. With a relatively short amount of time in port one needs to make the best of the time available, and many ideas were fabulous.
So what is the best way to see a port? Explore it on your own, take a tour with the ship or find your own tour? Some ports are great for going at it on your own, especially if transportation is good; others a guided tour may be your best bet. A lot of it depends on whether you have been to the port before, how comfortable you are exploring on your own and how easy it is to get around to the sites you want to see.
I must admit, I am a bit biased when it comes to exploring a port. I'm quite independent and so going off on my own is often the norm, especially when I have someone with me. Those Hop On Hop Off buses regularly call my name! And nothing beats just casually walking the streets, ducking into a café and observing local life. If an excursion is my best bet, I almost always go with an independent operator. In fact it has been quite some time since I have booked an excursion directly with a cruise line.
That doesn't mean one shouldn't book with the cruise line. They offer a wonderful array of options for their guests, most focused on the top sites in the area. And in some ports the only way to go is with the cruise line. But cruise excursions certainly are not the only option. Independents offer similar or better options and are competitively priced, often times less than what the cruise lines have. And here is an insider tip: Cruise lines have done a fantastic job "scaring" people into thinking that independent operators aren't safe or won't get you back to the ship in time. Yes, one needs to do some due diligence in checking credentials, but these tour companies rely heavily on cruise passengers and in a world of social media, they can't afford to offer poor service. Most are very trustworthy. Just check the reviews!
A great example was the Golden Circle tour I took in Reykjavik. Your Day Tours, a wonderful small company I found through Iceland Tourism, picked us up and dropped us off right near our ship. We had 15 people in a mini van with wonderful, very local, very authentic guide ( "Aevar the Viking") who took us first to Faxi, a beautiful waterfall that he had only learned about last year - a special stop! He then treated all of us to some Icelandic delicacies (smoked lamb on flatbread) and a malt based drink before heading to the main sites. While driving we were treated to Icelandic music and lots of great folklore. I'll have to tell you about the 13 Santas. Doubt you'll see that on a big group excursion! The picture above was taken at Faxi Waterfall. Below are a few from the rest of the trip.
If you are going on a cruise and you are looking for a special excursion (or even if you are in a port but not on a cruise), consider a private or small group tour. You might just get hooked by a more authentic experience with a true local! CALL ME! I'll connect you with some great options.
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder