I am taking a cruise out of Bari of Greece in Oct. Is it advisable to buy the cruise ship excursions in Athens, Santorini, Olympia and other places?? they seem very expensive Michelle Campbell
You mean the add-ons where every cruise line makes its money? That's where the profits go - it's not the room or board.
It depends on how much time they give you ashore. If it's only 4-5 hours you will need to take the excursion if you want to get the most out of your time. If it's longer you can DIY. For Santorini you have to subtract the time it takes to tender you ashore to the old port below Fira, ride up the cliff in the gondola and then do the same in reverse. That's at least 1.5 hours of your "free" time wasted. Excursion passengers get priority for debarking and are taken to a different port where there are buses waiting for the tour.
We have been on six European cruises. After the first one we do not do the ship excursions for a couple of reasons. They are relatively expensive and often involve a lot of hurry up and wait because someone is always late back to the bus. However, the advantage to the ship excursion it covers everything and you cannot miss the ship if tour would be delayed. They do all the planning but you pay for that convenience. If you are going to do the port yourself then you have to do a lot of homework. Need to spend time researching the port - what is there to see (one clue - check to see where the ship's excursions go), determine and understand transportation options, buy tickets, etc., etc.,. We often spend several hours preparing for each port. A good source is often the local TI which one of the first places we often stop when we get off the ship. Sometimes you can hire a taxi drive for a half day or all tour. We have had good luck with taxi drivers. There will also be a lot of independent tours at the dock. Just ask a lot of questions. Finally, sign up at cruise critic. com for your ship and cruise dates. You will find other more experience cruisers organizing private/shared tours which can be very good and convenient deals.
I would take a cruise sponsored drop off/pick up excursion for Athens. In normal times I'd just take the metro but these are not normal times. Strikes, demonstrations yada yada. A cruise sponsored drop off/pick up excursion will cause the ship to wait until the bus returns. The take on Santorini is spot on re excursion buses vs. on your own. Rick's Mediterranean Cruise Ports book is very useful, especially so if you are new to cruising. I am NOT new to cruising and find it quite helpful. Also check out U-Tube. As an example there's a great one showing you how to get from the dock to the train station in order to go on your own into Rome ($12 apiece vs. $90 and taking the same amount of time to get there/back).
As Frank said, you will get much more information on cruisecritic.com Go to the "roll call" section, find your cruise line, then your ship, then scroll down until you find your sailing. It is one long thread, and takes some patience to get through, but you'll find lots of info on alternatives to the ship's excursions. There are always people putting together similar tours on their own. Often they have room for you to join them. There will usually be discussion about local tours that you can sign up for (often run by the same companies that run the ship's tours - just cheaper) or guides that you can contact. A lot of the ship's tours have much time built in for shopping and/or eating. The private tours often see and do more.
We took a two week cruise round trip out of Athens in October 2011. I also think the excursions are often pricey, and we try and avoid them when we can. I think we took the ship sponsored excursions in three or four ports, only because the places that we wanted to go were not close to the port. I would really have a hard time going with a private, non-cruise sponsored excursion a great distance from the port, because if the bus has a flat tire the ship will leave without you. Not so if you go with the cruise line sponsored excursions. One of our criteria for choosing a cruise was the ports and whether we would be able to just walk or tender into town. You have to be careful about cruises that stop at a lot of ports where the major sight of interest is a couple of hours away. Also be aware that for ports that require a tender, the people taking a cruise line sponsored excursion often get priority on tenders, and you may be waiting until they get off the ship. Don't feel as if you have to decide everything up front; we only booked one that we definitely wanted to go on before we got on the ship. That said, if this is your one chance to see a one-of-a-kind sight, do book in advance. Often the cruise staff will be pretty up front with you about when an excursion is not really necessary, though you may find a big line at the excursion desk. I agree with the folks who said to go to Cruisecritic; they have a cruise ports section that will give you an idea of where your your ship will likely dock relative to the action in a given port. I also recommend Rick's book on cruise ports. As much as I would prefer to recommend doing Athens on your own, based upon our experience I say book and excursion. Athens is just too unpredictable as to what might prevent you from making it back to the ship. Competition for cabs from the port may be stiff, metro may not be running on the day you are there (strikes), and so on.
In March of this year our HAL ship left the port of Lisbon leaving two passengers behind. Where they got to is a great mystery. Since Lisbon was our first port of call, you can imagine that this left quite an impression on all of us; every port after that we saw passengers racing back to the ship with time to spare. We sat on our balcony sipping wine and enjoying the entertainment. I sometimes wonder if those two missing Romanian passengers really existed or was HAL just scaring the bejeebers out of everyone with a little drama.
thank you all for your replies I found them very helpful I also looked up Ricks cruise port suggestions as you directed me to.