Yes, you most certainly can, and there are several options available when choosing shore excursions. Don't just assume the cruise excursions offered by the cruise lines are the best way to go. There is no doubt that some cruise lines do offer good cruise excursions but others can turn out to be duds.
All too often, cruise line excursions translate into long bus rides to see almost nothing with drop-offs at shops selling souvenirs you can live without. It is not unknown for passengers who thought they were being driven back to their ship were invited to stop for refreshments at a little shop belonging to a relative of the tour guide. Finally, you will often pay more for the privilege of letting the cruise line arrange your day than you would if you booked directly with a provider.
The cruise lines will often tell you:
The most used tactic by the cruises lines is to big up the issue of the possibility of missing the ship. Our experience is that this is all just sales talk as the cruise lines need shore excursions as a way of extracting additional revenue out of their passengers. Shore excursions are a big money earner for most cruise lines.
It's fair to say that the cruise lines sometimes offer shore excursions that would simply not be possible to do on your own. We had an amazing tour of Pearl Harbour and dinner on the USS Missouri with Seabourn. With Crystal Cruises we attended a banquet at The Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Shore excursions, or cruise excursions, are organised by the cruise line using a local tour operator. The cruise line pays the tour operator about half of what you pay. That means if a tour was $150, then probably only $75 would go to the local tour company. They themselves would most likely subcontract the tour to minivan or minibus drivers who do the actual excursion and they will get about half again. Which means the people that actually deliver the cruise excursion makes approximately $35-$40. So of the $150 which you paid for your 'official cruise line trip', only about $35 ends up with the person who actually delivers your tour. Something to think about when deciding.
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Having travelled on some of the worlds most prestigious cruise lines, including Cunard, Crystal Cruises, Crystal River Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Uniworld and Windstar Cruises, we are able to share our perspective and first-hand experiences to help you get more from your cruise.About Luxury Cruising