Be careful when booking your own tours
By David G. Molyneaux, editor, The Travel Mavens
Because cruise lines take a profit from the cost of shore excursions booked by passengers on their ships, excursion prices can be cheaper when passengers buy tours ahead of time, on their own, usually on the Internet.
The cheaper tour, however, is not always a good investment.
Most shore excursions from cruise ships pose little danger, as passengers rummage about ancient ruins, explore the local countryside, shop for crafts, lounge on a beach, meet people in a foreign land. But be careful if you decide to roam on your own, off-the-beaten track, into a potentially dangerous adventure.
Make sure that the local outfitter has a good reputation and insurance.
In 2006, for example, 12 Americans died in a mountain bus crash in Chile during a shore excursion from their cruise ship. The 12 passengers on the Celebrity Millennium were part of a B'nai B'rith group from New Jersey who had booked their cruise with a travel agent but booked the shore excursion tour on their own, against their travel agent's advice.
Authorities in Chile later said that the bus driver and the vehicle in the crash were not certified to transport passengers. Celebrity Cruises said that a similar tour had been offered by the cruise line, with a bigger bus that carried oxygen and first-aid equipment, followed by an empty bus in case of a breakdown.
Consider safety and quality
A cruise excursion booked through the ship is no guarantee of safety or quality, and cruise lines usually state a lack of liability for the excursions. Still, you can expect at least some level of investigation into safety and quality. If you have any concern about your excursion, you can ask the cruise line about the tour operator. And no matter what the cruise line says, there is a level of responsibility for excursions sold by the ship.
"We have stringent requirements for a local operator to do business with us," said Tim Gallagher, a spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines. "We check out the operator, their equipment, make sure they have insurance. We pay a lot of attention. If they serve food, we check to see how it's stored, how they cook it. While they are independent operators, if anything happens, we're the first one passengers come to."
Be especially careful if you are inclined to book trips on rickety mountain buses or to rent a motorcycle for a spin in a foreign land. Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death of healthy Americans traveling overseas.