Cruise vs. Private Excursions



Will be travelling to Alaska (RCCL) September 2005. (OK: I like to plan WAY ahead!).
This will be a first cruise for husband and me. I'm a bit nervous about booking excursions outside the cruise-line, but the reviews certainly make them sound cost-effective and enjoyable. (ie: Captain Larry's whale watching.)

If you have booked outside of the cruise-line, how have you coordinated the timing of the excursions?

Also, do you have any "winners" either from within RCCL or private firms. (Inner passage September 17-24, 2005)

Any assistance or thoughts would be appreciated!



As far as Captain Larry goes I have done his tour in the past and I am booked with him on both directions for our back to back in a couple weeks. Orca Eco Tours, which is who Captain Larry is with, has a schedule of the ships and their times that they get into port so it is pretty easy to coordinate with them. They are also a short walk from the ships when in Juneau. Orca Eco Tours also does other types of tours besides whale watches.

You should have an itinerary that tells you the times you are in port and they are usually pretty accurate unless some emergancy has caused the ship to be late to port, which is does happen but not that often.

I would suggest seeing you are not sailing for quite a while you may want to wait until this cruise season is over for Alaska or into the 2005 season to see what people say about the current tours being done off the ship. If you are uncomfortable going with independents there is nothing wrong with going on the tours from the ship. After you have cruised than see what your comfort level is for booking off the ship the next time you cruise.

The main difference between going with a ships tour and an independent, besides cost, is transportation to and from the tour and making sure you are back on the ship in time. If it is a ships tour and something goes wrong to make the tour late back to the pier they will notify the ship and the ship will wait for you. If you are with an independent you are on your own and may miss the ship if there is a problem.


Independent excursions do cost less. Sometimes this occurs because the ships have the clout to get local companies to offer a better quality experience because they are guaranteed a certain number of tourists at a higher price. For example: in Ketchikan, there is a Saxman Native Village tour. Independents will take you on a tour that is identical to the Ship's tour - EXCEPT: You will not view the 13 minute video that explains about Native Culture and the history of Saxman - You won't view the Native Dance performance - you will not be allowed into the Carving Shed to meet the Totem Pole Carvers. The extra money paid for the Ship's tour will pay for those 3 experiences.

Some people choose independents because they are local. All the excursions - whether sponsored by the ship or independent - have to rely on "summer Alaskans" as tour guides. Most of the owners of the independent tours go "South" for the winter, so there is very little difference between a local company and the ship's sponsored excursions in this respect.

With the Ship's tour, you can select from a choice of scheduled time for the tour so you can fit in more than one activity. With the Independent tours sold on the dock, you don't know when the tour will start. Often, the Independents will wait until they can get at least 10 people before they will leave. The Ship's excursions will leave with just 1 person if they must.

Hope this answers your question. If I have a lot of hours in a particular port, I'd go with an Independent tour company - and take 2 different tours at the same port. It's a matter of personal choice.


My husband and I are taking our first cruise to Alaska August 29. I too was a little nervous about booking tours through private companies, but taking the advice of many on this board, I contacted Southeast Tours in Skagway re: horeback riding to Emerald Lake and Island Wings in Ketchican for a flightseeing tour. Both called me back promptly and answered all questions. They both had the ship schedules and Southeast Tours actually had a different schedule than I was given and called the harbormaster to confirm. (When I checked with my TA, I found out the itinerary had indeed changed). Anyway, both companies were very accomodating and gave me times that seemed to give us extra time before and after in case of delays. They also said they could adjust the times later on if the ship schedule changes. I think if you find a reputable company, they are experienced in booking cruise passengers and can help you schedule a tour. After all, they make their living from cruise passengers as well, and wouldn't be in business long if they don't get you back in time!


I have a slight preference for ship-sponsored shore excursions most of the time, most places I's less risky, the logistics are easier...cancellations/refunds easier, they take you right from the ship, the ship will wait if you are delayed, etc.

The relative incremental difference in cost is not a major consideration to me (for example, the ship offers a small jet-boat whale -watch trip virtually identicalk to the Capt. Larry thing and the price is within about $5 per person...and people who have taken it tell me it's excellent)...

Where I do look for non-ship excursions is where the offered selection doesn't give me what I want...

For example, for my upcoming Summit cruise, I have booked the four of us onto the Southeast Tours Horseback trip in Skagway...My daughters want to ride horses and the only horseback option offered by Celebrity is short and ill-timed, conflicting with our dinner seating time...


Has anyone booked a dog sled tour on their own? Any suggestions and names of companies would be helpful.

Mary C.

I'd also be interested in any information on a dog sled tour that was within reason. I'd love to be able to spend $400 per person for the helicopter/dog sled tour, but that's just way out of our budget.


Cruise ship lines only want to work with large tour operators. Small independent operators are not worth their time. Most of the smaller operators like captain larry will arrange their schedule to fit the ship schedules. The cruise ships do not guarantee a certain number of passengers. The tour operators have to guarantee a certain number of seats available on the tours. If the seats are not filled on the ship, the operators are out of luck. The ships do not have to pay for any tours they don't book, but the operators still have costs they have to cover.

Night rider

I know we have taken tours offered on board and found them ok. We have since booked with the independant operators which we researched and found to be great. We went with Southeast to the Yukon horseback and had a wonderful time good guides and Emerald Lake with the horses was breath taking. I hope this helps