I’m not talking about pickpockets, but the extra charges on cruise ships that drive up the cost of your cruise. Travel expert Pauline Frommer has some good advice on how to enjoy cruising — without leaving large parts of your travel budget on the ship.
LONG BEACH — Day One of the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show is in the books, and as usual, there’s a lot to share, starting with Pauline Frommer, who has a lot of advice for saving you money when you travel.
We’ll be hearing a lot more from Pauline in subsequent posts, but with folks already starting to book their cruises for 2012, I wanted to get this bit of 4-1-1 out there immediately.
Cruising is not just one of the most popular forms of mass travel in the world today, but also can be one of the most cost-effective. One incredibly low fare covers your transportation, lodging, meals, and entertainment.
Or does it?
Pauline Frommer, author of her own guidebook series and daughter of the Godfather of Travel, Arthur Frommer, would like to administer you a serious dose of reality on that.
As she explains it, your cruise fare doesn’t cover that much of the cost of the cruise, so the cruise companies rely on the extra amenities on board their ships to make up the difference — specialty bars and restaurants, shops, spas, and all that good stuff.
It’s no accident that cruise lines usually will let you buy booze in port, but won’t let you drink it on board. They confiscate it on the gangway and won’t return it to you until the cruise is over.
One of their biggest moneymakers, she warns, is the shipboard casino, so don’t count on hitting it big at the roulette wheel on board The Love Boat.
The spa is another major venue the cruise ships have of massaging the money out of your wallet.
Between them, the casino and the spa can make up 75 percent of the cost of a given cruise, Frommer says.
Another big money gouge on cruise ships: Shore excursions.
As an example, a typical one-week cruise will make anywhere from two to five port calls, and the ship will be selling a range of shore excursions for every one of them, ranging in cost from $20 or $30 to $100 or more — per person, per port call.
It adds up quickly and it adds up in favor of the cruise lines.
Does this mean you should forget about shore excursions entirely and confine your cruise to the ship and the dock? Absolutely not.
It just means you need to be smarter how you go about buying your excursions, and that’s where Pauline Frommer comes to your rescue.
Why, she asks, should you pay $75 to get on a tour bus to a scenic park in Alaska to hear a ranger’s presentation when a local bus will take you to that same park for less than two bucks and you still get that same ranger’s presentation — for free?
And that’s the key, really. When it comes to excursions on shore, the tours offered by the ship will almost always be your most expensive option. There are two options when it comes to saving money on this. One is to think local. The other is to shop in advance for local shore excursions.
When it comes to shore excursions, the cruise lines know they’ve got competition from local tour operators. They try to leverage their passengers with two factors in their favor. One is convenience. The other is fear.
From the moment you settle into your cabin, you’ll find printed material telling you about the shore excursions on offer from the cruise line. And at first look, it does seem more convenient to peruse those offerings at your leisure and then pre-pay for them at the purser’s desk, rather than trying to pick an excursion and pay for it on the dock.
And don’t think for a minute that the cruise lines don’t take advantage of their passengers’ fear factor in dealing with locals in a foreign port.
But here is where Frommer says the Web can help you beat the odds — and the cruise lines.
Just as there are Web sites that can help you shop for bargain cruise fares, there are also sites that can help you shop for shore excursions, which are every bit as good as what the cruise lines offer but can be substantially cheaper.
One of those sites that Frommer recommended is Shore Trips. They’ll let you search for shore excursions according to your destination, the cruise line you’re using, or the specific type of experience you’re looking for.
Port Compass is the most text-based of the three, which makes it more difficult to navigate. But it makes a point of telling passengers that it’s a US-based company, which some travelers definitely will find comforting.
You may find similar sites on your own: do a Web search on the term “shore excursions” and see what you find. Keep a special eye out for sites with good references for business ethics and who vet the local tour operators they recommend.
But don’t forget to do your own homework when it comes to shore excursions. Research local attractions before you go and how best to get there via local transportation. You’ll save a ton of money.
One caution if you go local, however, and Pauline Frommer stressed this: Wear a watch in port.
The last thing you want is to get so caught up enjoying your time ashore that you literally miss the boat.
Edited by P.A.Rice
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