April 2, 2012 at 2:38 PM ET
Cruise lovers who hate being stuck with the expensive shore excursions offered by their cruise line can now find better value alternatives, thanks to a website launching today: Viator Shore Excursions.
The site, run by activity booking engine Viator, pledges discounts of up to 60 percent off the price of more than 500 comparable ship-arranged excursions.
Until now, cruise lines have had a near monopoly on the sale of shore excursions, which make up about 25 percent of a typical cruise line's profits. Viator's service amps up the price competition. There are other sources for deals out there worth trying, too, especially ShoreTrips.com and ShoreExcursionsGroup.com.
Searching for a shore excursion is straightforward. Enter your cruise ship name and sailing dates, and check the types of activities you prefer, such as jungle safari, privately led shopping tour, or a photography class. The site then shows you tours that sync up with your ship's itinerary. It works at more than 80 ports for all of the major cruise lines, such as Carnival, Holland America,Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Princess, and Royal Caribbean.
For instance, the site is touting a Hilo, Hawaii, shore excursion to Volcanoes National Park to see active volcanoes Mauna Loa and Kilauea as well as the gorgeous Rainbow Falls, from $59 a person. The comparable tour on NCL is currently $89 a person.
Viator's new site guarantees an on-time return to your ship or else it will pay the full costs of transporting you to the next port in time to catch up with your ship. In another perk, the company pledges that if you find a lower price for the tour elsewhere, it will refund the difference.
Tours are typically available to book up to a day in advance of arrival in port. In many cases there are no penalties if an excursion is canceled days ahead, though travelers should read the fine print on any offer before booking. In comparison, most cruise-arranged excursions can be canceled for a refund up to 36 hours in advance. Through April 30, 2012, bookings on Viator Shore Excursions that use the code SHOREX10 receive a 10 percent discount.
We hope the launch of the new site leads to a price war on shore excursions, which would be good news for anyone who likes to cruise affordably.
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