If you read our recent review of our trip onboard NCL Epic you'll know we were very impressed with what NCL had to offer. So much to love, the entertainment offering, the quality and variety of food and drink, the value brought by Premium All Inclusive with all drinks including water and offers as well as gratuities included as standard. It all adds up to fantastic value. However, 1 thing that was completely at odds with this was the extortionate cost of cruise excursions....quite frankly we'd encourage you to steer clear.
While we don't doubt that the tours deliver what they say they do, and ensure you're safely back on the ship on time there is no justification for their cost. Now, you may expect to pay a small premium as they are the ship lines own excursions and the ease/security of using them. But these were a different level....
For example, our 1st port of call was Naples with excursions ranging from simple transportation right up to a tour of Amalfi Coast & Pompeii. If you wanted to see Sorrento NCL will bring you to Sorrento (can be around 1 hours drive) and after about 90 mins free time on your own you'll return. While you do get a free drink or ice cream voucher to use while in Sorrento the cost is a hefty €84pp. If you want more information, more of a guided tour and do the full day Amalfi Coast & Pompeii then NCL want to charge you €339 for the privilege. This is a full day tour, and on this one does include a hotel lunch but as the rest the of the day is some free time in Sorrento, an admittedly beautiful drive, and the tour of Pompeii, this amount of money can't be justified. Especially when you can do a similar tour without the lunch with www.cruisingexcursions.com for €93 (€80 for the tour and €13 for the Pompeii ticket)
The theme continues throughout the week eg €118pp just for transport to Florence, €228 to do Florence and Pisa or €90 for a similar tour (not exactly the same) with cruising excursions.
A walking tour in Cannes is €50 per person but instead, you dock right into Cannes, walk off the ship and you're there, take the little train complete with guided tour for example at €10pp and you'll see lots of Cannes!
Rome given it's distance from Civitavecchia is particularly expensive, likely to cover the transport costs. However, NCL want to charge €160pp for 'Rome on your own by train' where a shuttle brings you to the train station and a guide escorts you on the train and is available for any information you may require. After this it's free time in Rome for you to explore as you wish before getting the train home. To us this seems hugely expensive when you can actually do this all yourself on your own quite easily and much much cheaper. 'Ultimate Rome is a whopping €337pp for a days shore excursion. Yes you are going to enter the Colosseum, St Peter's Basilica and Vatican Museum as part of your day, but you can get these tickets yourself for a fraction of the cost and realistically in a 1 day excursion you cannot do all of these 3 sites justice in one day. You will pay an astonishing amount of money without getting value and, in reality will be rushed through the sites because quite simply there's a schedule to stick to - in our opinion it would be a very unsatisfactory experience all round.
Our advice - do some research before you go, do spend some time looking at your ports, deciding what you would you really want to do, what might be nice to do and take it from there. We also recommend www.cruisingexcursions.com and judging by the number of cruisers on our ship that used them...so do a lot of people. They offer the same guarantees; they'll get you back on the ship on time, they will refund you if the ship doesn't make it into port for any reason and they claim to be cheaper than the cruise lines - in this case they were substantially cheaper.
Equally there will be other similar companies to consider and again we'd urge you to talk to your agent; they can help advise, they also can use different shore excursion companies and they can even book for you, offer you that support if you are a little nervous.
It's amazing what a little shopping around can do for you and in this case that's particularly true!