Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cruise Tours - Why The Huge Mark Ups? Its Your Fault!

This summer our plans for the family vacation changed. (It is a long story.) The result: We just decided to take a 13 night cruise on the brand new Celebrity Equinox round-trip Rome, but visiting Israel and Egypt. (You can read my review of her sister, the Celebrity Solstice here. She truly wowed me.)

This is especially appropriate since Iamboatman Jr. had his Bar Mitzvah last weekend and he is thrilled!

So the first thing I did was find out what Celebrity was offering in the way of tours in Israel and Egypt. Regardless of whether you find them to be good value or if you never plan to find yourself on a bus with 50 of your new friends, there is lots of good information in their descriptions...and red flags as to what the "tourist" venues are going to be.

But in this instance there was a curious slant to the cruise line's tour descriptions...and one I frankly never thought of: Israel is the holy land for many religions and Christians tend to fill the ships more than Jews or Muslims. So the tours were definitely focused on the majority. (I have no complaint with that at all. It makes sense from a business standpoint; giving people what they probably are most interested in.)

Then I thought, the Rabbi takes the temple's high school kids to Israel every year, so the guides that he uses would focus more on what Jews would be interested in and they would be perfect for my kids. (See, it isn't always about knowing where to go...but how to see and experience a place from different perspectives!)

So after doing more research, checking out the preferred and recommended operators, the cruise line's offerings and the Rabbi's recommendations, I found something which was quite troubling: I was able to book a truly superior, semi-customized, private tour for my family at about a third (1/3) of what the cruise line was offering as part of a group tour. I am sure the cruise line's offering will be of solid quality, but at such a premium?

Aside from "That is another great reason to use a knowledgeable travel agent", there are two other thing to be learned from this experience:

First, if you are unwilling to step outside of the confines of the mass market you will are paying a big premium just to feel a little safer and you will have, without question, a more "tourist" experience than a "personal" one...and, at times, you might miss exactly that which you are interested in.

Second, the cruise lines need to make money somewhere. I was able to book this cruise at a retail price of about $165 per day per person in a Concierge Class balcony cabin complete with champagne, upgraded amenities, daily hors d'oeuvres, etc. It is, without question, one of the most outstanding travel bargains I have come across. (You read about Alaska for $60 a day, but that is for an inside cabin; not an upper balcony on a Europe/Asia/Africa cruise.) Hence, the tours are a way to regain some of that lost income.

Now if you are happy spending $45 a person for a bus to the local beach rather than grabbing a taxi for $20 total for the four of you, so be it. But if you are willing to venture out...even if just a little bit...imagine how much more you can do - and how much better you can do it - if you take the opportunity to have a personal experience rather than just a safe one.