The biggest part of planning this trip has been getting tours set up. We do not like to do tours through the cruise line. The main reason, of course, is the cost. We have found that you can find local tour companies that will do wonderful tours for about 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of a similar excursion through NCL. And, the groups are smaller and more enjoyable. We so much enjoyed the people that we were on tours with on our last cruise; we knew that we wanted to do something similar this time around.
I ordered a bunch of books from the library about our various ports of call. I was completely unfamiliar with almost every place we were visiting! I learned quickly that using digital versions of books was not going to work; you can’t leaf through an e-book like you can an actual book, and you really don’t want to read guide books cover to cover. Especially when you are only interested in one or two cities in a particular country! I was hoping to find out what the major attractions were for each port of call, and to see if I could find any leads on recommended tour companies.
I also started reading Trip Advisor and other on-line travel sites. I read the pertinent “Ports of Call” sections on Cruise Critic. I started to send out emails to some companies that I located using these resources. We really wanted to do shared tours, but didn’t yet know anyone else on the cruises.
I had signed up for the Roll Calls for all 3 legs of the cruise. Wendy, a woman I had met on our last cruise, had volunteered to be the Meet and Greet coordinator for the Dubai to Singapore leg (the Meet & Greet is a get together that takes place towards the beginning of a cruise; it is a chance to meet the people you have been chatting with on the Roll Call). I went ahead and volunteered to coordinate the Meet & Greet for Rome to Dubai and Singapore to Hong Kong. Remember, I am the “super organizer” type!
I started sending out emails to a few of the tour companies I had found. I told them I wanted prices for a party of two, but also prices if I was able to find some fellow Cruise Critic (CC) members that were interested in joining us. I then added columns to my spreadsheet as the information came in.
I decided to start a shared tour spreadsheet for each leg of the trip, which I then posted on Cruise Critic. If someone was interested in joining one of the tours I had set up, they simply needed to add their name(s) to the appropriate column. There were a few tours that required additional information; that was noted on the spreadsheet as well. The spreadsheet was also to be used by those that were setting up tours other than the ones I had researched; it was never intended to be “Heather’s Tours” only! Anyone on the cruise could add a column to get others to join their tours. I did this for all 3 legs that we were signed up for.
Sign ups for the tours started pretty slowly. I like to plan things WAY in advance; probably further in advance than most of those on the cruise! But, people started signing up. And, people started contacting me for further information. As all of this was going on, I fell and broke my shoulder. Of course, it was my right shoulder, and I am right handed (extremely right handed!). Fortunately, my orthopedist wanted me to use my iPad or laptop for at least an hour per day, so I was able to keep up on my communication with fellow cruisers. By this time, I had people from many different countries emailing me about my tours. I remember one comment from one of them asking, “Do you ever sleep?”. LOL, due to the pain from my shoulder, the answer was no! I could doze for a few hours at a time (at most) in a recliner, but it would be a couple of months before I could sleep in our bed, and sleep through the night.
The tours took on a life of their own. With the guidance of the tour companies, I had set up a maximum number of participants. For almost every tour, that maximum was exceeded. I would then contact the company to see if we could add capacity. Then, I would let the participants know whether or not they could be added to the tour. Some of my tours have nearly 60 passengers!
Every morning (still), I have emails from fellow CC passengers! I enjoy hearing from people. Some are writing for additional information; some (at this point) just write to keep in touch. Everyone has been very appreciative of the time I have put in to setting up these tours, which makes me very happy. We all benefit; in general, the more people on the trip, the cheaper it is per person. And, the tour prices are saving everyone money over booking through the cruise line. I am very excited to meet my fellow cruisers in person after all of these months of communicating on-line.
I plan on cutting off tour sign ups in early September in order for me to have time to contact each company one final time before we leave. I want to verify prices, pickup and drop off times/locations, what is included in the tour cost, any special dress code (we will be visiting religious sites and there are restrictions on what is acceptable dress), etc. I will then post the information on the tour spreadsheets so that all tour participants know what to expect.
I must admit, I am a little nervous about my role in all of this. I feel personally responsible that the tours are of good quality, and come off without a hitch. I hope that my fellow CC people are understanding if problems arise.