Stay Safe on Shore Excursions | Craig Travel

Stay Safe on Shore Excursions

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Recently, I read an article on website cruisecritic.com, discussing safety tips to consider and be aware of before booking your cruise ship shore excursions and want to share these ideas with you. As the article stated, we're not suggesting that you should suppress the daredevil that lives within, but we do suggest that you be smart about how you select your activities and operators. You can have a great time and stay safe by following these tips.

1. Book an excursion through a cruise line, rather than on your own in the destination. Cruise lines thoroughly investigate the tour operators they do business with. They conduct independent background checks, evaluations of safety and maintenance records, interviews with local authorities and on-site inspections (some of which are undercover). Yes, cruise line shore excursions can be pricey for what you get, but the peace of mind in knowing you will be travelling with a reputable shore excursion company may make the excursion cost a little more palatable.

2. If you plan to book an independent tour, research it thoroughly in advance. There's no need to moonlight as a private investigator to determine if you're dealing with a company that takes safety seriously. You can learn a lot about the operations by how the staff answers a few key questions. For example: How often is the equipment tested and replaced? How are staff members trained? What is the company's current insurance coverage? When Cruise Critic asked Georgette McCallum of Chukka Caribbean Adventures about her company's zip-line operations in Falmouth, Jamaica, they learned that guides must complete 240 hours of gear, safety, first-aid and rescue training. That the zip-line cables are swapped out every 1,000 rides; that inspections of all equipment -- gears, helmets, pulleys, even gloves -- are conducted daily. That's the sort of forthcoming and specific information you should expect to receive from any operator. Other places to independently seek out solid information about your tour company include: websites of local newspapers, third-party standards-setting organizations, such as the Professional Assoc. of Diving Instructors (PADI), tourist boards and the National Transportation Safety Board’s Aviation Accident Database which reports on helicopter and airplane accidents in and outside of the U.S.

3. Read reviews by past participants. Hundreds of thrill seekers using http://boards.cruisecritic.com/ report very honestly on all aspects of shore excursions, including questions of safety.

4. Be honest with yourself about your limitations. You're in a foreign country about to do an activity you may never have tried before. This isn't the time to be macho. Know what you're capable of, and be honest about it with yourself and with your travel companions. Don't push yourself to go on a moderately strenuous hike if you get short of breath. Ask for a snorkel vest to help you stay afloat if you're not a confident swimmer. Say "no thanks" to a submergible submarine ride if you're claustrophobic.

5. Don’t book active excursions from touts standing outside the port unless you’ve done research in advance. Standing in a crowded port and listening to a well-honed sales pitch, do you really think you have the opportunity to know if the outfit is licensed and insured? It’s highly doubtful; you’d probably just be told what the tout thinks you want to hear.

6. Choose small-group excursions. Activities in which the number of participants is limited, afford you greater access to guides and more personalized attention. They also are considered safer.

7. Monitor weather and sea conditions yourself. Good tour operators will be doing the same thing, but independently evaluating the weather, tides and other conditions can give you peace of mind before embarking on an active, outdoor tour. Some excursions operate rain or shine. If you don’t feel safe doing a hike through a rainforest on the morning after a night of downpours for fear of slipping on wet rocks, or if you’re concerned about snorkeling in rough seas, follow your instincts and don’t go.

8. Pay attention during the safety talk. And don’t just do it in an effort to prevent catastrophic injury. Tune in to make sure you learn how to ride the bumps during an ATV tour so that you don’t land a back injury, or to make sure you don’t scrape your leg on coral while snorkeling and end up with a nasty infection. The key is to, of course, avoid major accidents but also to avoid any discomfort that could affect the remainder of your cruise or lead to lingering health problems. Plus, you’re likely to have more fun if you listen to the guides’ tips on what to do and what not to do when trying a new activity, like scuba or horseback-riding.

9. When all else fails, go with your gut. If, after booking a tour, you get cold feet, what’s the worst that can happen….you write off $79? It’s not a lot of money, but’s it’s not worth risking your health for cash in your pocket. And, actually, depending on the type of tour and the destination, the cruise line may even grant a refund if you cancel with ample notice (usually 24 hours), if you’re at all concerned about your ability to safely participate in an excursion….your bum knee just started acting up, for instance. You just need to ask.

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