For the first-time cruiser, would you recommend booking all excursions thru Carnival or booking them with independent agents myself? If not using Carnival, can you be sure you've found someone reliable? Would hate for the ship to leave me at a port! Also, if you don't go thru Carnival, what's the protocol for getting off/on the ship? I'd like to save some $$$ if possible, but don't want to be stranded somewhere or have a bad excursion. Thoughts on this?
Although I usually recommend sticking with the cruise line tours for a first timer, it is also true that some ports are perfectly safe for using private tours. For example, your itinerary includes Grand Cayman and Cozumel and both of those places are perfectly safe to do your own tours. In Belize and Roatan I'd say go with the ship's tours, although a man named Reggie does tubing tours in Belize and is highly regarded.
Another consideration is whether you are tendering ashore or docking. In ports where the ship anchors and you have to use tenders, taking a ship's tour means you get off the ship first and don't have to wait for a tender. This often causes angst for Grand Cayman since that is a tender port, yet has many fine private tour operators. People book tours and then fret about making the tour time. My advice in that case is to not book an early tour. If the ship arrives at Grand Cayman at 8am it is unwise to book a private tour for 8:30am. That is cutting it too close.
Debdo, Chankanaab Park on Cozumel was mentioned in another thread. For example this is something you can do on your own. The same for Paradise Beach. There will be a line of taxis waiting at the pier. This is also true to go to Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman. I agree with Dave about Belize and Roatan. It is better for first timers to do a ship's tour. The only exception would be if you had a group going together, as is my case as a first timer on Roatan.
More and more, especially in Cozumel, I am noticing passengers approaching the actual people conducting the various excursions and negotiating deals that are far cheaper than what you would pay booking through the ship. The pro is that you can save money but the major con is that the excursion may be sold out. On a previous trip to Cozumel, before I started going on my own excursions, I booked a tour with Shoretrips that included biking and snorkeling. We were on our bikes about to leave when a couple walked up and wanted to go on the excursion. They negotiated a price while the rest of us waited over an hour in the hot sun while they had to round up more bicycles and snorkel gear from another location. If the delay had cost me the opportunity to go to Pancho's Backyard, it would have taken a proctologist an hour to locate that guy's snorkel.
I agree it was totally unacceptable. I would have voiced my opinion...
But at Cozumel we always do our own excursion and feel perfectly safe. But we always allow ourself plenty of time to get back to the ship. we always get back on the ship early.
In nassau the same thing.
But with Belize and Roatan we have decided to do a shore excursion because we really dont know much about the area, maybe our 2nd cruise there we will feel better about doing it on our own.
I book all of my excursions thru the ship...I always know where I'm going and when...plus you do get first off the ship.....Just got back from Alaska and didn't have any problems with the excursions....I do pay a little more, but it's like buying insurance...happy cruising...
Thanks for all the advice! I'm going to book everything thru Carnival my first time out. Since I'm not only responsible for myself, but also my daughters, and I'm not familiar with any of the ports, I think this is the best choice for me. I'm sure I'll pay more, but I'll have peace of mind! Happy cruising!