Hi cruising koalas, welcome to Cruise-Chat. After final payment, you should receive your excursion package or you should be able to see it on-line. If you are familiar with the area, you might be able to do excursions on your own for less. However, if this is the first time you have been there, I would highly recommend doing a ship's excursion. We do ship excursions for a few main reasons: if something happens while on the excursion, the ship will wait; I know the ship has checked out the vendor; if I am not satisfied with the excursion, there is someone I can turn to. You can also use the find feature, in the upper left hand corner of your post and type in the ports you are interested in. That will pull up various posts pertaining to the port. If something interests you, you could post an additional question or send a PM to the original poster. Hope this helps a little. Best wishes and once again, welcome aboard!
All of what Penny says is quite true. However, we have been cruising (and traveling) in Europe for about 35 years and have only taken one cruise line tour (in St Petersburg). Cruise line tours are overpriced, overcrowded (50 on a bus is not my idea of the way to see anything) and very tourist oriented. For those of us very comfortable traveling in Europe, going off on our own has many rewards and often costs a fraction of a tour. For those not wanting to be independent, its often much better to arrange a private tour. There is a lot of info on the internet about private tour options. If you do want to be independent, many of us here and on some other boards can give you info and the internet offers tons of valuable tips. As an example of savings, the cruise lines generally charge about $75 a person for a bus from Civitavecchia to Rome (takes about 1:15). But, you can also take the free port shuttle to the entrance, walk about 4 blocks to the train station, and catch a train into Rome (about 1 hour ride) for less than $20. In Naples, you can pay an inflated price for a tour to Capri, or you can walk about 5 min to the hydrofoil terminal, buy your ticket (the same boats used by the tours) and after a 50 min ride you are in Capri where its easy to get around on your own by walking...which is exactly what they do on the tours.
I also agree with every word of Penny's advice. If you are not familliar with Europe or the ports you'll be visiting, venturing out on your own can be unwise and frustrating even if you read all about the ways others more familliar with the train system and its ease and low cost take advantage of. Toting your luggage from some of the airport locations to the sometimes distant pier locations can present challenges many with limited mobility or other factors could be impossible or at a minimum a great challenge. Knowing which transfer tickets or trains needed for the second leg can get you lost or scrambling for the right pass. Read all the things out there about others experiences and judge for yourself how adventurous you are and how much of the planning you're up to and willing to do to save the $$$. If you want it low cost and to not require some due diligence on your part you're out of luck.
Plan well and be prepared for exactly what to expect in planning and physical exertion or spend the difference and let the cruiseline take the profit and the problems you're likely to encounter out of the equasion. If you love Europe and plan to go back regularly as Hank has, you may then be able to better appraise the risks and savings benefits. Going it alone or even with outside vendors is not without risk especially for novices.
Thanks guys for your responses re shore excursions. Being the first cruise, we think we will do the shore excursions, possibly the cheaper ones. We are sure they will be great. After all we are on holidays and visiting places that we never thought we would go!