On ocean cruises, shore excursions are usually a set-in-stone experience, pre-planned and approved by the cruise line to insure quality time ashore. There is little wiggle room on where a tour goes or what is done, and for good reason: they are rated for activity level and have to conclude in time to get back to the ship before it sails away. We get that. But while understandable, those are also reasons why many cruise travelers skip shore excursions altogether, opting to go it on their own. A unique feature of some river cruises: the tours are customizable.
Sailing with Viking River Cruises, a tour each day is included as part of the deal, taking away the objection of price, a valid concern that can add up to a big expense on an ocean cruise. Tours are interesting and if nothing else provide a safe, convenient way to the city center of each place visited. Still, some travelers just don’t care for tours of any kind and make the mistake of discounting the included tour part of a river cruise as not for them.
After doing several Viking River Cruises, I prefer to think of them as orientation tours that are important to at least start out on, if for no other reason than safety. In a new town I have never been to before, it is nice to have a local guide who can provide guidance on where not to go as well as make specific suggestions en route for places to accomplish individual goals.
Better yet, if we are on a tour and want to spend more time at a place we pass along the way, we can do that. In France, we chose to break off from the tour about halfway through the fabulous Papal Palace in Avignon to find a nice sidewalk café. Armed with orientation knowledge of the area gained from our local guide along the way, we found that café safely and efficiently, maximizing our time ashore.
In the Caribbean, we commonly will simply walk off the ship, find a cab driver and go on a totally customized tour, negotiating the price at the time. On a Viking River Cruise, an onboard concierge can set that unique individual tour option up for passengers in advance, offering suggestions and pricing information.
Don’t get me wrong, the included tours are nicely planned, interesting and a big part of the overall river cruise experience. Still, for those who by default want nothing to do with an organized tour, these are a great place to start. This is not something advertised or featured in a brochure but a very important, secret feature of river cruises.