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Is Your Cruise Tour Excursion Safe?

In mid-July, seven people were injured and three killed when a glass-bottom boat capsized in the waters off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Everyone had been a passenger aboard Carnival’s Elation. I feel a connection with this tragedy since I had been on a similar glass-bottom boat excursion in the same area while cruising aboard Princess Cruises' Sun Princess. Unlike the tourists on the doomed tour, fortunately, I had listened to well-heeded advice that anyone considering a shore excursion should heed.

Saving Money Versus Safety

Glass-bottom boat tours are popular in Cabo San Lucas, as the 45-minute cruise around Land's End offers bountiful scenery and sightings of sea lions, pelicans, and tropical fish of every shape and color. I took the glass-bottom tour recommended by Princess Cruises. Whereas, passengers on the doomed boat did not take the tour recommended by Carnival; instead, they were lured by the less-expensive tour on a private boat.

Even the U.S. State Department's website advices visitors to Mexico to "carefully assess the risk potential of recreational activities. Sports and aquatic equipment may not meet U.S. safety standards nor be covered by any accident insurance."

Cruise lines and cruise directors routinely warn passengers not to take "certain" independent tours because of the aforementioned issues. One thing is for certain, if a cruise line recommends a tour, it has been thoroughly investigated.

Meeting High Standards

"We only work with well-established tour operators that have done business with the cruise industry in the past," says Carnival spokesperson Jennifer de la Cruz. Indeed, all the major cruise lines carefully monitor their shore excursion programs for both content and passenger satisfaction. Before a tour is recommended to guests, the cruise line will complete a thorough investigation of safety and maintenance records, as well as an onsite inspection. "We continually send employees on our recommended tours to make sure they are running properly," notes de la Cruz.

Cruise Tours vs. Independent Tours

Cruise line recommended tour excursions are, on average, higher in cost than independent tours, so they might seem less attractive. However, the recommended excursions are better options for many reasons. Besides the safety factor, there is also the convenience of not having to "haggle" in a foreign language or to negotiate in currencies that are unfamiliar.

On the other hand, not all independent tours are unsafe or difficult to deal with. Often, the key to using independent tours is doing research before you go. Asking people who have visited the area can yield excellent advice. Internet cruise message boards located at Cruise Addicts, Cruise Mates, and Cruise Critic can be bountiful resources for tips.

Even with good research, ask questions of independent tour operators to ensure your safety. Consider doing the following:

  • Make sure your tour is with a well-established and insured company.
  • Don't be afraid to ask how long they've been in business or if they ever
    had an accident.
  • Never go on a water or air tour if it is windy or looks like it will rain.
If the tour operator will not answer your questions willingly, move on to another operator that will.

Things Happen

If you partake in certain high-risk activities such as scuba diving, Jet Ski (wave runner) tours, helicopter rides, or parasailing, you'll be asked to sign a waver form releasing the cruise line from liability. Because tour operators are independent companies from the cruise line, there isn't a guarantee that all will be smooth sailing.

Last month while in Bora Bora, I took the cruise line recommended wave runner tour. About halfway through the tour, my wave runner had mechanical problems—it began to take on water and eventually sank! Thankfully, experienced guides were quick to assist, and I was able to finish the tour on another wave runner. Mishap and all, the tour was the highlight of my vacation. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine taking this type of tour without licensed and experienced guides—I may not have been so lucky or had such a good time.

Be Smart

Being on vacation can make one lackadaisical when it comes to safety. Just note the photos of my glass-bottom boat tour—none of us were wearing life jackets. The guide offered them but everyone shrugged him off, displaying poor judgment. The victims killed in the Cabo San Lucas accident drowned, and like us, they were not wearing life vests. In retrospect, we were lucky.

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