How to get away from cruise ship crowds

Canadian Tommy Secco is not a fan of cruising.

“I wanted to escape the thought of being on a ship with thousands of other people and not being able to get off,” she said.

That doesn’t change when Cecco, a travel magazine publisher, boards a surprise cruise booked by her husband to renew their vows in front of family and friends.

“When I got on … ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?’ I thought so,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to be herded.”

She said she envisioned a “little cabin and no window.” And she found some cruise ships Featuring spacious suites with floor-to-ceiling windows. Plus, floors with fewer cabins give a “boutique” travel feel, she said.

Travel professional Tommy Cecco named the Celebrity Edge cruise ship, shown here, with spacious suites and great window views.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Once she “relaxed,” Cecco says, she began to enjoy the cruise ship journey.

“Cruising has really evolved,” she said. “Now there’s something for everyone.”

A strategy on shore

Cecco also found a way to enjoy “private, personalized” experiences on shore. she said.

She booked private instead of cruise-organized vacations on her last two cruise vacations — one to Russia and Scandinavia and the other to southern Europe, she said.

Secco, who often travels with her five members and her mother-in-law, says the individual tours fit everyone’s needs and interests.

“There were six of us and we wanted a private tour because often kids aren’t interested in these big, long tours,” she said. “When you book a vacation with a cruise line or an organized tour, usually you’re going with a bunch of other people and you have to go along with their itinerary.”

More people are returning to cruising in 2023, but even more are seeking private experiences.

Luciano Bullorsky

President and Co-Owner of ToursByLocals’

Cecco says they booked a private tour at “pretty much every stop” in Rome along their last cruise.

“We want to do the Colosseum as well as the Vatican, and each of those could be a full day tour on their own,” she said. “I asked the tour guide if he could offer the best of both in one day and he expertly combined them both.”

Private shore excursions are on the rise

Cecco booked the guides through ToursByLocals, a Canadian travel company with operations in 188 countries, according to its website.

The company said private shore tours accounted for nearly a third of all tours booked in 2023 – up 12% on 2022 bookings.

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“In 2023 more people are returning to cruising, but even more people are looking for private experiences when they return to sea,” said Luciano Bullorski, company president and co-owner.

He said people want the ability to use private transportation, interact with a local guide and reach sites “before the busloads of tourists arrive.” In addition, they can visit small restaurants, boutique wineries, “family-run sled dog ranches,” and places where buses can’t go.

Giuseppe D’Angelo (center) shown here with passengers in front of the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II in Rome.

Courtesy of Giuseppe D’Angelo

Bulorski says most private cruise bookings are in Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean. But, Alaska and Puerto Rico are also popular.

Top bookings include full-day tours of the “Best of Ephesus” in Turkey, Santorini and Athens, an island tour of Bermuda and a shore excursion to Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia with a guide with a Ph.D. In Canadian history.

Giuseppe D’Angelo runs a popular tour in Rome, but he also takes travelers to explore Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and other parts of Italy’s Campania region, including Italy’s “11 of the 53 UNESCO sites.”

“I’m able to create itineraries and itineraries, including sites and attractions, that are unique and don’t follow the big cruise line groups,” he said. “Sometimes, cruisers send me a list of the most famous places, including Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius or the Sistine Chapel … In those cases, I arrange the best visits for them to see each place when it’s less crowded.”

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Many clients ask for restaurant recommendations “with the best food and no tourists,” he said.

On top of that, ToursByLocals CEO and co-founder Paul Melhus said the company guarantees passengers will return to the ship on time — or the company will pay overnight hotel costs plus transportation fees to the ship’s next destination.

How much do private cruises cost?

Cruisers can expect to pay about $100 per person for cruise-organized excursions, according to the financial website Money We Have.

Cecco paid $600 for his personally organized full-day tours, which included entrance fees and private transportation for six people.

What they did, she said, “definitely” saved money as well as time, because private tours move more quickly between locations. Plus, she says she’s gained an insider’s perspective and that often-elusive “authentic” experience that many travelers seek.

She said in Sicily, she used to eat in bakeries in small villages. In Santorini, she took photographs without crowds of tourists in the background.

On whether private shore excursions will make her more likely to vacation in the future: “Absolutely,” she says.


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