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Excursion Meltdown: Why I'll Never Trust a Third-Party Provider Again

As I waved goodbye to my intrepid son-in-law as he walked down the hallway toward his passion for undersea discovery, I couldn't help but think about how he had braved the cold, murky waters of the Pacific Ocean in the northwest to be certified in time for the cruise. This was his first cruise and dive outside his initial certification. Everyone going on this cruise was so excited!

The cruise line was not offering the dive my son-in-law wanted on this sailing, so I sent him the link to a third party company. He booked it (well, his wife did) and was ready. His dive was our first stop on the cruise - Nassau, Bahamas. After docking and being cleared to leave the ship, he went off on his excursion. His excursion started pretty early, so out of our group, he was the first one off the ship while the rest of us were still trying to wake up.

After fully waking up and having breakfast, my daughter, oldest grandchild, my husband, and I headed off on a more leisurely snorkeling excursion after she dropped the two younger kids in the kid's play area.

Side note: I originally booked our excursion with the same company as my son-in-law. Things were working on returning to normal, and I heard stories of people's excursions being canceled at the last minute due to staffing issues. I chose to cancel our excursion with the company and rebook the same thing with the cruise line. I figured dealing with a cruise line cancellation would be easier than a third party. I would have done the same for my son-in-law, but there were no scuba diving options for what he wanted to do.

After a good time snorkeling, we were back on the ship. After returning to my room, I texted my daughter to ask if her husband was back.She didn't know. After picking up the two littles from the children's area, they headed straight for ice cream.

A little while later, while relaxing on my balcony, taking in the views, I got a text from my daughter saying guest services called her because they did not have a record of her husband returning to the ship. Since our reservations were connected, guest services called my stateroom asking for my 9-year-old granddaughter, who was on the reservation for my room. Of course, they were looking for my son-in-law.

My daughter's stateroom phone was ringing, and everyone was in panic mode. Thankfully, my daughter had the excursion information and called the company for assistance.

The phone calls to the excursion company could have been more helpful. They said they would check and try to get a hold of the company. During these calls, it wasn't once said that the excursion my son-in-law was on was scheduled to be returned to the ship by a specific time. They were going to call my daughter back.

While dealing with stateroom calls from guest services and cell phone calls to the excursion company, we hear the dreaded overhead page asking my son-in-law to report to guest services. Anyone who has cruised knows one of the last things they do for missing guests is ask the guest to report to them. This is to ensure their system hadn't made a mistake and the guest may be onboard before leaving. Yes, leaving. By this time, security had already come to my daughter's stateroom and collected my son-in-law's passport to leave with the port authorities so he would have it to arrange other transportation. They were preparing to leave him.

Fortunately, we had balcony cabins that faced the port that day. We could see all the activity in the area. As my daughter still frantically tried to get a hold of the company again and communicate with guest services (they were extremely helpful and patient as they called the excursion company to find out my son-in-law's whereabouts), we spotted a van pulling into the area.

My daughter noticed the van's coloring and said she thought it was the van's color on the excursion company's instructions. She double-checked her paperwork, and sure enough, it was the van. We couldn't see who got out then, but we were confident it was my son-in-law. I told her to go to guest services and let them know we just saw him being dropped off. This was 30 minutes after the ship was to have left!

I'm standing on the balcony with my three grandchildren, trying to get a good look at who got out of the van. In the meantime, my granddaughter was convinced the ship had started moving, and we were leaving her dad. I assured her we were not—at least not yet.

In the distance, I see a figure casually walking to the ship while a golf cart takes off in his direction. At this point, I knew for sure it was my son-in-law. I see him casually walking, and then he pauses, realizing something is wrong, and starts running. He is picked up by the golf cart and brought back to the ship. What a relief!

I could not sleep that night. I kept seeing my son-in-law running down the pier each time I closed my eyes.

One of my biggest anxieties is being left behind on a cruise. On my first cruise with my husband, after we had been married only a few months, we were dropped off at the port after our tour. We had some time, and two more tenders were scheduled back to the ship that afternoon. I refused to wait until the last tender and left my husband at the port while I took a tender back to be safely onboard. Yes, I did. Of course, I then worried that he wouldn't make it. He gets me now and has changed his attitude about this.

If I'm not on a cruise-sponsored excursion, I like to be back on the ship with at least an hour to spare. In fact, on this particular cruise at this port, we had about 45 minutes to spare after being dropped off. My husband wanted to explore the area a little more. He could see the look on my face and knew it wasn't worth the stress for me, so we headed back to the ship.

I was somewhat traumatized by this event. Some people may think that's a little extreme, but we all have our anxieties and fears that others don't and may not understand. I have to do me. Even as I share this story with you, I still get emotional about it.

My son-in-law did not take a watch or phone with him since he was going diving. He trusted the operator to get him back in time, as did I. He was clueless about the time. I didn't know he hadn't brought anything but his underwater camera that day until we were panicking and had no way to reach him.

After this incident, I can no longer trust third party excursion companies to get you back on time. Yes, this one had a return-to-ship guarantee, meaning they would get you back on time so you wouldn't get left. While my son-in-law did not get left, he was not brought back on time, which caused a lot of stress and anxiety for those of us onboard.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Monica, it was just this one time. Mistakes happen. He made it back on time; you can take extra precautions next time." True, but 1) I shouldn't have to if there is a guarantee, and 2) To make matters worse, after returning home, my daughter called to try and find out what happened, as we never heard back from the person she spoke to while on the ship that day. My daughter was informed that their records showed my son-in-law was dropped off on time, and they don't know what he did after that (imagine the sound of a car coming to a screeching stop).

I watched my son-in-law get dropped off that day 30 minutes after the ship was to have left, and they told my daughter he was dropped off on time. At this point, contesting it wasn't worth the time or energy. We were home, had a great time, and decided not to use that company again.

So there you go; this is why I no longer recommend or choose to use third party excursion companies. I did book a tour outside the cruise line after this incident, but it was scheduled to end 4 hours before the ship departed that day. I figured that gave us plenty of time to deal with any hiccups. Plus, it was a private tour, which gives you more say in your itinerary and allows you to end it early if you choose.

I love cruising, and excursions are a big part of my experience. I'm not one to get off and wander around the port area. I need a plan. So what do I do if a cruise line doesn't have the excursion I want, as in the case of my son-in-law or one a client needs? First, find an alternative through the cruise line. Keep checking back. Sometimes, additional excursions get added. If not, I will consider several things before booking with a third party. For example, what time does the excursion end, and when does the ship leave? How far is the excursion from the port? How comfortable would I be in the location if I were to get left?

I put a lot of care and planning into my cruises, including the ones I plan for my clients. I consider all the fine details so you don't have to, allowing you to fully immerse in each destination without logistical worries.


Are you ready to book a cruise where you only need to focus on making unforgettable memories? Let's talk! I'd be delighted to help you pick the perfect vacation and shore excursions explicitly tailored for you and your travel style. Consider me your cruise concierge, here to handle all the particulars with care.


Reach out anytime to get the planning started, and treat yourself to a dream getaway this year. I look forward to helping craft your wonderful, worry-free cruise adventure!

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