Canadian Tammy Cecco was not a fan of cruising.
“The idea of being on a boat with thousands of other people and not being able to get off,” she said, “was something I wanted to avoid.”
That didn’t change when Cecco, a travel magazine publisher, boarded a surprise cruise booked by her husband to renew their vows in front of family and friends.
“When I came up…I thought, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing here?'” she said. “I’m not at all the type of person who likes to be penned in.”
She said she imagined “a tiny, windowless little cabin.” However, she discovered that some cruise ships have spacious suites with floor-to-ceiling windows. Plus, floors with fewer cabins feel like a “boutique” travel experience, she said.
Travel pro Tammy Cecco named the Celebrity Edge cruise ship, pictured here, as one that has spacious suites and stunning windows.
Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Once she “relaxed,” Cecco said, she began to enjoy cruise ship travel.
“Cruising has really evolved,” she said. “There’s something for everyone now.”
A strategy on the ground
Cecco has also found a way to enjoy “private and personalized” experiences ashore. she says.
She booked private excursions, instead of an organized cruise, on her last two cruise vacations – one to Russia and Scandinavia and another to southern Europe, she said.
Tammy Cecco and her family, along with her guide, Josep, in front of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. “When you’re traveling with a big bus full of people, it’s hard to dig very deep into the city,” she said.
Courtesy of Tammy Cecco
Cecco, who often travels with his family of five and his mother-in-law, said the private tours cater to 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 an excursion with a cruise line or with an organized tour, you usually go with a group of other people and you have to follow their itinerary.”
More people are returning to cruising in 2023, but even more, more people are looking for private experiences.
President and co-owner of ToursByLocals
Cecco said she had booked a private tour at “almost every stop” on their last cruise, as well as in Rome.
“We had a day where we wanted to do the Colosseum as well as the Vatican, and each of those could be a full day trip on their own,” she said. “I asked the tour guide if he could give us the best of both in one day, and he managed to combine the two expertly.”
Private shore excursions are on the rise
Cecco booked guides through ToursByLocals, a Canada-based travel agency that operates 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 from 12% in 2022.
“More people are returning to cruising in 2023, but even more, more people are looking for private experiences when they return to sea,” said Luciano Bullorsky, president and co-owner of the company.
He said people wanted to be able to use private transport, interact with a local guide and reach sites “before the tourist buses arrive”. Plus, they can go places buses can’t, like small restaurants, wineries and even a “family sled dog ranch,” he said.
Giuseppe D’Angelo (center) shown here with travelers in front of the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument in Rome.
Courtesy of Giuseppe D’Angelo
Bullorsky said most private tour bookings are made in Europe, particularly along the Mediterranean. But, he said, Alaska and Puerto Rico are also popular.
Top bookings include “Best of Ephesus” in Turkey, full-day tours of Santorini and Athens, a tour of Bermuda Island, and a shore excursion to Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia with a licensed guide. ‘a Ph.D. in Canadian history.
Giuseppe D’Angelo organizes a popular tour of Rome, but he also takes travelers to explore Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and other parts of Italy’s Campania region, including “11 of Italy’s 53 UNESCO sites”, did he declare.
“I am able to create itineraries and itineraries, including sites and attractions, that are unique, and not followed by crowds of large cruise excursions,” he said. “Sometimes cruise lines will send me a list of very popular spots like Pompeii, Vesuvius or the Sistine Chapel… In these cases, I will organize the best sequence of visits for them in order to see each place when they are less crowded . “
He said many customers 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 travelers will be returned to the ship on time – or the company pays hotel costs for the night plus travel expenses. transport to the ship’s next destination.
How much do private excursions cost
Cruise passengers can expect to pay around $100 per person for cruise-organized excursions, according to the financial website Money We Have.
Cecco paid around $600 for each of his privately arranged day trips, which included entrance fees and private transport for six people.
She said that for what they did, she “definitely” saved money as well as time, as private tours moved faster between locations. Plus, she said she had an insider’s perspective and that often elusive “authentic” experience that many travelers crave.
She said that in Sicily she ate at bakeries tucked away in small villages. In Santorini, she took pictures without hordes of tourists in the background.
On whether private shore excursions would make her more likely to cruise in the future: “Most definitely,” she said.