To book a Disney excursion, to not book a Disney excursion? That is indeed the question. I’ve done many, official Disney Cruise Line excursions, I’ve done many non-Disney excursions, and there are pros and cons to both! Here are some of those pros and cons for booking a non-Disney excursion so you can decide which is the best option for you!
1. Pro – Money Savings – It’s true, you can often book a very similar excursion to those offered by Disney for a lot less. Sometimes, it’s the exact same excursion through the same company! We’ve booked excursions directly with the company for less, and been on the same trip with other guests who booked directly with Disney. Some companies have exclusive contracts with Disney the days they are in port, so this isn’t always possible, but it’s worth checking. When you are comparing prices, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. The excursions booked directly with Disney will be more likely to include things like snacks or meals, and transfers.
2. Con – Time Risks – The biggest risk for me when booking outside of the cruise line is the risk of time. If a Disney excursion is running late, the ship will wait in all but the most extreme of situations. If it was absolutely impossible for the ship to wait, and I have only seen this happen once in the last several years, Disney will take care of the guests and get them to the next port. If your non-Disney excursion is running late, what happens? Bye bye, ship! Your vacation just got a whole lot more difficult, and expensive. I recommend giving yourself a lot of extra time with any excursions you book outside of Disney. Pro tip: Don’t book a non-Disney excursion that’s scheduled to get you back to the ship within 30 minutes of the ship’s departure time.
3. Pro – Different Minimum Ages – Disney is a lot more cautious (and strict) about minimum ages for excursions. With several types of active excursions, the minimum age that Disney sets is a couple of years older than most private excursion companies. Segways and scuba diving excursions are examples. I’m not talking about letting a 4-year-old drive Segway. I’m talking about the difference between age 18 for Disney or age 16 without. If your children are just missing an age cut off, check with the company about booking directly!
4. Con – No Money Back if You Don’t Dock – If a Disney ship doesn’t make it into port, you will not be charged for any excursions booked with Disney. The same may not be true for excursions booked with private companies. We were told by a private company in Geiranger, Norway, that they would not refund our excursion because they did not agree with Disney’s decision not to dock. Check the fine print when you book! Side note – The Geiranger company did refund our money after a Facebook group from our cruise threatened a mass posting on Trip Advisor, but that’s another story…
5. Pro – More Options – There are some things you may want to do that Disney just doesn’t offer! There are an awful lot of private companies out there that are looking for your business. Disney does not cover every option in every port. If you don’t see something with Disney that appeals to you, look at private companies.
6. Con – No Quality Guarantee – While there is no quality guarantee with Disney excursions, there is some recourse. Disney does listen to feedback. If guests are consistently complaining, or have valid complaints, Disney will stop using a particular excursion operator. You can expect a certain level of quality with Disney, and if it doesn’t meet that quality, you can voice your concerns. If you book with an outside company, you can and should check reviews. But unfortunately, outside of writing your own review, there isn’t much that will happen. You probably aren’t getting any money back if it’s bad.
7. Pro – More Availability – Some popular Disney excursions do sell out! When they do, you can sometimes find the same or similar excursion still available with an outside company. It’s happened to me!
8. Con – More Research Needed – Because of the aforementioned possible quality issues, you need to research outside companies a lot more! My advice is to read every review you can find online. Also, pay attention to the details! Are transfers included or do you need to get somewhere on your own? See where the tour picks you up and check how far away that is from the ship. Make sure you know how to get a hold of someone on the day of the excursion if you get delayed or can’t find your starting point—especially if you will be in a foreign port with no cell service! Make sure you do your homework on this one.
9. Pro – Possible Group Discounts – If you have a large group of people, some outside suppliers will negotiate the price with you. Get a group together in your cruise Facebook group and see what you can find! Some of our best days in ports have been renting private charters with a small group.
10. Con – Payment is Usually Due Sooner – One nice thing about Disney excursions is that you are not charged until you are on board, and you can change or cancel them up until 3 days before you sail. That is not the case with many outside companies. Most will require payment at the time of booking, and will have strict cancellation penalties.
So now that you’ve read the pros and cons, where should you look for non-Disney excursions? Your travel agent probably has some recommendations for you, and we have some information on each port here at TouringPlans. There are also some good reputable suppliers who offer lots of options. I like Shore Trips and Project Expedition. I’d also recommend googling the port and available activities, and reading reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp.
How about you? Do you have any tips or warnings about booking non-Disney excursions? Let us know in the comments.