Canadian Tammy Cecco was not a fan of cruising.
“The thought of being on a ship with thousands of other people and not being able to get out,” she said, “I wanted to avoid.”
That didn’t change when Cecco, a travel magazine publisher, boarded a surprise cruise her husband had booked to renew their vows in front of family and friends.
“When I got in … I was like ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?'” she said. “I’m not at all the type of person who likes to be driven.”
She said she imagined “a little cabin with no window.” Still, she found that some cruise ships have spacious suites with floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition, floors with fewer cabins give the feeling of a “boutique” travel experience, she said.
Travel professional Tammy Cecco called the Celebrity Edge cruise ship shown here a cruise ship with spacious suites and great window views.
Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Once she relaxed into it, Cecco said, she began to enjoy cruise ship travel.
“Cruising has really evolved,” she said. “There’s something for everyone now.”
A coastal strategy
Cecco also found a way to enjoy “private, personalized” experiences ashore. she said.
She booked private excursions, rather than a cruise-organized one, on her last two cruise vacations — one to Russia and Scandinavia and another to southern Europe, she said.
Tammy Cecco and her family, plus her guide, Josep, in front of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. “When you go with a big bus full of people, it’s hard to dig deep into the city,” she said.
Thanks to Tammy Cecco
Cecco, who travels frequently with her family of five and her mother-in-law, said private tours fit everyone’s needs and interests.
“There were six of us and we wanted a private tour because the kids are often not interested in these big, long tours,” she said. “When you book an excursion with a cruise line or an organized tour, you usually go with a bunch of other people and have to go along with their itinerary.”
More people will return to cruising in 2023, but more so, more people are looking for private experiences.
President and co-owner of ToursByLocals
Cecco said she booked a private tour at “pretty much every stop” on their latest cruise, plus Rome.
“We had a day where we wanted to do both the Colosseum and the Vatican, and each of those could be a full-day tour on its own,” she said. “I asked the tour guide if he could give us the best of both in one day, and he skillfully combined the two.”
Private shore excursions on the rise
Cecco booked guides through ToursByLocals, a Canada-based tour company that operates in 188 countries, according to its website.
The company said private shore tours will account for nearly a third of all tours booked in 2023 – up from 12% in bookings in 2022.
“More people are returning to cruising in 2023, but even more than that, more people are looking for private experiences when they return to sea,” said Luciano Bullorsky, the company’s president and co-owner.
He said people want the option of using private transportation, communicating with a local guide and reaching the sites “before the busloads of tourists arrive.” Plus, they can go places buses can’t go, such as smaller restaurants, boutique wineries, even a “family-run sled dog farm,” he said.
Giuseppe D’Angelo (center) pictured here with travelers in front of the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument in Rome.
Thanks to Giuseppe D’Angelo
Bullorsky said most private excursion bookings are in Europe, especially 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, an island tour of Bermuda, and a shore trip to Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia with a guide who holds 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,” said he.
“I am able to create itineraries and itineraries, including locations and attractions, that are unique and not followed by masses of large cruise excursions,” he said. “Sometimes cruisers will send me a list of very popular spots, including Pompeii, Vesuvius, or the Sistine Chapel… In those cases, I will arrange for them the best order of visits to see each place when they are less busy.”
He said many customers ask for restaurant recommendations “with the best food and no tourists,” he said.
In addition, ToursByLocals CEO and co-founder Paul Melhus said the company guarantees that travelers will be returned to the ship on time — or the company will pay hotel fees plus transportation costs to the ship’s next destination.
How much private excursions cost
Cruisers can expect to pay about $100 per person for cruise-operated excursions, according to financial website Money We Have.
Cecco paid about $600 for each of her privately arranged day tours, which included entrance fees and private transportation for six.
She said for what they did, she “definitely” saved both money and time, as private tours go faster between locations. Plus, she said she got an insider’s perspective and that often-elusive “authentic” experience that many travelers look for.
She said she ate in bakeries tucked away in small villages in Sicily. In Santorini she took pictures without hordes of tourists in the background.
As for whether private shore excursions would make her more likely to cruise in the future, “Definitely,” she said.