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Do you like cramped, airless minibuses? Is your idea of an afternoon well spent, 3 hours in a gift shop? Do you have so much money you light the Aga with a rolled up £50? If you can honestly answer yes to these 3 questions, then a cruise shore excursion might be for you.
My friends had warned me about prepaid shore excursions, saying it was better to do it yourself or at least see what they were selling at the port. The issue for me over the last 2 summers when I accompanied my mother om her annual trip, is that she is at present mobility impaired waiting treatment and it’s a risk knowing if anything she can participate in will be on offer.
Anyway, what’s not to like, they always sound brilliant in the pre-cruise blurb. Luxury transport will whisk you seamlessly from architectural gem to a pristine beach lapped by azure waters. Your tongue will deliver such taste sensations that your brain will explode, whilst the guide is more knowledgeable and better spoken than a combination of Simon Schama and David Attenborough. My experience is somewhat different.
After queueing in various places onboard for about 3 hours you finally leave the ship to find that your own coach, obviously leased from the local transport museum is handily parked half a mile away at the very end of a line of veteran transport options.
Once you get going the first attraction the guide points out is the local traffic jam, which has been a feature of these parts every morning since the road was built. You get about 90 minutes to observe the panoply of stalled traffic, local insects and exotic brands of cigarette butts littering the gutter.
Then suddenly you’re off and the driver must remember where second gear is, whilst your guide stops talking about local politics/sport teams or giving you a crash course in the language as we’re now back on track!
Sadly not the hour and half you just spent studying every last detail of the coach in front means you are now behind schedule and you no longer have time to visit the imperial palace, Roman remains, world famous view or shake hands with the prime minister as you really really must get to the first gift shop on time.
Having sped past various points of interest which you were time barred from visiting you now arrive at the first souvenir shop where you get at least 2 hours to purchase mementos of all the places you didn’t visit this morning. Your guide has gone missing at this point.
If you’re lucky enough to be offered lunch, once the coach reappears, you’ll be whisked off to something resembling a hygienic dungeon where you’ll be offered some local variant of international cuisine, probably pasta and the option to upgrade your 7up to glass of local wine just for the cost of a day’s salary.
Once replete you’ll be packed back into your mobile cage so that you can pass by this afternoon’s highlights. Huge palaces, invading Martians will all pass your semi curtained windows by, as you make for this afternoon’s slightly larger gift shop.
Here will not only lurk souvenirs, but artfully presented examples of local clothing all shipped from the local clothing factory somewhere in deepest China. If you happen to be in China, do not worry, your merchandise is almost guaranteed to come from Vietnam.
Having spent 4 hours in souvenir shops, 2 at lunch and if you were lucky, 30 minutes outside the Taj Mahal (or similar,) your transport of choice then gets you back to the ship just in time to rendezvous with everyone else returning, maximising the delights of queueing for the gang planks and lifts.
How much do these wonders cost I hear you ask? Well the average shore excursion for 2 is a steal (as in they are stealing from you,) at about the same cost as a weekend mini break in Paris or a Michelin starred meal. Next time I think I’ll just stay onboard.
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