Q – 12.1.23 We just returned from an in-depth cruise in Japan aboard the Regent Explorer. Overall we had a lovely time. However, we were disappointed (as were many fellow cruisers) with Regent’s “Pre-Vibrant Tokyo Tours”. Essentially, the tours were drop off bus rides to sites with superficial brief commentary by “Guides” who simply told passengers to “walk around on your own and return to the meeting sites within 30 – 45 minutes–or less”. Quite frankly, it is a waste of time to spend 15- 20 minutes strolling around unescorted in Tokyo’s wonderful National Museum. My husband and I ended up hiring our own private Guides who gave us outstanding, comprehensive and unique tours in Tokyo.
We met a travel agent aboard the ship who was a host (Free trip perhaps) for the Virtuoso organization. Interestingly, she told us that she also books private tours avoiding the Ship’s tours. Per her insights and our own experience we question whether the current quality of Regent’s “All Inclusive Tours” outweighs the cost/benefit of cruising with Regent?
Although there were some artwork changes from the last time we had cruised The Explorer, we have to say that dining in the Pacific Rim remains outstanding–and seems to be a favorite venue among a lot of our fellow cruisers.
All in all, a wonderful experience but we are concerned about our new perceptions about Regent touring. Why should tours we arranged on our own be better than the ones carefully selected by the cruise line? And what’s with the “Fleeting glimpses of Tokyo” tour that was included?
Q – We are going to try to give your question the space it deserves:
After air, the segment of the cruise experience that produces the largest number of complaints is touring. Let’s use Venice, Italy as an example. On a typical day in-season, Venice can have between 12 and 22 ships calling. About half of these ships are designated “Mega-Liners” meaning that they are carrying several thousand guests. There are also hundreds of crew members who have the day off in port and they often need to sign up for tour experiences.
Add to the number of cruise passengers requiring touring, the fact that Venice is a city that is trying to keep cruise ships away from the central Canal area, and you have the makings of a monumental logistics operation. And then you have to ask ………….
Where are the tour buses coming from and who owns them? The reality is that in most worldwide ports you only have one or two companies that have the equipment to move that many cruise passengers. That means you are sailing into a virtual monopoly. The bus companies can offer the tours they wish to offer and the cruise lines can discuss options and offer suggestions etc. but they do not control the process. In fact, finalization of cruise ship tours is done by the ship’s Purser staff working with their on-shore representatives. But touring is always under local control.
Then there is the question of the guides. Where do they come from and are enough certified guides available? In Venice, for example, one must ask where the guides live. A home in central Venice is extremely expensive. Often, guides must travel great distances to reach their work.
And then there is the stark reality that about half of all cruise passengers want to see the major sites while the other half wants to meet locals, explore the dining scene, and get a sense of real life in modern times with little interest in history. or the “Ancients”.
So cruise lines have to deal with that as well. That is why no cruise line is currently earning A+ scores for its land programs. Planning touring for several thousand people each of whom has paid several thousand dollars fore the experience is an operational challenge of the highest magnitude. Regent’s tour programs are similar to but not better than those offered by other five-star competitors. They are all drinking out of the same tour trough. And often there are fewer options than we would like.
Private touring is always an option and there are some good companies starting to make a dent in this market. But given that Regent includes free shore excursions, few of the lines guests feel any need to spend more money to purchase tours when the same essential tours offered by other lines are included in Regent’s fares.
As to the three-night Tokyo package included with your sailing as a comp pre-cruise package: Tokyo may be the world’s most expensive tourist city. Were Regent to include the kind of detailed, longer, and personally guided sightseeing you would have preferred, there would have to be a significant cost increase. You did have the option of not taking the Tokyo introductory package. We do agree with you that Regent’s wording of the tour was not as clear as it should have been regarding the manner in which guests would be dropped off to explore on their own.