Observed Onboard: Shore Excursions with “Extras”

August 7, 2013 | By | 25 Comments

While cruising on Star Clippers last week, I joined a shore excursion from the Dalyan River in Turkey. We were to sail along the river in a small boat, daub ourselves with healing mud from a natural thermal pool and admire ancient rock tombs cut into the cliffs towering over the river.
We were all feeling pretty mellow after the therapeutic mud bath, as the boat puttered back to the coast. And then came the dreaded words: ‘And now, we visit the carpet factory.’ Grumbling, we piled off the boat into a bus and headed out into the Turkish countryside to a carpet workshop, which I viewed as a) a waste of time and b) deeply annoying, as nothing about this had been mentioned on the excursion description.
Not that throwing in an ‘extra’ is an unusual event. Almost every cruise ship shore excursion to Pompeii from Naples is hijacked by a side-trip to a cameo workshop, where brooches are fashioned from coral plucked from the sea and dozens of tour buses are lined up in the car park. It’s a total tourist trap and the only useful part of the visit is a chance to go to the loo. Similarly, in Egypt, good luck trying to find an excursion that doesn’t include a ‘traditional and authentic papyrus workshop,’ whether or not you merely wanted to see the pyramids or visit a temple.
If you had a choice between ‘Pompeii’ or ‘Pompeii with an unexpected half hour trundling round a cameo factory’, for the same price, which tour would you book? I know what I’d choose.
And yet. The people at the Turkish carpet factory were charming. There was no heavy sell and we were given apple tea to drink. The carpets were lovely, although very expensive (realistically, nobody who’s zoned out on therapeutic mud and sunshine is going to make a snap decision in 20 minutes to spend £5,000 on a hand-woven rug. The carpet people thanked us for supporting the local economy, even though nobody bought anything, and I felt guilty for being grumpy.
One way around this diversion is to book a private excursion and insist on no ‘added extras.’ But frankly, I wouldn’t want the expense of this when the cruise lines’ offerings are usually perfectly good, this one annoyance aside.
Has your excursion ever been hijacked to visit a factory/workshop/anywhere selling local handcrafts? Do you view it as a genuine contribution to keeping local artisans in business, or a cynical way of lining the pockets of the tour guide’s relatives? Let us know.
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    25 Responses to “Observed Onboard: Shore Excursions with “Extras””

    1. Patty Groves
      August 7th, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

      NO WAY … If someone is doing that I would refuse to go in. You can lead a horse to water …. I hate when guides try to take you to stores of their choice.

    2. carole
      August 8th, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

      Lots of my cruise line excursions included a stop at a small restaurant/bar/shopping area – usually a friend or relative of the tour guide. I haven’t experienced one with a “hard sell” yet, though.

    3. Mark
      August 8th, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

      I honestly don’t think there’s a way to avoid the dreaded carpet tour in Turkey. Note the line mentioned above is a luxury cruise line – which normally will tightly control such things – but couldn’t. Such was our experience. A private tour was no escape. We booked a private tour for the day and our guide confessed that we had to go to a carpet showroom.

    4. Linda Taylor
      August 8th, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

      I went on a 6 hour each way coach trip to Marrakesh from Cairo and was to go to the famous market there with snake farmers etc. ended up 45 mins in carpet factoryand10 minutes in market. What a waste of my time and money

    5. Carol
      August 8th, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

      We went to the carpet factory near Ephesus Turkey and I found it very interesting to see how it is done. Several people in our group purchased rugs (including myself). The final price was good for what we received.

      We were also taken to a leather store and sat through a runway show of many of their jackets. This was also interesting.

      To me, these 2 stops sure beat spending time looking through all the trinket shops which are rampant in ports.

    6. Dianne Simms
      August 8th, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

      I’ve just been on a 12 day cruise in the Mediterranean.. Made up a group through cruise critic and booked 8 private tours and my first instruction was no factories.. It was fabulous to be able to choose where and when to stop

    7. Craig Jung
      August 8th, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

      We had the same thing happened to us on the way back from a tour of Ephesus. Everyone went off the bus to the right and we went left. Found our own way back to the ship.

    8. Renee Trudeau
      August 8th, 2013 @ 7:42 pm

      I totally fell for this on a Caribbean cruise. In Jamaica, the tour bus stopped at a mall (probably the tour operator’s brother’s place). I bought some fancy jewelry there, thinking it was a good price, but it was probably more than I’d have paid at home for the same thing. Lesson learned.

    9. Tim Bueschel
      August 8th, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

      If they did not go it would be great but while on a cruise in the Mediterranean pretty much every excursion had one of these stops. Yes we did go to a cameo shop in Pompeii not so good. But in Grasse we went to a perfume factory and I found it very interesting and we purchased some perfume.
      The leather factory was just a big store we spent way too much time at that could have been used in Rome.
      I don’t think these stops are terrible unnecessary but can take too long.

    10. Heather Todd
      August 8th, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

      It’s not only Cruise tours who take you to ‘their’ shops. We’ve been on several bus tours through countries and they always take you to ‘their’ shops as well AND the tour guides tell you how badly they are paid and how much they rely on YOUR ‘tips’ to make an honest living. Now you tell me, who in their right mind would escort tourists around in a bus for days at a time if they weren’t being paid enough? And I’m talking about British tour guides not European ones who perhaps aren’t being paid much.

    11. Kay
      August 8th, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

      It happened twice on our Mediterranian cruise, both times to carpet places. At the first one I went in and sat silently but impatiently until we left. On the second tour, I refused to even go in, just walked around outside until I saw the group going back to the bus. It’s my vacation and my time, so I won’t book another one unless I know I’ll not be placed in that position.

    12. GLORIA
      August 8th, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

      Just happened to us recently in St Petersburg.

    13. Shepard C. Willner
      August 8th, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

      Yes, I’ve been “hijacked” to a variety of workshops in the last several years of cruising in Europe. Here are examples:
      Sorrento: The woodcarving/inlay demo in one of the shops on the road leading into the city and opposite a hotel (2010).
      Anacapri, Capri: A wood inlay carving demo in one of the apparel shops across from the chairlift ticket office on a main plaza (2011).
      Amalfi/Sorrento: Above-mentioned cameo demo in the store just before reaching the port (2010).
      Malta: Glass blowing and jewelry shops just before going to the venue for lunch (2012).
      As for commission-based souvenir shops, the only case I can recall a tour guide leading us to was a store in Seville, Spain (I sort of guessed she was getting a kickback from the store when she got some soda from the cooler near the cash register without anybody protesting) (2000).
      Bottom line: My guess is that some of the stores w/the wood carving demos virtually required attendance if they allowed you to take a leak at their loos: if you’re going to use their facilities, they’re thinking, you should at least return the courtesy of watching their artisans turn lumber into pretty objects. The same thinking applies to the cameo factory: if you’re going to use their facilities, please thank the hosts by taking the time to look at their merchandise–I did but I didn’t want the stuff.

    14. M La Terza
      August 8th, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

      I won’t do excursions where we have to stop at rug factory’s or leather factory’s or whatever it is a waste of my precious time and you know the cruise company gets a percentage of any sales

    15. Lorrie
      August 8th, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

      While on a Panama Cruise our guide stopped me from purchasing merchandise from a street vender. I continued with the purchase. The next stop was a group of shops. He took us to a doorway and said this was the way to the main shops. It wasn’t. It was a hard sell shop. Turned and walked out.

    16. Natascha
      August 9th, 2013 @ 2:42 am

      In some countries, you know this is coming. You cannot go to Turkey or Egypt and not go to the carpet shop. Many guides do not understand why western tourists get so head up about it. They just want to show their culture, and they actually think tourists want to see it. Also, it is their culture to support each other.

      In Turkey, the carpet, leather and jewellery store are actually mainly government operated, to preserve local traditions and crafts and combat regional unemployment. The tours are often very well organised, and the information is often interesting. The Turkish government actually subsidises your tour, so the shops are always included. I hate the hard sell, and will never buy anything, but just say NO and eventually they will back off if you tell them they should try and convince somebody else. We are taking a week long land trip to Turkey again this year. We know what is coming, that is why the price of our tour is so low, basically the Turkish government is paying. Like our guide said last time: just smile and stay polite. These people are only doing their job. No need to get all agressive over it.

    17. H
      August 9th, 2013 @ 9:23 am

      One excursion had us stop at a grocery store in Roatan, Honduras. We thought that was totally pointless. I expect a stop where the locals have an opportunity to sell you souvenirs, which I rarely purchase. I get that’s part of the tourism capital, but sometimes, it is pointless.

    18. Natascha
      August 9th, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

      @Linda Taylor: WOW, 3000 miles in 6 hours, I want that tour!

    19. MJP
      August 9th, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

      On a tour across Panama from Colon to Panama City to catch a flight home, we got less than 45 minutes at the locks, then over 2 hours at a mall that could have been anywhere in the world! Even the food court could have been in the US! Waste of time and money. Next time, we’ll book a taxi!

    20. Trish Coppock
      August 9th, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

      Like previous comments we have been hi-jacked as part of an excursion to visit shops we have absolutely no interest in.If we’re going to make any kind of purchases it will be in my own time at my own discression. We are totally fed up with cruise lines bulking out their over inflated priced tours to include these shopping portions of their excursions. We also now join roll calls on cruise critic for many of our excursions.

    21. Mad Jayhawk
      August 10th, 2013 @ 9:21 am

      I love carpet factory tours. We have one in every room in our house. We are working on carpeting the garage next. I even know how to throw one. Carpet throwing should be an Olympic event.

    22. Mad Jayhawk
      August 10th, 2013 @ 9:41 am

      My absolute best stop-n-shop tour was on a tour in Belize. Our little tour van stopped at a road side stand where they gave us samples of a local wine that they probably bottled out back that morning. It was so good I think everyone bought a bottle. The guys running the stand, the driver’s cousins, were really funny. The van driver had a couple of sample glasses with us. He also stopped at a roadside market selling fruit and a few trinkets – an uncle’s place. I bought fresh picked bananas for the whole van for $1. We still got to see all we wanted of the Mayan ruins. No harm. No foul.

      If you do not want what they are selling, talk to the locals. They are interesting, believe it or not, and like to take a nice break in their day at the store. I actually find that better than looking at some broken down ruin full of cranky ghosts.

      Enjoy life. Smile.

    23. Gerhard
      August 10th, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

      @Linda Taylor: Cairo to Marrakesh? In 6 hours? In a coach? Dear, those 2 cities are half a continent apart! :-)
      Apart from that, I HATE it when cruise lines and / or tour companies (irrespective if they are “from the cruise line” or independent) sneak any sort of “demonstration” or factory visit in the program.
      Especially in Turkey – and other Middle Eastern countries these bloody carpet factories are such a bore. And some of these carpet vendors are seriously rolling out rugs that are quoted for many thousands of Dollars. The equivalent would be being dropped off at a car show room during your city tour of Munich to buy a BMW.

    24. Bob thorman
      December 26th, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

      @ Linda Taylor: If you make a side trip to Marrakesh I guess anywhere in the World would only feel like a 6 Hr: detour? Light up another one dear.

    25. Martha Fletcher
      May 20th, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

      We were hijacked by a private tour guide on St. Thomas to a little home of a couple. The husband was a U.S. expat who moved to the Caribbean and went native. He ran a little bar but we did not mind as he was entertaining, interesting to talk to, and we were the only visitors there. I kind of felt like a friend being shown around. I knew what was going on when the bar tender passed some fresh fruits and veg over to our taxi driver. All in all a good experience.

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