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.