Thanks for the comment! I would be happy to provide you with the links after I have finished the day with that vendor. As I haven't used these companies services yet- I don't want to recommend someone who does not do a good job. See if the post below helps!
So, how do you find excursions in a foreign land?
Honestly, I have to say that the best way is spending hours and hours on the Internet- using many, many different terms in the search engine of your choice. I happen to like Google. I looked at what DCL was offering and I was really surprised. I know that the cruise line charges more- but the prices seem REALLY high for what were offering and many of the choices were lackluster. I was also disappointed that diving was not offered. After all, the Mediterranean has some great dive locations. Sometimes it seems that they miss the mark. I think they are taking advantage of the fact that we are in a region where English is not routinely spoken and people are afraid they will get stuck and miss the boat.
For each location, I had many different options and I selected what worked best for our group. I also decided to different excursions, than what my friends are doing, at some locations. In Florence, my friends wanted to see the Uffizi and David. I wanted to see the David and Pisa. So- I posted on the Disboards what I wanted to so and asked if anyone wanted to join me. I was able to put together a group who wanted to see the same things. In this situation, this is what was best for our group. I am seeing what I want and their needs are being met as well.
Being the typical American, I only speak English- a big part of my selection of companies was communication. I was not keen on the idea of getting stuck in a country where I don't speak the language and feeling like I made a mistake. I only had one company that I am working with, where communication has been suboptimal, but selected to work with them anyways. Another criteria was if email was answered in a timely fashion. I also would not work with companies who required telephone calls- my work schedule is crazy enough, without trying to make calls to a foreign company and trying to figure out the time difference. I do not have the luxury of accepting calls during work. It's hard to get to the phone when your patient decides that right NOW is the time he/she wants to try to die.
I cannot give you the exact phrases I used, since I have been working on this for almost a year. Contacts to vendors were started between January and March, with finalization happening in April/May. My biggest complaint about booking with foreign companies is that some of them wanted you to do bank transfers for deposits. The initial process of setting up a wire transfer to company in another country and my personal bank account was a COMPLETE hassle. (My bank account is with Chase- so I was not dealing with a small company or local bank.) The bank is very cautious because of Internet fraud. It is a little freaky to send your hard earned money into cyberspace- trusting that someone will really be there when you show up in port. Another crazy thing with the bank transfers was that the bank was not helpful with exchanging dollars to Euros. Basically, if you have to wire money to Europe- know that you will be on your own to figure out these things. If possible, try to exchange in Euros vs Pounds as the exchange rate of the dollar against the pound is HORRID right now. There were companies who would take a credit card deposit, which was really convenient. Some companies would take your credit card for deposit, but will charge you a surcharge to complete the transaction. With theses companies, we opted to pay by cash upon completion, but it was one less wire transfer. I decided to prepay companies who did not charge extra fees- as it decreased the amount of Euros I would have exchange later. Hopefully some of you will be able to take advantage of these vendors, without having to do the whole process.
This is a condensed version of the process and I know it is intimidating picking excursions that are not related to the cruise line. However, I think you will have an opportunity to get away from the crowd of cruisers and get a unique opportunity to see things that others will not. These companies want you to have a good time not only with them- but they want you to enjoy their country! Many see themselves as a personal representative for their country.
As I complete the excursions, I will post more information.
If there are specific questions- please let me know and I will try and find an answer for you. Also, some of the companies offer services in more than part of Europe- but I am only using one company per port.
Thanks for the comments- keep them coming, it's nice knowing you are not typing randomly into cyberspace!