At one time, the perfect honeymoon consisted of finding a beach, slathering on the baby oil and lying in the sun—and bed—for an entire week. Today, couples are looking for a little more excitement, a little more adventure and a lot more action. Enter the excursion: a guided tour of local sites and activities. Here are some tips to book the best.
Venture forth! Think of an off-site excursion as a vacation field trip that helps you experience the happenings outside your resort. There are a variety to fit your interests and they can vary in length (from an hour to a full day) and activity level (an easy-paced walking tour or a hardcore heli-hike). Serious shoppers, for example, might spend the day exploring local bazaars in Marrakech, while literature buffs may prefer a personalized tour of the Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West. Similarly, you can opt for larger group excursions or more intimate one-on-one experiences.
Be an early bird. “The best time to plan an off-site excursion is while you’re making your honeymoon travel arrangements,” says Amy Ziff, editor-at-large at Travelocity.com. Many travel agents, hotels, cruise companies and websites have established relationships with tour operators, so if there is something you know you simply must experience at your chosen destination—like learning to surf at Waikiki Beach, the birthplace of the sport—it will be easy to do. If you’re unsure about the excursion options, contact your hotel concierge as soon as you make your arrangements. That way, you’re more likely to get your first choice of activity, group size, time and day.
Play it safe, not sorry. You’ll always want to work with a reputable tour operator. And whatever you do, don’t follow the guy at the end of the dock who promises you the best deal on the island. Ziff suggests checking websites such as IgoUgo.com for peer reviews; guidebooks like Frommer’s, Foder’s and Lonely Planet have sites that offer pricing, contact info and reviews for excursions across the globe. Or stop by the tourism office at your destination to check their list of local guides and transportation providers. And if you have doubts about the validity of the operator, take a pass. Another thing: If you’re doing an active tour, like rappelling or swimming with the sharks, make sure you and the operator have insurance.
Act on a whim. If Bali Hai is calling, but you failed to make arrangements for a day hike, don’t worry. Fellow guests may have suggestions for local outings. Talk to them about their vacation experiences. Did they have a fabulous fishing trip off the coast or an unforgettable tour of a nearby museum? Get their views on what they liked about their excursion and what they didn’t. Also, most large resorts (and cruise ships) have desks in house, with tour operators available exclusively for guests. If groups aren’t your gig, have them arrange a private outing. If you’re staying at a hotel with concierge service, use it. Concierges have great relationships with local vendors, so they’ve got the lowdown on the best excursions—and deals.
Cost analysis. “As a rule of thumb, the smaller or more private the tour group, the more expensive,” explains Ziff. “And of course a helicopter ride will cost more than a sunset walking tour.” Most excursions require payment upon booking. Incidentals like equipment deposits can be paid for at the time of your outing. In all countries, tipping is customary. According to Ziff, “It’s usually appropriate to tip around 10% of the excursion price.” If your guide went above and beyond normal duties, such as showing you Hemingway’s favorite bars, or if the tour was physically demanding, like rock climbing in Utah, consider upping your gratuity to 20% of the excursion’s cost.