Cruise ship Passengers

Cruise Ship Passengers

Every cruise line passenger has a decision to make if they plan on joining an excursion in their ports of call. Namely, should they book through the ship or directly with the excursion operator. Here we weigh the pros and cons of specific points in this decision with broad strokes, as well as Baranof’s stance on each subject.

In short, Yes. The cruise lines work non-stop behind the scenes to ensure their guests receive a seamless, quality experience on their voyages. From their pre-booking and sales teams that operate in the off-season, all the way through their shore excursion staff, they are relentless in their pursuit of customer satisfaction. That being said, the team onboard the ship sees 2,000-3,000 new people every week; their tendency is to push less exotic excursions that generate the fewest issues or complaints when a guest isn’t sure on the kind of experience they’d like to have in a given port. Decide what you want to do, speak to the shore excursion staff, and they’ll find you exactly what you need. If they don’t offer an excursion that meets your precise needs, the ship will often work directly with a company to accommodate you. Just because a tour company offers a boilerplate excursion that works for 99% of their guests, it doesn’t mean you have to take exactly what is offered. Baranof deals with special requests on a weekly, if not daily, basis. For example, we offer Wilderness Dining and Halibut Hunt excursions on most ships; this doesn’t mean you can’t charter a private boat through your shore excursion staff for just you and your kids. Don’t be shy; let them know what you need and your shore excursion staff will make it happen.

Cruise lines guarantee that should any excursion arrive late, the cruise ship won’t pull away and leave you on the dock. In all actuality, this is extremely rare. Operators in each port garner the vast majority of their business from the hundreds of thousands of guests that arrive by ship each year; all team members are well trained and motivated to get you back before your all aboard time. Baranof has taken over 70,000 guests fishing, with most of the excursions scheduled to return shortly before ship departure, and we’ve never had a guest left behind. Our plan should this happen is to make your overnight the highlight of your Alaskan adventure; you’ll be wined and dined that evening and flown first-class the next morning to your next port of call to meet back with your ship. If you do book an excursion independently and are concerned about the “what if”, any operator should have no problem guaranteeing, in writing, that you’ll be accommodated should the schedule go awry.

This is where they get paid. The majority of cruise lines, unless you’re traveling on an “all inclusive” ship, price their voyages at cost; if you boarded the ship and never left your cabin, they’d break even (or even lose money) on your ticket. If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas and were amazed at the low cost of hotel rooms, you’re familiar with the model. The ship will make their profit through the casino, sometimes on dining, and through shore excursions. Cruise lines are excellent at determining the value of an experience, so the mark-up will be anywhere between 25-100% of the operator net; whatever price point provides an experience worth the cost. So why pay more for the same excursion? Because, in many cases a company only offers that excursion to the cruise lines; they’ll send you back to the ship if you’d like to take that specific tour. All or most of an operators available seats for specific excursions are offered to a cruise line, and those seats are reserved for them until late on the eve of each ship's arrival. The cruise lines have vetted the products they offer, and work directly with the operators to provide an outstanding excursion for each of their guests. Baranof supports all of our cruise line partners in providing Hunting for Halibut and Wilderness Dining excursions. We also work directly with customers desiring a customized excursion or target mulitple species. This isn’t just paying more for an experience, however. The cruise ships are a wonderful advocate when it comes to being satisfied with how you spend your time in Alaska. If you have a special request or need, or if you aren’t happy with the excursion, the cruise lines will go to bat for you; they’ve developed trusting relationships with all their tour operators, so when you need something taken care of, they’ve got your back.

The definitive answer is “maybe”. The cruise lines deal with vast amounts of people every year (over 1,000,000 to Ketchikan alone each season), so they don’t often offer excursions operated by smaller companies that don’t have the capacity to fulfill their needs. Also, they don’t typically offer competing products – there are over 100 charter fishing boats in Ketchikan alone, with very few represented on the cruise lines. Mom and pop operations can be excellent, they just don’t carry the available space that makes it worth the cruise line’s while to be offered onboard. Flightseeing excursions are a great example in Alaska. With many operators the tours you book on the ship are identical to those you could book directly, with a smaller operator, or through a broker. In Baranof's case, we offer amazing experiences such as Hunting for Halibut and Alaska Fishing & Wilderness Dining through the cruise lines, and our multi-species Alaska Fishing and Private Charters by working directly with customers desiring a personalized excursion.

If you’re booking online through the cruise line and the tour is sold out, don’t despair. Operators will allocate most of their space to the cruise lines, and increase allocations to whoever sells out first. There is normally a waitlist option as well, with guests usually being accommodated once the operator is able to shuffle space around. Put in a request and allow time for Baranof (or the operator you wish you use) to open up more seats. Even if you wait until you're on the ship, asking the shore excursion manager to drop an operator a line will often yield positive results. For longer duration tours, you don't want to count on getting lucky by "walking-on" a tour or excursion once you arrive in a particular port. As a last resort, contact the operator directly; as is the case with Baranof, there are sometimes options available that, while not exactly the same, could provide an experience comparable to the excursion you were originally looking at. Keep in mind, too, that you’re dealing with people in a small town; if the ship is sold out and the operator can’t help you directly, we can give you a number to someone we’d recommend.

What if the excursion I want doesn’t have a departure time that fits my schedule?

Generally, cruise lines prefer to keep guests from each ship together. If another ship from the same cruise line is in port during the same time, they may be able to combine you with guests from that ship.

Cruise lines will play hard-ball; you can’t be pre-booking then changing your mind last minute as they may not have time to fill the seats. However, with a legitimate excuse, you’ll get your money back. Baranof has a very lenient cancellation policy – we just don’t charge folks unless they get to our dock and decide they’re not fishing unless it’s sunny. We, along with just about every operator in Ketchikan, will on occasion cancel due to inclement weather every season; full refund, no questions asked.

The activity level of an excursion is worth paying heed to. The cruise lines don’t exaggerate the activity level on their excursions as a way of covering themselves, they work with the operator to depict an accurate idea of what a guest will be expected to accomplish on their own. However, before you decide to forego a specific excursion because it seems too intense, double check with the cruise line; in many cases they will be able to confirm with the operator that your ability is within the limits of what they offer. Kids are a prime example; as parents we know what our children are capable of better than anyone, and an honest conversation goes a long way. Disabilities are also worth asking about. Baranof, along with many other operators, pride themselves on “making it happen”. If you don’t mind be lifted out of a wheelchair into the boat, have a service dog that you need with you, or bump up against the max weight limit, don’t worry about it. Giving operators a heads-up of any special considerations required is typically all they need to provide a guest with an outstanding experience. This is our home, we’re proud of it, and we want to show it off to everyone willing to join us.


Bottom-line is, all things being equal, booking through your ship is the safest way to plan your Alaskan activities. You’ll be offered quality excursions with a proven track record of customer satisfaction, have the backing of the ships that provide excursion companies with their clients, and the peace of mind that any unforeseen challenges or missed expectations will be addressed. You can save money by booking directly with some companies, but the ships offer the most hassle-free option.

Cruise Line Shore Excursion Partners

Princess Cruises

Coral Princess, Golden Princess, Grand Princess, Island Princess,
Royal Princess, Ruby Princess, Star Princess

A Discover Exclusive – Alaska Fishing & Wilderness Dining
Hunting for Halibut

Holland America Line

Amsterdam, Eurodam, Maasdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam,
Oosterdam, Volendam, Westerdam

Alaska Fishing & Wilderness Dining
Hunting for Halibut

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Solstice

Wilderness Dining & Alaska Fishing
Halibut Hunt

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Joy

Check Availability

Azamara Club Cruises

Azamara Quest

Check Availability

Disney Cruise Line


Alaskan Fish Camp & Wilderness Dining
Hunting for Halibut

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Legend

Alaska Fishing & Wilderness Dining
Hunting for Halibut

Crystal Cruises

Crystal Symphony

Alaska Fishing & Wilderness Dining
Hunt for Halibut

Oceania Cruises


Guided Fishing in the Wilderness

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Seven Seas Mariner

Guided Fishing in the Wilderness

Royal Caribbean International

Radiance of the Seas

Wilderness Dining and Alaska Fishing
Halibut Hunt

Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Sojourn

Alaska Fishing & Wilderness Dining: A Mindful Living Tour
Hunting for Halibut

Silversea Cruises

Silver Muse

Fishing & Wilderness Dining

Windstar Cruises

Star Legend

Ketchikan, Concierge Collection: Fishing & Wilderness Dining

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