How to find/evaluate guide services?

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Feb 24, 2016
Say, perhaps this should be the title of a new forum? We recently finished a 15-day cruise of the Panama Canal, with stops along the way. Our cruise tour agent suggested a company that she felt was solid for the land excursions. The company is Viator. Not knowing any better, and going off of my wife's experience that booking land excursions in advance is the way to go, we sat down and booked over $2K worth of tours at the various ports of call. The trouble started in Panama, where we were an hour early to meet our guide. The instruction was that someone would come into the terminal with our name on a board or clipboard. The only person we saw with a white panel was nearly running thru the terminal. I had to stop the person to try to read the board, but frankly, could not make out a name in any language I recognized. I figured the right person would come along. He/she did not. Finally, by 10:00, we made alternate arrangements with a local taxi company, which involved another $150 US. Two other tour arrangements did go okay, but at the Costa Rica stop the guide informed us that the start time we were given by Viator was totally inappropriate for the time required (4 hours minimum of road time). The guide had been waiting since the ship came in, at 7 a.m. We were told to meet him by 9. For the Puerto Vallarta stop, our instructions were suitable for a snipe hunt: virtually none of the "clues" were helpful, and we never saw our guide. Again, we made a local deal with a cab driver for a city tour. We have filed a claim with Viator for $1,300, but have heard nothing yet.

Does anyone have any good recommendations for land excursions when traveling on a cruise? The trips offered by our cruise company (Princess) seemed okay, but they were not "small group" or "individual" packages by any means. We note that, for Europe, Rick Steves includes info for guides he recommends.

Neil Maley

Staff Member
Dec 27, 2014
New York
We use Viator all the time and have never had an issue with them. I use them for my own tours when we travel and have always had a positive experience.

Did you request a refund from them? If you were at the place stayed on your confirmation and they never showed, you are due a refund. The only excursions you can rely on are through the cruise line. Those tour operators are vetted and carry insurance - many companies are not insured and if something happens on a tour, you have no one to sue without the company having their own insurance.

Just so you know, Viator contracts services through local tour operators so this may just have been an abberation and Viator absolutely needs to know about this - the only way they can get rid of problem tour operators is if they get complaints.

I would suggest that you go to Cruise Critic or Trip Advisor for recommendations for tour operators. There are a lot of recommendations there.

One thing though is carefully review any recommendations. Just because a company is recommended doesn’t mean they are right for you.

We have a customer in Costa Rica right now that insisted on booking tours through a company she read reviews on Trip Advisor. I had suggested using our suppliers tours, as the companies are vetted and insured but she wanted this particular company. My wife booked it for her and we heard from her as soon as she got down there that they were a no show for a pre-tour meeting they were supposed to have for her. Of course when we contacted the company- no reply back. Our client is accepting responsibility for insisting on this company but that doesn’t make us happy that this happened as she spent a lot of money. (And no the company wasn’t through Viator)


Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
San Francisco
I know that Viator has been around a long time, and I'm glad Neil has had good experiences with them. But they're still a "middleman" and your story is what I've always been concerned about. For cruise shore excursions, people should do some research on CruiseCritic and/or Trip Advisor. Both entities have forums or boards that are a wealth of information and you can ask specific questions of participants as well. It is hard to swallow the outrageous charges the cruise line imposes, but their tours DO go off and usually very well. I just looked at a 2hr walking tour of some little city in Norway that costs $56 through Cunard. I'm sure the guide makes about $20 an hour; the math is easy. I think we'll just follow the group at a distance so we see all there is to see in this charming little place. I'm not sure what kind of a price you can put on the peace of mind that booking through the cruise line gives you. I'm glad that Neil indicates that Viator should make you whole with the botched excursions. Please let us know.
Mar 17, 2015
I use Viator just like I use any other 3rd party travel website, such as expedia. I use it to search for available tours, search through trip advisor and look at reviews, then go to the webpage and book directly. While it is a useful website, I am hesitant as well to book directly with them.