Cruise Ships or a Small Group Tour? Get the Facts.

a large cruise ship sets sail on the ocean

By Zachary Moses

At HE travel, we are very proud of the small-group tours that we have developed in-house over the past 40+ years. Our travelers just LOVE our small-group packages, but we also have guests for whom cruising offers the perfect vacation – and we are here for them as well! Since HE Travel operates a full service travel agency, we can book you on any kind of travel, including cruises and tours with other companies.

Here are some of the criteria we recommend considering when making your holiday decisions.


Love those affordable cruise ship prices that you see advertised? The lower fares are achieved by designing ships that fit as many people as possible in the space available.

While some people LOVE big groups, and a mega-cruise ship is as big as they get, others despise traveling in crowds. If spending time in the company of thousands of new potential friends sounds like fun to you, then a large cruise ship might be right up your alley, and you can potentially save a lot of money too, depending on how many of the paid options you choose to use.

If you prefer a small intimate group of 6 to 15 people, you might want to consider one of our small-group-tours. With a small group tour you’ll get personalized service, attention to detail, short waits, and VIP treatment. However, shared costs like tour leaders, guides, and facility rentals are being spread across far fewer guests so the price-per-person tends to be higher than for most cruises.

Wait times:

Large cruise ships usually have fantastic amenities like Broadway-style shows, top-tier restaurants, casinos, and more. The experience can be phenomenal, but remember, you are on a cruise with as many as 5,000 other guests, most of whom are interested in the same things that you are, including getting OFF the ship at port. Expect long lines.

Of course nobody likes to wait in line, but on a cruise ship, this can often be the name of the game. There are a few cruise lines that carry much smaller capacities, however, like group-tours, low-capacity comes with a high-price-tag, and often the level of amenities decreases.

Small-group-tours are generally conducted within historic cities or in the countryside, so the amenities are only limited by the facilities of the destinations. There are no lines to wait in, because all of our restaurants are holding space for us, we have assigned seats at shows, and we have a tour host who is there to make sure everything is running like clockwork. On a small-group-tour, literally every detail of your trip has been taken care of for you, so that your only worry is whether to have a second gin-and-tonic…or possibly a third!

Hidden costs:

In addition, many cruise lines have unbundled their pricing and now charge separately for many things that were once included in the typical package, such as special meals, alcohol, shore excursions, port fees, etc.

Those low prices on cruise ship cabins are meant to draw you in, playing on the consumer ideal of always getting the best bargain. However, a bargain price isn’t always a sign that you’ll save money. Cruise lines tempt customers to book with them by showing off their ships’ expansive spas, diverse specialty dining options and concept bars and lounges. The fact is, if you want to take a fitness class, enjoy a wine tasting, have a few cocktails with your buddies, or even eat dinner outside of the main dining hall, you’ll have to swipe that “convenient” cruise card they gave you when you boarded the ship. At the end of the trip, you can potentially have one shocker of a bill on your hands. When you’re on holiday and hoping to live it up a little, it’s hard to say no to those cruise photos or awesome land excursions. These days, “all-inclusive” is a term that really only applies to a handful of high-priced luxury cruises. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

On one of our small-group-tours, outside of flights, almost everything is included. Our philosophy is that “if you’re with the group, you shouldn’t have to pull out your wallet.” In general between 75 and 100% of all meals are included depending on the destination. Wine or beer is generally included with dinner, and you’ll never find yourself being told to produce money at unexpected moments. If we don’t include an activity, it’s always clearly spelled out on our website, and generally the reason we don’t include it is because many people would not want to participate in it (such as bungy jumping!).

When you’re on one of our tours, unless clearly stated otherwise, if it’s included in the itinerary, it’s included in the tour price.


When you are booking a cruise, there is a massive difference in price depending on the size of cabin that you’ve been assigned. Those low entry prices are generally reserving you an interior-windowless-room that wouldn’t be fit for habitation at any landside hotel. In order to get cabins that meet what most of us consider to be the “minimum-acceptable-creature-comfort-level” we have to book cabins that cost two to ten times the published “starting-at” fares of the cruise lines.

On our group tours, we generally select 4-5-star hotels, or the “best in town” for some of our bike tours to smaller villages. We also try to treat our customers equally, by providing rooms that are every bit as comfortable and/or luxurious as their fellow tour-mates.

Experiencing the Destination:

A cruise can let you comfortably visit several destinations on one trip, while sleeping in the same room every night. That versatility means though that you just get to “sample the menu” in most destinations, seeing some of the most famous sites with all of the other cruise passengers from yours and other ships in port, and perhaps tasting some of the local food, but then returning to your familiar shipboard cabin and dining room in the evening. If you find a place that you really like, you can add it to your wish list to return for a longer stay.

On a land tour, you pack and unpack more often, but each night you can drink in the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the destination, and explore what makes it unique. You are also more likely to have some free time to explore a bit on your own.

Here’s an interesting story (and possibly NSFW) on our blog about what some of the crew is up to when Caribbean Cruise ships dock!

The Take Away

Both traveling styles have their pros and cons, but be wary if the reason you are choosing to take a cruise is to save money. If you decide to take a cruise, ask if the cruise is “all-inclusive” and then ask for a breakdown of what that actually means. If the activities etc. are a la carte, try to get an estimate of what those costs will be.

The same goes for group tours, since not all group tours are created equally. Be wary of the included/not included lists. Tour companies often hide these pages, hoping you won’t notice how little is actually included in the price. If you don’t want to worry about what you are actually getting for the price, join one of HE Travel’s 50+ departures a year. You can rest assured that HE Travel always keeps its prices in step with our quality to ensure that we provide the maximum value to our guests.

We hope to see you on tour, and remember HE Travel can book you anywhere you want to go, no matter who you decide to travel with! In fact, we currently have a fantastic cruise through the Galapagos Islands!