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Viator Guide A Memorable Man


His name is Kim. Just Kim. We are introduced on the banks of the Saigon River in Vietnam. We are on a Viator excursion and he is our guide. He is polite, informative and the antithesis of a rah-rah guide who tries to impress with his clever dialogue so that at the end of the day he’ll get a bigger tip.

For Kim — and his eight customers — the end of the day was nine hours later.

It began with an hour-long ride up (down?) the river, to the Cu Chi Tunnels for a fascinating look at the underground network and weaponry the Viet Cong used in winning the Vietnam War, 40 years ago. Throughout the two hours or so we spent at what is now a huge tourist attraction, Kim’s knowledge and opinions made the tour better than expected.

The day also included a first-ever (and possibly last) visit to a cricket farm, which included a snack that was optional from the farm’s owners, and a lunch (long after we’d digested the little creatures) at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant. Not that you’d expect to find anything but authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, but this was so good we’ve been seeking the North American version ever since returning home.

Our day was nine hours and Kim’s has to be at least two more. When he told us he would become a father in a few months, our tip included a contribution for the daughter-to-be’s Kim Nguyenpiggy bank — he said it would be her first deposit. As we parted, we exchanged email addresses, something we often do when meeting somebody so likeable and personable. We discovered there was more to him than Kim — Kim Nguyen Dinh — and we resolved to stay in touch.

Fast forward…

Our first email went unanswered for almost two weeks. These things happen. Sometimes they’re never answered. When Kim responded, he was apologetic. His father had been suffering from liver cancer for almost a year (long before we met him) and the prognosis was not good. His next email brought the inevitable news. In December, another email announcing the arrival of Cecilia, or Gia Kha Han in Vietnamese.

For his family, it completed the cycle of life.

When you exchange emails with strangers from a land far away, it’s not always like this. But when it is like this, you learn that we’re really not that different, are we?

In the news…

• Launching in May, Harmony of the Seas to feature Dreamworks characters

Today at portsandbows.comFood spectacles for Princess crowd

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
March 13, 2016
Tampa (return): Key West, Banana Coast, Santo Tomas de Castilla, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Viator Joins Shore Excursion Options

The news that, as of Monday, you'll be able to book shore excursions without visiting the shore excursions desk on your cruise ship or visiting "Juan Valdez" and his agents on the pier could have far-reaching implications.

A company called Viator launched its website yesterday, for bookings starting six days later. It's for any major cruise line, any ship, almost any place (there are 80 ports). It's not the first company to venture into these waters, but it seems to be the most ambitious…or at least the latest.

If Viator (and others like GroupShoreExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com) are successful, it's going to force cruise lines to be competitive in what many believe is the high cost of shore excursions. That is, if they haven't already done so and if they have, the consumer still wins.

This new company claims to shave as much as 60 per cent off the going, monopolistic rate…with little competition, only Juan and his amigos, cruise lines are quick to warn you that the ship won't wait if you're late getting back from a shore excursion not operated by the cruise line.

While this is true, have you been on a ship where departure was delayed…and where you saw passengers scurrying across the dock to the gangplank? We have, more than once, and since there were only four of five of them, we assumed these were not cruise-line shore excursions.

Cruise people don't want to leave passengers behind, just to make a point, although now that they're in a fight for the shore excursion dollar, tactics may change. Similarly, their competitors on the shore don't want unhappy customers, either. In both cases…bad for business.

We've taken a few trips on shore outside the comfort of the "we could leave without you" promise and (touch wood) never missed the ship. The closest we came was in France, after renting a car and getting lost, and the rental-car rep jumped in and drove us to the pier in, well, French style. And besides, most passengers going "on their own" allow plenty of time to return.

If you feel threatened by missing the boat, Viator promises…no, guarantees…that Viator will get you to the ship at the next port, at Viator's expense. At least one of its competitors (Group Shore Excursions) makes the same promise. Considering the magnitude of these businesses, they'll probably be more than capable of fulfilling the guarantee for the few times it may be necessary.

Unless everybody's scared.

Then, these customer-friendly businesses will simply be dead in the water.

And don't worry too much about Juan and his amigos. They'll probably wind up doing what they do for the new companies.

Costa Deliziosa
11 nights
May 25, 2012
Amsterdam (return) to Norway: Hellesylt, Honningsvag, Tromso, Leknes, Trondheim, Andalsnes, Bergen
Inside: $1,099
Cost per day: $99

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