What it's Like to Plan an Adventure Overseas Using Viator, Trip Advisor's Tour and Excursion Booking Platform



Alyssa Powell/Business Insider

While vacationing with my family in Croatia this year, I utilized Viator, Trip Advisor's activity-booking platform, to arrange boat charters abroad. Viator ensures all operators are thoroughly vetted for credibility and safety by Trip Advisor. Excursions on offer span from $15 for walking tours to luxury experiences costing thousands.

Opting to book independently through Viator not only saved me considerable costs compared to using a travel agency but also facilitated advance vacation planning with transparent pricing and reviews from previous guests. My experience with Viator was highly positive, though I've identified areas for improvement. In the future, I'll be sure to inquire more extensively beforehand to avoid any unexpected surprises. Here's what you need to know to replicate my experience.

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As a seasoned lifestyle journalist specializing in travel, I frequently traverse the globe with my husband and five-year-old twins. With my wealth of experience and adeptness in leveraging online resources, I pride myself on orchestrating bookings even in unfamiliar territories.

This past summer, during our two-week European vacation encompassing Greece, Croatia, and neighboring countries along the Dalmatian Coast, we delved into off-the-beaten-path adventures. While I felt confident in independently planning our itinerary sans a travel agency, I encountered a blind spot: how to efficiently book tours and excursions, such as chartering a speedboat to Croatia's renowned islands.

My relief was palpable when I chanced upon Viator, the activity-booking search engine under the Trip Advisor umbrella. After meticulously scrutinizing offerings and perusing reviews, I confidently secured two separate boat charters through the platform. These experiences not only met but exceeded expectations, with immaculate vessels operated by companies I wouldn't have accessed otherwise.

I wholeheartedly endorse Viator, particularly for fellow travelers staying at Airbnb accommodations without a concierge or seeking budget-friendly alternatives to traditional hotel or agency recommendations. However, drawing from my own experience, I advise savvy travelers to thoroughly vet their choices to preempt potential pitfalls.


Using Viator made it easy to find and book boat charters for full or half-day excursions. Alesandra Dubin/Business Insider


What is Viator?

Viator serves as Trip Advisor's comprehensive platform for booking a diverse array of travel activities. Whether you're seeking 4x4 and camel tours in Dubai, skip-the-line access to the Colosseum in Rome, or a thrilling helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, Viator has you covered.

With an extensive selection of over 200,000 bookable activities worldwide, Viator ensures that virtually all travel needs are met. Each operator listed on the platform undergoes rigorous pre-vetting for credibility and safety, endorsed by Trip Advisor.

Crucially, Viator also aggregates millions of reviews, akin to its sister site, Trip Advisor. This wealth of feedback empowers travelers with valuable insights, ensuring informed decision-making when selecting activities.


How is Viator priced?

Viator's pricing varies widely depending on the location and complexity of the excursions. A simple walking tour may cost less than $20, while full-day excursions or charters could amount to several hundred dollars or more. For instance, the pricier of the two trips I booked was under $1,000, but rates can escalate significantly depending on the chosen activities.

The platform is optimized for mobile booking and provides 24/7 customer service in multiple languages, along with a lowest-price guarantee and a 24-hour cancellation policy, which minimizes the financial risk associated with booking. I personally took advantage of this policy to adjust my plans several times, canceling and rebooking activities when preferences shifted, and even canceling a sightseeing tour in Greece due to jet lag upon arrival.

I utilized my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card for both Viator bookings, denominated in U.S. dollars, and encountered no issues when making these changes.


What did I book through Viator?

Although Croatia was uncharted territory for me, I was eager to explore its stunning islands. Opting for an Airbnb apartment over a conventional hotel with a concierge meant I had to navigate the excursion planning solo.

Scouring the internet for tour options, I stumbled upon Viator, a platform previously unfamiliar to me. Its integration of a robust review system, reminiscent of its parent company Trip Advisor, instilled confidence in me. Approximately three weeks prior to our arrival, I made two bookings through Viator.

For our Dubrovnik sojourn, I secured a half-day private speedboat tour to the Elafiti islands. This excursion boasted an impressive five-star rating based on over 100 Viator reviews. With a 10 percent discount code, the four-hour journey for our group of four came to just under $400.

In Split, our base for the northern leg of our trip, I arranged an all-day private sightseeing tour encompassing five stops, including the renowned Blue Cave and Hvar island. Despite having fewer reviews on Viator (27 at the time), this excursion also maintained a perfect five-star rating. After applying the discount code, the eight-hour voyage for four individuals on the private speedboat charter totaled $873.

While these prices may initially appear steep, it's crucial to note that they are calculated for a group of four. Moreover, compared to alternative options, such as briefly considering a Croatia-based travel agency when overwhelmed with planning, where a land-only quote for a week amounted to 12,000 euros for our party of four, booking independently—including these two-day trips via Viator—resulted in savings of over half the expense.


My booking experience with Viator

With meticulous planning behind us, our long-awaited trip had finally commenced. We kicked off our adventure with a morning spent at a beach club in Dubrovnik, eagerly anticipating our scheduled boat tour for the afternoon.

To our delight, the tour company exhibited exceptional responsiveness, reaching out promptly via WhatsApp and email on the same day to coordinate our transportation to the marina, where we were slated to meet our skipper and board the boat.

To ensure our convenience, they graciously arranged and covered the cost of a rideshare to pick us up from the beach club. Upon arrival at the marina, we were greeted by an immaculately maintained boat and a warm, welcoming skipper.

True to their word, the boat was exclusively reserved for our family, boasting amenities such as shade cover and a USB port to keep our phones charged and ready for capturing memorable moments.


Exploring sea caves on a private boat excursion booked through Viator. Alesandra Dubin/Business Insider

We embarked on our afternoon adventure on the Adriatic, reveling in the freedom to tailor our itinerary to our preferences, exploring bays, beaches, and caves at our leisure. Our attentive skipper doubled as a skilled photographer, capturing precious family moments while also providing snorkel masks and refreshing beverages.

As the afternoon drew to a close, our considerate skipper arranged for an Uber to whisk us back to our hotel, concluding the day on a high note. With the total cost amounting to under $400 for our group of four, the experience felt like an incredible value for the multitude of activities we enjoyed.

Regrettably, this seamless experience did not foreshadow the challenges we encountered during our subsequent excursion—the full-day boat charter from Split.

Communicating with the operator beforehand proved to be more arduous, with less responsiveness to our inquiries. Despite not having all our questions addressed prior to booking, we proceeded, inadvertently basing some assumptions on incomplete information.

Upon arrival at the marina, we were greeted by a boat that surpassed our expectations. This luxurious speedboat, boasting accommodation for 12 passengers, eclipsed the size and elegance of our previous vessel in Dubrovnik. However, its enhanced power, with a formidable 250 horsepower, unnerved our young children from the outset.

Thankfully, our seasoned skipper, akin to a nurturing older brother, adeptly alleviated our children's fears, employing various techniques to ensure their comfort and enjoyment throughout the journey. His efforts even extended to allowing my son to "drive" the boat and honk the horn—a gesture that elicited sheer delight.


My son, "driving" our Split-based boat charter. Alesandra Dubin/Business Insider

However, despite the skipper's efforts, my daughter remained uncomfortable as the boat sped through the open ocean. In hindsight, I couldn't help but question whether embarking on such an ambitious excursion with young children was advisable, considering the rough conditions we encountered.

Anticipating congestion and rough waters at the Blue Cave, our skipper cautioned us about potential challenges. Consequently, we made the decision to forgo the Blue Cave visit and opted for a customized itinerary to mitigate the intensity of the journey. I was grateful for the flexibility afforded to us, allowing us to tailor the day's plans to better suit our family's needs.

Our skipper guided us to a breathtaking, secluded beach on the island of Vis—a true highlight of our trip. With its crystalline waters and tranquil ambiance, the remote beach offered a sense of pure isolation. We relished the opportunity to swim from the boat to the shore, snorkel, and capture countless memorable photographs.

Following our idyllic beach escapade, we sailed to the glamorous Hvar island, where we spent an hour or so indulging in lunch at Hvar Town.


Posing on the boat in Hvar. Alesandra Dubin/Business Insider

But it was during the return journey to the harbor in Split when our challenges intensified significantly.

By this time, it was well into the afternoon, and the winds had strengthened, causing the open ocean to become extremely choppy. Our boat repeatedly caught air and slammed back down onto the water—a sensation exacerbated by the nature of the vessel and typical weather conditions.

While my children, thankfully, did not suffer from motion sickness, they were undeniably terrified. I couldn't help but think about the potential difficulties for families with young children or those prone to motion sickness. I wished I had inquired more extensively about the conditions before booking a similar boat ride.

Although my son found solace in resuming his role as the "driver" of the boat, my daughter remained distraught throughout the 75-minute journey back to the marina, exacerbated by the waves drenching our family. Adding to my concerns, there was only one kid-sized life jacket onboard.

Reflecting on the experience, I couldn't shake the regret of putting our family in such a challenging situation. I realized that I hadn't taken the necessary steps to ensure that this excursion was suitable for our family.

Despite considering myself a diligent and capable planner, I acknowledged that I had proceeded with the booking without waiting for crucial answers to questions such as the availability of child-sized snorkel masks, the provision of two child-sized life jackets, the likelihood of rough water conditions, and the potential for seasickness.


The verdict on Viator

In retrospect, I wouldn't trade the breathtaking boat excursions I arranged through Viator for anything. They truly enhanced our exploration of Croatia's stunning coastline, offering quintessential sightseeing experiences.

Both tour operators conducted themselves with professionalism, delivering services exactly as advertised. Moreover, I found the pricing to be reasonable, significantly more budget-friendly than if I had opted for a traditional travel agency.

I remain inclined to use Viator for future bookings, albeit with a heightened awareness. Next time, I'll be sure to ask more probing questions and obtain specific answers beforehand.

If any operator appears vague or hesitant in addressing crucial details—such as the availability of child-sized life vests or typical water conditions—I won't hesitate to seek out alternatives.

Drawing from my seasoned experience with Viator, I'd advise others to proceed with confidence. Just ensure you ask a plethora of questions tailored to your needs and obtain explicit answers prior to your booking date.

With Viator's extensive array of options, rest assured that you'll have ample opportunities to explore alternative tour operators until you find one that addresses all your concerns, instilling the utmost confidence in your booking decision.

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