When booking a cruise, you can run into many confusing aspects: Where do you want to depart? How many days should you book? What kind of accommodations will meet your needs? How much time will you spend exploring off the boat?
Before you get too overwhelmed, check out the list I’ve developed. I’m a cruise booking agent, and this list is full of helpful tips to ease the process of booking a cruise:
- DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH: Search websites like Cruise Critic or the cruise line’s own website before you get too overwhelmed with questions. These sites will help narrow choices. Plus, the cruise line websites are full of great details about the line’s ships, and Cruise Critic is full of members’ input, highlighting the true pros and cons.
- KNOW THE DIFFERENT LINES: There are many different cruise lines and ships of different shapes, styles and sizes. There are the economy family ships—Carnival and NCL; the average mainstream lines with something for everyone—Royal Caribbean and Princess; the premium mainstream lines—Celebrity and Holland America; and the luxury cruise lines—Crystal and Regent.
You can also opt for river cruises or adventure cruises, which offer specialized itineraries not available on the larger lines. Research and recommendations will help a passenger find the perfect fit for themselves and their traveling companions.
- THINK ABOUT CABIN PLACEMENT: Before you book anything, look at ship diagrams, and choose a cabin that will make you happy. It may be a balcony cabin, a suite, an inside cabin, or an outside cabin with a picture window. Cabin variety depends on your specific desires and budget.Rule of thumb: If sea sickness is an issue, go for a cabin close to the center of the ship and not too high up the ship. Another tip: Some ships have humps (areas where the ship’s shape protrudes from the superstructure). These cabins offer unobstructed views up, down, back and forward
- DON’T NECESSARILY BOOK EARLY: Booking far in advance doesn’t always mean getting the best deal. When a ship is not selling well, the cruise line will start lowering prices. A cruise lines needs to sell all of its cabins and will reduce the prices to bring up passenger counts as the sailing approaches. This means passengers who book later can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.The only problem with waiting is that it’s a gamble because there’s no guarantee that the prices may drop. By waiting, you may lose the cabin you wanted, and the prices may not reduce—may possibly even go up, dramatically. Holiday cruises sometime drop, and there are some great deals within two months to two days prior. If waiting for that perfect Christmas or New Year’s cruise is an option, start looking in mid- to late-October.
- CONSIDER BOOKING A GUARANTEE CABIN: When you opt for a guarantee cabin, you’re selecting a category without a specific cabin assignment. This is a way to save money, because a guarantee is less expensive than a specific assigned cabin. The guarantee advantage is the price saving and the possibility of an upgrade. The disadvantage is that you’ll have an unknown cabin placement. This guarantee cabin may be a placed somewhere undesirable and generally the cruise line will not allow for a cabin change. If choosing a guarantee, make sure you will be happy with the possibility of a cabin that you do not like.
- ALWAYS USE A TRAVEL AGENT: This is probably my most important tip. Many frown upon utilizing a travel agent because of the misconception that a travel agent doesn’t get the best deal. However, a travel agent has access to deals not offered to the public. An agent can offer perks such as ship board credit, spa and dining credits, cruise discounts, and possibly even a cabin upgrade. A travel consultant also has the capability of watching for price drops. Also, if the price drops, they can offer a discount (if before final payment) or a significant upgrade (if after final payment).
There are two very important factors when choosing an agent: First, make sure that the agent is part of CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association). Second, not only should the agent be knowledgeable of all things “cruise,” he or she should be very well traveled on a range of cruise ships. Many agents have never been on a cruise and cannot answer even the simplest questions.