When you book a cruise, it is definitely a good idea to consider working with a travel agent who specializes in cruise vacations. Shopping for cruises can be overwhelming, and it's easy to make a mistake if you don't have expertise specific to cruising. Suzanne Klasen, an independent vacation specialist with CruiseOne and Cruise Talk Central blogger, states, "A new cruiser can book the wrong cruise for the wrong reason. A good travel agent can help you determine what is the best fit and also find the absolute best deal on that cruise."
Finding a Cruise Travel Agent
When selecting a travel agent to help with your cruise vacation plans, CruiseCritic recommends verifying credentials, knowledge and preferred status with cruise lines. Klasen states, "The best cruise travel agents are ones with personalized service, actual cruising experience and access to group pricing and amenities on a wide variety of cruise lines and itineraries."
You may find it beneficial to work with a travel agency that works primarily or solely with cruises. These types of agencies have extensive knowledge about cruising - which is a highly specialized form of travel - and often have access to the best cruise packages in the industry including exclusive deals available only to them. They have an online presence, but you can also speak with representatives by phone and, in some cases, interact with a cruise specialist in your local area.
With CruiseOne, you get the buying power of a large agency and personal service from independent vacation consultants. You can use CruiseOne's corporate website to locate a vacation specialist by state, a great option if you prefer to work with a cruise expert you in your local area. As the company's vacation specialists are independent franchise owners, the service you receive will vary based on who you are working with, though the available deals and e-commerce options will be consistent across the organization.
- VacationsBySuzanne.com is Klasen's CruiseOne website. She is based in California and can work with clients anywhere in the country. A lifelong cruiser herself, she has been a featured guest on Cruise Radio and enjoys educating customers about what the different cruise lines have to offer.
- There are also positive reviews posted online for other independent vacation specialists working with CruiseOne, including Terry Croly and David Pyle and Montebello and Associates, also located in California.
CruiseOne has been in business for more than 20 years.
Marketing itself as "America's largest cruise agency," CruisesOnly provides cruise-specific vacation services and has also been in business for over 20 years. When you work with this agency, you'll work with company employees rather than independent franchise owners. You can review cruises on the website or call a toll-free number to speak with a representative who can assist with your cruise vacation planning needs. Customer testimonials on the company's website are very positive, praising the booking agents' knowledge and willingness to help.
Having been in business since 1972, Cruise Brothers has been helping customers book cruise vacations for more than 40 years. According to the company's website, it is "one of the largest family owned cruise agencies in the country." The agency is operated by real-life brothers Russ and Steve Gelfuso. You can book your cruise - and even a few land vacation packages - through their website or use their toll-free telephone number to work with a travel agent with expertise in cruising. The Cruise Channel refers to them as "one of the most respected cruise agencies in the country."
General Local Travel Agencies
General local travel agencies can also provide cruise booking services, though they don't specialize specifically in cruises. This is a good option if you want to work with a local company and/or make additional travel arrangements via a single agency. If you would like to work with a general agency, look for one in your area that holds a membership in and has agents certified by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) and that is affiliated with major travel companies or networks so they have access to the best travel packages.
A few examples of general travel agencies with cruise expertise include:
Carrousel Travel (Minneapolis, MN)
Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Carrousel Travel has several CLIA-certified agents who specialize in cruises. The agency is a representative for American Express Travel, so they are definitely associated with a powerhouse in the travel industry. There are numerous positive testimonials on the company's website from satisfied customers that praise the agency and its employees for helping to plan great vacations, including cruises.
Springdale Travel (Mobile, AL)
Based in Mobile, Alabama, Springdale Travel is a full-service travel agency offering corporate and vacation travel bookings, including cruises. They have several CLIA-certified agents. As a branch of Tzell Travel Group, a division of "America's largest travel agency company" Travel Leaders Group, the company has access to an extensive network within the travel industry. A Yelp reviewer who has booked two cruises with the company is very complimentary of the service she received, calling the agent she worked with "extremely helpful and knowledgeable."
Reasons to Use an Agency for Cruise Travel
While you could book a cruise vacation on your own by going directly to the cruise lines or using a website like Expedia or a last-minute cruise auction site to book your trip, there are many advantages associated with using a travel agency. As Klasen points out, "A cruise travel agent works in the customer's best interest in several ways." She states:
- Knowledge of options: A good travel agent will have knowledge of all options available to the client and work with the customer to help them find the cruise vacation that best fits their style and budget. This can help vacationers save time and money. Klasen states that new cruisers have appreciated the personalized attention that she gives them in answering their questions and helping them plan all ins and outs of their cruise.
- Willingness to educate: With so many cruise options available, making sense of the available information can be very confusing for people who are new to cruising. To illustrate, Klasen states that people shopping on their own might book a party boat because of a good price when they really wanted a quiet relaxing experience, or they might book a very quiet cruise when they are looking for a more active experience. Without firsthand knowledge of the different cruise lines and ships, it can be difficult to avoid these kinds of mistakes.
- Access to better deals: A good cruise travel agent can usually find a better deal than going directly to the cruise line as travel agencies often secure group pricing at lower rates than the current rate charged by the cruise line. Travel agents also have access to group promotions that allow them to offer extra onboard perks to their client that are not available directly through the cruise line.
- Advocate for you: When you work with an agent, you have an advocate on your side who works closely with the cruise lines to work on your behalf to resolve any issues that may come up before or after your cruise. For example, one of Klasen's customers had pre-cruise service issues related to a change in itinerary. Klasen was able to her contacts within the cruise line to resolve her issue while keeping the customer informed.
Customers sometimes fear that working with a travel agent will make their cruise vacation more expensive, which is a perceived drawback of going this route, but that really is not the case. Klasen points out that working with a cruise travel agent does not mean that customers will pay more. She states, "With my access to extra group amenities and prices, they will never pay more booking through me than direct with the cruise lines and will usually get a better deal."
Make an Informed Decision
The key to selecting the appropriate cruise agent is to find someone you are personally comfortable with. It is perfectly acceptable to ask how many cruises they have been on, with what lines, and on which ships. They may have visited the same ports of call on your planned itinerary and can offer insider tidbits about different shore excursions or tour options.
Because cruise lines can differ widely in their types of service and general atmosphere, it is important to communicate with an agent who is familiar with the specifics of your upcoming voyage.