The Most Important Question to Ask Your Would-Be Cruise Agent

The big thing to remember when using a travel agent: Not all agents represent all cruise lines. To be experts on what they sell, and to maximize the commissions the lines pay them (they’re often paid more based on volume of sales), some agents may limit their offerings to, say, one luxury line, one mid-price line, one mass-market line, and so on. If you have your sights set on a particular line or have narrowed down your preferences to a couple of lines, you should find an agent who handles those. And whenever approaching a new agent ASK if they specialize in this way, and if so, with which cruise lines.

One word of advice: Be wary of an agent promising to give you a cash rebate. It’s against the rules of most cruise lines, and they have been clamping down on violators most legit agents follow the rules. The cruise lines themselves post Internet specials on their websites, and the same deals are usually also available through travel agents. The lines don’t want to upset their travel-agent partners and generally try not to compete against them.

BOOKING A small-ship CRUISE The small-ship cruise lines such as Un-Cruise Adventures, American Cruise Lines, and Lindblad Expeditions provide cruise experiences that tend to attract passengers who have a very good idea of the kind of experience they want (usually educational or adventurous, and always casual and small-scale). In many cases, a large percentage of passengers on any given cruise will have sailed with the line before. Because of all this, and because the passenger capacity of these ships is so low (22-100 passengers) in general you won’t find the kinds of deep discounts often offered by the large ships. For the most part, these lines rely on agents to handle their bookings, taking very few reservations directly. All the lines have a list of agents with whom they do considerable business on their websites.

BOOKING WITH AN ONLINE TRAVEL AGENCY (OTA) For those who know exactly what they want and don’t need the personalized care a smaller travel agency provides, there are deals to be had on the Internet. Popular sites selling cruises include mega travel clearinghouses like Expedia.com , Orbitz.com , and Flightcenter.ca in Canada; plus big agencies that specialize exclusively in cruises ( icruise.com , Cruise.com , CruisesOnly.com , Cruise411.com , VacationsToGo.com , 7blueseas.com , and CruiseExpertsTravel.com in Canada). Some online cruise sellers also offer standard brick-and-mortar retail locations, like Expedia Cruise Ship Centers, the dedicated cruise arm of Expedia that offers retail locations in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. All online sites have phone numbers you can call or chat forums where you can ask questions. Also selling cruises on the Web are search engines ( Kayak.com ), and auction sites ( Allcruiseauction.com and Priceline.com ).

The Internet also has some good sites that specialize in providing cruise information rather than selling cruises. Two popular cruise fan sites are Cruiseline.com and Cruisecritic.com , which feature reviews by professional writers, ratings and reviews by cruise passengers, plus useful tips

and message boards. You can read what past passengers have said about your line, your ship, your itinerary, and the ports included. The online message boards frequently descend into petty bickering and offer more than a bit of misinformation, but taken with a grain of salt these cruise message boards can provide information on a huge range of topics.

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