Yes, You Should Still Use a Travel Agent to Book a Cruise

I’ve been on almost 50 cruises.

You could say I’m a cruise expert. I also know how to use a computer and can Google stuff.

Therefore, I can quite competently search for and book my own cruises.

You know what? I still use a travel agent.

Because even if I thought I knew everything there is to know about a cruise vacation (I don’t!), there still are numerous reasons a cruise travel professional is invaluable.

Yes, even in this day and age of the all-powerful Interwebs.

We know that evolving technology increasingly means more and more information is just a few clicks, taps or swipes away. For cruisers, you can compare prices, get alerts on sales and promotions and research your desired vacation in depth.

But when you consider the added perks you can get when working with a pro — all at no extra cost to you — it’s a no-brainer to cozy up to your trusty travel agent.

They can book you the best fares and easily monitor price drops. This means they can rebook you at the best price right up to the latest possible moment before your sailing.

“I keep an eye on that for my clients, and if I see that their cruise has changed price, I’ll call the cruise line and change (the booking),” said Mark Furlan, an agent with Dream Vacations in Laguna Hills, Calif.

Travel agents constantly research the ships and cruise lines, sailing often as well as taking ship tours. Therefore, they are more likely to know which type of cruise would suit your style. You might be drawn to a certain price or itinerary, but a travel agent will ask all the right questions to match you with your best ship. Yes, it’s like dating in a way. Some cruises are better for foodies, partiers, luxury-seekers or even affinity groups who want to travel with like-minded people interested in rock music, knitting or motorcycles, for examples.

“If somebody already is well-versed and says they want to go on a certain cruise line, I usually ask them why, what they’ve done before, what their past vacations have been,” said Candie Steinman, a Dream Vacations travel pro in Fort Myers, Fla. “Sometimes they end up with something completely different than what they called me for.

“Then they call me back and say ‘You were right. … I’ve been on that other cruise line, but I liked this so much better. This is where I should have been.’ ”

You can’t afford to make a bad decision when you commit your valuable time and money to a cruise vacation.

You can score extra goodies, too. Sure, you can book a cruise on your own through a cruise line’s website or at the future cruise desk while on your current cruise. In fact, booking a future cruise while on your current sailing is a great way to save a ton of money and grab extra promotional benefits – such as onboard credit, free drinks or dining packages or prepaid gratuities.

But you can add to the perks haul by shifting your booking to a travel agent, especially one with whom you have built a relationship. Your travel pro often will throw in extra onboard credits, and they can organize group sailings to save you even more.

“I have had a client for 30 years who does two cruises a year,” Steinman said. “I always add a little onboard credit or a bottle of wine or I send them little presents.”

Maybe you want to ask friends and family to join you on a vacation (to celebrate a birthday or anniversary or high school reunion). The travel agent can secure fare discounts — for booking eight cabins, for example — and will find further price benefits when even more people are added to the group.

I’ll be sailing with friends next year to jointly celebrate milestone birthdays for a few of us. I’m not telling mine. (OK, a hint: When I was born, there were 50 U.S. states, but the New York Mets had not yet won a World Series.) We used a travel agent to handle the cruise, which we initially booked while sailing through the Panama Canal with Celebrity Cruises. Our agent gave us a block of cabins for a discount and added hundreds in onboard credit to an already sweet deal that Celebrity had offered to entice us.

Additionally, agents for Cruise One/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., units of the largest seller of cruises in the world, participate in a loyalty program that rewards travelers for the relationship with their cruise travel pro. The program offers those who book a future cruise while onboard a ship an array of “vacation experiences” like a Resort for a Day visit, onboard credit, shore excursions or pre-cruise hotel stays.

Aside from looking at price and added goodies, general travel expertise can make a big difference in your trip. A travel pro knows how a cruise itinerary will best work to see a certain place in the world and can ensure that the client is on the best sailing to get the most out of a destination.

For example, you need a full day in Santorini and a full day in Mykonos when visiting the Greek islands. Some cruises only stay for half a day, said Furlan, the Dream Vacations agent in Laguna Hills.

“Value-wise, that’s the whole deal,” he said. “It’s not just price” it’s offering the “best vacation.”

Even the biggest cruise company in the world swears by the value offered to travelers by the pros who know all the ins and outs of cruise vacations.

“Agents are essential to help the new-to-cruise guests who would have no idea how to navigate all the details,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said. “A cruise is a complicated purchase. You’re choosing a community. You’re choosing a destination, cabins, specialty dining, excursions.”

The ongoing relationship can build even more value for the cruise consumer, too, Donald said.

“The value is created (with the first sailing), but you still have a lot of destinations people don’t know anything about.

“The extended personal relationship is a powerful tool.”

So, even the most savvy cruiser can reap the benefits of finding a good agent.

“Travel agents are still relevant because we have so many special offers,”  Steinman said. “If they know what they want, we can still get them value added.”

  • Originally published in Travel Pulse News by JOHN ROBERTS | DECEMBER 22, 2016 12:00 PM ET

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