One of the first things to think about is...
Do you want to book directly through the cruise line or use a travel agent? Both are great options for different reasons. Here's a breakdown of why:
Cruise websites are full of information, diagrams, and photographs (although don't forget us travel bloggers for real-life experiences and recommendations!) You can go online and book your cruise any time of day. For anxious people like me, there is no waiting for an email response or someone to call you back.
But what can you book online? You can easily book your entire cruise from start to finish. Many cruise lines even offer flight options to get to the cruise port and then back home. You can purchase excursions, make dining reservations, and more. Travel insurance is also available directly through the cruise line. Make sure to look at the cost and what they cover and you can select this option when booking direct.
Want to talk to someone? Many cruise lines also have cruise vacation planners available by telephone around the clock to reserve your cruise or answer questions.
I love the fact that once my itinerary is booked or even on a hold status, it's immediately view-able online (a virtual benefit) and the excitement builds already.
Contrary to belief, when you book through a cruise line, you can easily contact your cruise vacation planner directly for any questions, advice, pricing, etc. Then you will see the changes immediately on their website. I always feel comfortable going right to the source for the latest and greatest information. Not to mention, I've established many wonderful and on-going relationships with cruise line vacation planners when booking past cruises. If you find one that you enjoy working with, make sure to get their direct extension.
Bottom line, if you've cruised often and have established a relationship with a cruise line, then booking direct might be an option for you.
Booking direct may not be the best option if you are a first time cruiser, or even an experienced traveler who may want extra guidance or recommendations. You might prefer to have someone help navigate you personally through the process.
This is why many people find it preferable to go through a travel agent. I'm actually leaning more towards this option recently. Travel agents provide "hand holding" to make you feel more comfortable that you are choosing the right cruise, stateroom, and itinerary for you. It's a more personalized experience.
Travel agents can put packages together for you at a substantial savings. These might include airfare, rental cars, airport transfers, cruise, hotel for pre-cruise or post-cruise stays, and/or excursions. Then, they may provide some type of gift for engaging their services, such as an OBC (On Board Credit) to use during your cruise, or maybe a bottle of wine delivered to your hotel room or cruise stateroom. They can also make reservations for you on-board or at least send you reminders when you should be doing this.
If you choose to book through a travel agent, you can usually view your booking online once it's made. Either way, once your vacation is booked, the hardest part will be waiting for the date to arrive!
Contrary to what you might think, it absolutely does not cost you any more to book your cruise vacation through a travel agent. They will always look out for the best deals, as well as any price drops after you've booked.
One thing to keep in mind, if a travel agent has booked your cruise for you, the cruise line will not speak to you directly about your reservation. All changes and updates will need to be done through your travel agent. That's why it's so important to have a travel agent you can rely on to respond quickly and look out for you.
Booking a cruise vacation can be a timely and complicated process. You need to narrow down your choices based on a cruise line and itinerary best for you. You'll need to arrange transportation if you are flying to your cruise port, decide on accommodations if you want to extend your vacation on land, reserve excursions or dining options, and more. Then, you'll want to make sure that it's all insured. Your travel agent will recommend the best options for travel insurance as well.
It's a lot to think about! This is why a travel agent is an excellent choice to make sure you've done everything ahead of time so that your vacation goes seamlessly and you will have nothing to do but relax once it begins.
One of my favorite things about planning a cruise vacation is that you can usually book well over a year in advance. This gives you plenty of time to anticipate and plan for all the things you want to do on your vacation. When you initially book your cruise, only a small deposit will be due in order to secure the cabin of your choice. Then, you'll have until three months before the cruise departs to pay the balance in full. If your plans change before this date, you will typically receive 100% of your cruise deposit refunded.
Finally, if you have a vague idea of the next cruise you want, consider booking it while you are on your current cruise. The perks (sometimes include drink packages, free gratuities, free internet and/or OBC) are terrific and usually the best you'll see offered at any time. Having extra perks will upscale your cruise experience and save you money in the long run. They'll even sometimes run specials on-board for discounted or no deposit required.
Most of the time, these perks are transferable. If your plans change and you want to move your cruise to another date, ship, or cabin, the on-board booking perks transfer with it. Also, when your on-board vacation planner books your next cruise, just ask and the booking information can be automatically transferred to your "land based" cruise vacation planner. You can often do this once you are back home as well, usually within a 30-day window.
Whether you go decide to book your cruise direct or with a travel agent, the best part is that you'll have a spectacular cruise vacation to look forward to!