"Do I really need to find a travel or cruise agent?" Unless you're an extremely experienced cruiser who feels strongly that you can go it alone we highly recommend it. Finding the travel agent that suits you best is much like finding the ship that suits you best, once you find one, the qualities are obvious.
WHY SHOULD I USE A TRAVEL AGENT? The best agents are a wealth of information, knowledge and experience. They can help you determine which ship is going to suit you best, find a price that's right for you and help you iron out all of the details to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Why should you spend hours and hours looking for information on ships, pricing and itineraries when most travel agents can get all of this information for you in a matter of minutes?
This is not to say that you shouldn't do research on your own, but let the travel agent provide you with the materials. Many of them have tremendous insight and can give you the "inside scoop".
Furthermore -- a travel agent is worth his or her weight in gold when a problem arises -- and problems do arise. A good travel agent will have the leverage and resources needed to resolve any problems quickly and to your satisfaction.
HOW DO I FIND A GOOD AGENT? The best way is by referral. Ask family, friends, co-workers and on-line buddies who they use. I have always found this to be the best way to procure professional services of any type.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD AGENT? A good agent should be a combination of the following: Honest, friendly, courteous, caring, knowledgeable, detail oriented, and efficient with a touch of tenacity.
Beware the agent that "pushes" one particular cruise line, ship or itinerary!!
An agent should ask you where you've vacationed in the past, what you've liked and disliked about those experiences and most importantly, what your priorities are for this cruise and what you hope to see, do and experience as your previous experiences may not be applicable in this instance.
But bear in mind that travel agents are not psychic and must ask you questions to get the answers they need to help you determine which cruise is right for you. And don't be offended if the agent asks you what your budget is. And please don't be afraid to offer up any relevant information that you feel the agent may have overlooked. I don't think that any agent is perfect but this "information highway" is a two way street that requires cooperation, participation and input from both you and the agent.
A good agent will not be afraid to do some research on your behalf and present you with a variety of options on ships, itineraries and pricing. They'll also present you with the pros and cons of different ships and itineraries. They will also present you with the pros and cons of different cabin categories and volunteer past experiences of their clients and colleagues; both pro and con. Cabin selection is extremely important and a good agent will advise of the most desirable cabin locations and which cabins to avoid such as those above, below or adjoining the disco or showroom, those below the galley or major service areas which can generate a lot of noise that may disturb your sleep.
They'll discuss which dining room and seating you prefer, the size of your table, penalties from the cruise line and agency should you need to cancel at any time and the availability of optional cancellation insurance.
SHOPPING AROUND Don't ever be afraid to shop around and tell the agents that you are doing so. This will help you get the best price but it can also work against you. Set expectations up front and tell them what prices you've gotten already. A good way to prepare yourself is to search through some websites and see what bargains CruiseMates has posted. CruiseMates "I Need a Cruise" is a great way to get pricing quickly and is hassle free.
SHOULD I BOOK ONLINE? This is entirely up to you. Some folks are comfortable with booking on line while others prefer to deal with an agent over the phone or sit with one in person.
PRICE vs. VALUE Getting the cheapest price from an agent may not always be the best value even if it is on the ship, sailing date and itinerary that suits you best. Booking with an agency that has cut the price down to the bone can present problems. What you gain by getting a much better price may sacrifice the level of service, if any, you receive. Cruises are multi faceted and sometimes complex affairs. You can expect to pay for good service, but you shouldn't pay a mint. An agent that has been adequately compensated will provide great service. And that service should not stop with the booking or final payment. The agent should follow up with you after you return and be willing to resolve any problems incurred.BOOKING YOUR CRUISEAlso be wary of the agent that is not utilizing technology to research and book your cruise. Virtually every major cruise line has a website and has on-line booking capabilities. Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, NCL, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Windstar all have reservation systems that allow the agent to book them "on-line". This provides for quicker and more efficient bookings and gives the agent ultimate control of your reservation. Cruise Line reservation agents are not perfect either so this gives the agent the upper hand in preventing mistakes and getting you confirmation almost instantly. If your agent is making a reservation over the phone, don't be afraid to ask them why they are doing so.
AGENT CHECKLIST Once you've reserved your cruise, a good agent will provide you with a confirmation and invoice that contains the following:
If you don't get all of the above, don't be afraid to ask for it and if you ever encounter problems or stumbling blocks with your agent, don't be afraid to ask for his/her supervisor or ing a cruise should be just as pleasant as taking one.