Booking the right cruise
Here is where the experience of a travel agent can help with selecting a cruise. There are many cruise lines, itineraries and ships to choose from. Some may not be right for you. You need to consider many factors.
- Where do you want to cruise from?
- Where do you want to cruise to?
- Do you have specific dates in mind? If so, do you have flexibility?
- How formal/casual do you want the cruise to be?
- How much do you want included in the cost (totally inclusive, mostly inclusive, pay for what you want)?
- How much is your budget?
Next you need to figure out the order of importance for each of these questions. For instance, if you want to cruise out of San Diego, but you want to do a Canadian/New England Cruise and you want to go in January, this can’t happen. You’ll need to set your priorities/what is most important to you and go from there.
Another thing to consider is that you cannot simply say you only want to go on a Contemporary cruise line when in your mind you are saying that because you figure the price is lower. It is better to use a dollar figure and be clear if the figure includes everything or just the cruise fare. There are a number of things that can cost you more on a cruise. You need to check to be sure that you understand what is included. If cost is your primary focus, you’ll need to know this to be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Things that may or may not be included in pricing are gratuities, beverages, shore excursions, spa reservations, merchandise, specialty restaurants, room service, photos.
Once you have selected a cruise line, itinerary and ship, the next consideration is the type of room you want. Many people say that they only want a place to sleep so it doesn’t matter. You should consider if you would be happy in a room without a window. For some this is not an issue, for others, it could be. You’ll want to make sure that you book the category of room that you will be happy with. Yes, cruise lines do offer complementary upgrades at times, but this cannot be guaranteed. If you book an inside room that you will not be happy with and don’t get an upgrade, you will not enjoy your cruise as much. The next category would be an ocean view room. This will offer some sort of window in the room. These windows do not usually open, but will give you a view outside. Some of these may be small porthole windows and some may be large picture windows.
The next category usually available is a balcony room. These rooms will have a deck outside of your room where you can sit outside and enjoy the water passing by. Some of the Royal Caribbean ships have a new category called a courtyard view. This room has a window that doesn’t look over the ocean, but rather looks over the interior courtyard of the ship.
If you are looking for more luxury, you will want to consider a concierge level room or suite. Some of these will offer spa amenities with the room, champagne or fresh fruits, flowers, concierge services, or even butler service. These rooms can be the size of a standard balcony stateroom up to a large multi-room complex (some are more than 2000 square feet!).
Once you have decided all this it’s time to book! We of course recommend you use a travel agent that is an expert with the various cruise lines to be able to give you the most information and assistance with your booking. Travel agents however are not created equal. In general, cruise lines do not allow travel agents to reduce its prices. Therefore, you will want to find a travel agent that is up on the current promotions with the cruise lines to get you the best offer available. You will also want to check out what value added services are offered by the travel agent. Many will offer onboard credits for booking with them. This is a great deal, but shouldn’t be the only consideration. If you are getting a large onboard credit, you may not be getting the best service possible. Keep in mind that the travel agents are using a portion of their commission to pay for your onboard credit. You will want to make sure that the agent you are using is well versed with the policies and procedures for the cruise line you are booking. You never know when something may go wrong with your plans so you will want someone who understands what to do in every situation. They may not have experienced every situation, but they know what to do or at least who to contact for every situation. You will also want to have an agent that you can reach in an emergency. Email isn’t always available if you don’t have a smart phone so you will want someone that you can call if a problem arises.
Most cruise lines will give you a courtesy hold for a period of 1-5 days to make a deposit. The exception to this will be if your arrival is within a certain number of days prior to the cruise in which case they will expect full payment. Cruise lines vary in what they require for the booking. Some require your age at the time of travel while others require your date of birth. Your address and phone number are always needed either by the cruise line or your travel agent. Make sure your travel agent has a number that you can be reached at when you are traveling as well.
Things to decide at the time of booking include whether or not you want insurance, dining times, table size and bed set up. We’ll cover these decisions more in a bit, except for bed set up. This mainly means do you want the main beds set up as a queen bed or as two twin beds. Many of the rooms will have this option, but not always. On the Disney Dream, they are reporting that the queen beds will not be able to be split as they are on the other ships.