Fancy a voyage? Make a cruise agent your first port of call who can ensure you pick your perfect itinerary

Hotels, villas, flights, car hire... These days, many of us are more than happy to make our own travel arrangements, more often than not online. 

But when it comes to booking cruises, it’s a different story. About 70 per cent of cruise holidays are still fixed up via a travel agent – and for first-time cruisers, the figure is even higher. And that’s no bad thing – here’s why booking your voyage the ‘old-fashioned’ way is still best…

About 70 per cent of cruise holidays are still fixed up via a travel agent – and for first-time cruisers, the figure is even higher

About 70 per cent of cruise holidays are still fixed up via a travel agent – and for first-time cruisers, the figure is even higher

There's so much choice

Choosing a cruise ship that suits your requirements is crucial. On a land-based break, you might use your hotel simply as somewhere to crash out. But on a cruise you’re on board for much of the time, and reliant on your floating home for food and entertainment, as well as to sleep. Selecting a cruise that is right for you can be a daunting proposition. 

Worldwide, there are over 60 cruise lines operating more than 400 ships. Options range from vast, party vessels to luxurious yachts for just 100 passengers to taking in the Manhattan skyline on a river cruise up the Hudson.

You also need to pick an itinerary. The Med, Baltic or Caribbean? Sightseeing intensive, or lots of time at sea? Again, big decisions and a cornucopia of choice.

You can swot up on the internet for all this information – cruisecritic.co.uk is a good starting point – but for informed guidance it’s much easier simply to contact a specialist cruise agent.

You can't beat expertise

Staff at independent cruise agents such as Reader Offers – this week celebrating 20 years in business – have first-hand knowledge of the most popular ships. Reader Offers says each of its staff have, on average, visited some 20 ships – so can advise not only on general ambience, but also on details such as different types of cabins and best dining options, for example flexible or fixed. 

These agents will talk everything through on the phone – they don’t offer online bookings. Of course, all agents work on commission, but good ones should focus on finding the right cruise for you – and doing so makes business sense, as it will result in repeat bookings.

But on a cruise you’re on board for much of the time, and reliant on your floating home for food and entertainment, as well as to sleep

But on a cruise you’re on board for much of the time, and reliant on your floating home for food and entertainment, as well as to sleep

Tailor your perks and price

You can opt for a cruise-only booking, and sort out flights, transfers and hotel stays at the beginning or end of the trip for yourself. But if you arrange everything as a package it’s less hassle and you get much better back up – for example, if your flight is delayed and the ship leaves without you, you’ll have someone to turn to for help.

Major cruise lines can book packages, but specialist cruise agents can tailor-make everything, so generally offer much more flexibility with flights and land-based arrangements.

Conventional wisdom has it that it usually works out cheaper to book through a specialist cruise agent than direct with the cruise line, but I’m not so sure.

I’ve just compared prices between several agents and the cruise lines themselves for a Royal Caribbean cruise in the Med and a P&O one in the Caribbean, and the quotes I got were virtually or exactly the same.

But at the very least, agents should be able to price-match cruise lines’ own fares, and they may offer a bigger range of sweeteners such as cabin upgrades, on-board credit, free airport-to-port transfers abroad and free parking at UK ports.

But shop around

It’s worth contacting a few specialist cruise agents: some will have better knowledge, closer working ties and better deals with certain cruise lines than others.

My recommendations on the best places to start are: Reader Offers (readeroffers.travel, 0845 556 6913), Cruise.co.uk (cruise. co.uk, 0800 408 6228), Imagine Cruising (imaginecruising.co.uk, 0800 840 5921), Planet Cruise (planetcruise.co.uk, 0800 840 1075) and, for luxury cruises, Mundy Cruising (mundycruising.co.uk, 020 7399 7670).

You can find more expert cruise agents on cruiseexperts.org.

 

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