Here’s the best advice I can give prospective cruisers: Invest the time to talk with a travel advisor about your dream cruise. He or she knows the cruise lines, ships and itineraries better than you ever could and can tell you the real value
of all those add-on packages. A travel advisor is your conduit to an uncomplicated cruise that matches your budget and interests.
You probably already know what’s most enticing about traveling by cruise ship: The fact that you get to visit a whole lot of places, say, five or six different cities or islands during a week-long trip without a lot of packing and repacking
your suitcase, or having to jump on planes and trains. Your hotel travels along with you.
EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS
Despite the ease of this mode of travel, choosing the cruise that’s right for you is a monumental challenge due to all of the options. Let’s start with your destination. In the Caribbean, for instance, you can pick from Eastern, Western
and Southern Caribbean itineraries. Which islands do you want to visit most? Where do you want to board the ship? Hankering for a European cruise? There are tons of choices there, too; itineraries focus on regions such as the Mediterranean, Western
Europe, Baltic, and the Norwegian fjords, among others.
Beyond itinerary, you want to match your travel style with the right cruise line. Some excel in nightlife. Others target food and wine connoisseurs. Some are ideal for families; others are better suited to couples. And in a new cruise industry trend,
some are seriously destination-focused, offering enrichment lectures about ports of call while you’re on the ship, and featuring long days (and overnights) in port. While hotels often have just a handful of room types from which to choose,
a cruise ship can offer almost 30 different cabin categories!
As a journalist who’s covered the cruise industry for nearly 20 years, and sailed some 300 different trips, it could be argued that I’m rather well-informed when it comes to choosing cruises. And yet, no matter how many times I’ve
been blessed to travel the world, I still look online to fellow travelers, particularly on Cruise Critic, (where the author is now chief content officer) for tales of their trips.
BOOK WITH A PRO
I read reviews of ships and ports of call and ask questions and get answers that help at least whittle the list of options down to a manageable size. I check out our deals section just to get a handle on what we’re looking at, price-wise, for
the trip that we’re hoping to take. We don’t ever, however, go it alone. We use a travel advisor. Indeed, once we’ve finished what I refer to as “plan-a-cruise homework” which is so much more fun than the math or
biology variety remembered from school days, we turn our ideas over to our travel advisor. We think of him as more counselor than clerk.
It’s not just that he can manage the actual booking process, though he does and we’re grateful to be relieved of handling logistics. He also keeps track of our preferences and knows the ins and outs of cabin locations on whichever ship
we choose. He handles the deep digging on cruise fares, finding us not just a great price but also the best possible value for our money. He’ll make recommendations on which extra-price packages, whether it’s shore excursions or all-you-can-drink
beverage plans, make the most sense.
He’ll flesh out the rest of the trip, too. Need a flight to get to your port of embarkation? He handles it. Need a hotel for the pre- and/or post-cruise stay? Not only can he book one for us, he’ll make a recommendation based on his own
travels. When we want a shore excursion beyond what the ship offers, say a private winery tour in Tuscany or entry to VIP events like tennis’ Wimbledon, he can arrange access. So give up the responsibility of the nit-picky cruise details
and hand it over to a travel advisor. You’ll elevate your experience and have so much more time for the fun stuff.