Even though many of the pandemic-related cruise restrictions have been reversed, utilizing a travel agent's service today is just as important!
With over 100 different ships across seven mainstream cruise lines to choose from, you will benefit from a travel agent's expert advice regardless of whether you are preparing for your first cruise or an experienced cruiser climbing the loyalty ranks. Working with a good travel agent provides so much value and service, and they are an invaluable asset to all cruisers.
There is so much more that goes into planning a cruise vacation than just picking the right cruise line and ship. Do you want to book any shore excursions or specialty dining experiences? What about a pre- or post-cruise extension? These are all things that a travel agent can assist you with.
Travel agents who specialize in the cruise industry are often fans of cruise vacations themselves; they enjoy planning and sharing their knowledge with others!
Here's why you should always, always use a travel agent when booking a cruise.
What is a travel agent?
A travel agent is someone who is passionate about travel and providing the highest level of customer service . An agent's primary goal is to curate the best possible travel experience for their clients, whether that be on a two-week Europe land vacation, weekend trip to New York City, Walt Disney World, or a cruise.
Not only will they take care of all your travel arrangements including flights and dining reservations, but they will also offer advice on destinations.
What are the benefits of using a travel agent?
Better understanding of the cruise industry
A travel agent will help you understand all of nuances of a cruise vacation, like the difference between anytime/my time dining and a set dining time, how port fees are factored into the cost of your trip, and what each cruise line's suite benefits are.
Plus, each cruise line is known for different things. If you want a child-free vacation, you may want to consider sailing on Virgin Voyages. However, if you also want to purchase a drink package, you will have to expand your horizons.
Celebrity Cruises offer more inclusive fares than other cruise lines, but does this mean that you'd get your money's worth?
Your dining and entertainment options are determined by ship that you decide to sail. For example, some cruisers would rather be on a ship with multiple complimentary dining options, while others are more focused on elevated specialty dining experiences.
It is a lot to think about, but these are all decisions that a travel agent can guide you through.
When you book your cruise, you are often given the option to select your stateroom ahead of time. If you are not familiar with the ship, you may find yourself in a location that you deem undesirable, like near the nightclub or have an obstructed view.
Based on your preferences, travel agents will help advise you on the best cabin locations. If, for instance, you are prone to sea sickness, they might suggest a cabin on the lower decks.
Plus, they can help you distinguish between the different cabin categories (i.e., interior, ocean view, balcony, and suites).
They save you time
Planning the perfect vacation is time consuming. You will not be able to research and book everything in a single sitting. Let a travel agent save you time by giving you personalized suggestions or handling the booking themselves.
Rather than spend the time pricing out multiple different cabins or itineraries, a travel agent can do that for you. I've sent an email asking my travel agent for quotes for multiple dates and cabin categories, and they sent me a list back within a few hours!
If you have no idea how you would like to spend a day in port, they can provide some ideas on what you may like based on your preferences. They can even help arrange private tours if there are multiple highlights you'd like to visit.
With some weeklong itineraries making four or more stops, you can only imagine how much time it would take to research each port and learn about the different activities offered.
Best possible rates and perks
There is no better feeling than getting a great deal on your cruise vacation! While booking a cruise through a travel agent does not guarantee a lower rate, it can happen, especially when they negotiate group space with the cruise line.
Even if they are unable to offer you a group rate for your particular sailing, they may have special perks available, including onboard credit, a complimentary bottle of wine or specialty restaurant dinner, or prepaid gratuities. Your total cost savings will vary, but prepaid gratuities or a single specialty dinner could save you over $100!
Plus, if your cruise fare is eligible for repricing, they will continuously check the rate to see if decreases. If that happens, they will contact the cruise line and get them to honor the lower price.
Most of the time, using a travel agent will not cost you anything extra than booking the vacation yourself, either! They are paid via commission from the cruise line. It's truly a win-win for everyone.
Read more: What to know before booking a cheap cruise
They can create a group rate and handle everyone's bookings
Cruises are a popular vacation choice for large groups, including reunions and multigenerational families. If you are planning to take a cruise with a group, you should reach out to a travel agent!
They might be able to set up a group rate with your chosen cruise line that can possible save money and get you special perks. Plus, they can handle the logistical issues for everyone, including payments, booking flights, and answering questions!
Rather than leave these issues up to one person in the group, let the travel agent remind everyone about the final payment date and renewing passports.
Peace of mind during emergencies or changes
Sometimes, cruise lines will make changes to your booking or sailing. Maybe you booked a cruise on one ship and it was later changed to another due to scheduling issues or dry dock maintenance. Once onboard, your ship may have to cancel or change a port of call at the last minute due to weather. In these cases, your travel agent acts as your advocate and a liaison between you and the cruise line.
You will not have to worry about communicating with a cruise line representative, as they will do it for you! Before any changes are made, your travel agent will ask you how you would like to proceed and then work with the cruise line to honor your wishes.
Late last year, I booked a 7-night Western Caribbean cruise for two for February 2023. Life happened and by late-January, I found out that my guest would no longer be able to join me. Even though this this was well past the final payment date, my travel agent was able to change the reservation to a single cruiser with ease! All I had to do was send a single email.
Additionally, a travel agent will be able to assist in rebooking flights in the event that yours is cancelled or delayed. Weather is unpredictable, and you never know when you will fall victim to airline chaos (one of the best cruise tips is to arrive the day before your cruise!). The last thing you want to do when trying to kickstart your vacation is wait in line at the customer service desk in the airport or on hold with the airline.
No matter the situation, a travel agent will handle will handle all the technicalities, from rebooking a flight to processing refunds, leaving you with nothing to do but focus on packing and showing up for your cruise!
Unless you book a last minute cruise after the final payment date, you will most likely pay an initial deposit and pay it off over a period of time. If you handle the cruise booking yourself, you will have to remember to make these payments.
Travel agents, however, can set up automatic payment plans from the time of booking through the period leading up to the final payment date.
And, of course, you will receive reminders along the way! Travel agents will never leave you in the dark regarding how much is left to pay off and how much longer you have to do so.
When trying to book one-of-a-kind staterooms and suites (think Royal Caribbean's Ultimate Family Suite/Ben & Jerry's "Sweet" or Disney Wish's Concierge Tower Suite) or hard-to-get sailings, having a good relationship with a travel agent is key. They will be on the ball as soon as these cruises are available for booking!
Additionally, travel agents may have first access to sales, as cruise lines will often notify their partner agents of them before the general public! Since they keep track of current vacation promotions, they can alert you as to when the best time to book is.
What if you prefer to plan your own vacations?
The great thing about working with a travel agent is that you can give up as much (or as little) control as you would like. If you let them deal with the booking, you can handle all the fun add-ons, including airfare, pre-cruise hotel stays, dining and show reservations, drink packages, and shore excursions.
You will still benefit from all their services. If something goes astray, they will be the ones who will sit on hold with the cruise line, thus freeing up your time to research the cruise ports and read more Cruise.Blog content to prepare for your vacation!
Why should you should always use a travel agent to book a cruise?
The biggest and most invaluable benefit of using a travel agent is convenience and service. You may or may not find that they are able to offer you a lower price or additional perks, but you will always be able to receive personalized recommendations, payment reminders, and peace of mind when on the cruise!
The longer you work with a single travel agent, the better relationship you all will build. Over time, you may find this lends itself to additional perks, too.