If you’ve never cruised before, the thought of booking your first cruise can be daunting. What to pack? What to wear? Do I really have to dress up on formal night? Am I picking the right cruise line? The questions are endless. Many frequent flyers bristle at this suggestion, but the truth is that a professional travel agent can be a great asset when booking your first vacation. Travel agents can help you build experiences that are hard to replicate on your own, and can offer advice and counsel based on their own experiences and those of other customers. On the other hand, if you are just booking a quick 3 to 7 night “get away” cruise to the Bahamas or Caribbean, you might not be in the market for any kind of special experiences or private shore excursions. As a frequent cruiser, I tend to book basic cruises on my own, but use a professional travel agent for special cruises – think 14 nights on the Mediterranean with many historical ports of call. That said, here are few ideas for researching and booking a cruise on your own.
Researching Your Options
There are several online options for researching cruise ideas, including right here at InsideFlyer. Two sites most prospective cruisers should consider visiting before they book a cruise are Cruise Critic, and The Avid Cruiser. Cruise Critic features a main site with professional and personal reviews, cruise news, etc. as well as message boards which can be useful for connecting with other cruises and picking up on shared knowlege. The message boards are quite entertaining (many cruisers are just as passionate about their cruising as some us are about our miles), and can contain some good information. You can also visit a Roll Call thread for each cruise. Those threads can be great connection points for either meeting your fellow cruisers (It’s not unusual for there to be a Cruise Critic reception on cruises of 7 nights or longer). Many times, cruisers use these threads to put together private tours and split the cost. It’s up to you whether you actively participate in the boards or specific cruise threads, but they can both be good sources of information to help you decide what you want to do during your cruise. Avid Cruiser is a website containing professional reviews and cruise information that is also very useful when planning a cruise. Reviews are professionally written, and the videos and port profiles can be a real help as you research your cruise options.
Also, you should consult the website of the particular cruise company you are thinking of booking. You can explore deck plans of the ship you are considering, and research any number of things about your particular cruise itinerary from the number and types of restaurants on board, to pictures of staterooms to the typical weather in your ports of call. There’s also a section on ship sponsored shore excursions that you can peruse as well.
Booking a Cruise Directly with the Cruise Line
Booking a cruise directly with a cruise line is not all that much unlike booking a typical airline ticket. You go to the site, search for a cruise by date, destination, port of embarkation, or ship, pick a stateroom, and confirm your cruise. If you are booking outside the final payment window (typically around 75 days prior to your cruise), you have the option of just making a downpayment. You can come back to the website later, and make your final payment, or make partial payments along the way towards your cruise.
Once you are booked you can consult the cruise line website for information on ports of call, and research other options to enhance your trip. If you happen to miss your port of call for any reason, getting your money back for a shore excursion is easy if it’s booked through the cruise line. They simply credit your onboard account for the value of the excursion. If you book on your own, you are “on your own” in getting your money back. Just depends on the terms with your tour operator, so know before you go. You can also use your cruise line’s website for booking enhancements to your cruise vacation like inclusive beverage packages, spa appointments, specialty restaurant reservations, and in some cases onboard shows.
Booking a cruise directly with the cruise line is easy, but is just one way to book your cruise vacation. In a future article InsideFlyer will explore the benefits of booking with both online and traditional travel agents.