Cruise Travel Agents Want Us To Know About These Things
These Cruise Insiders Want Us To Know About This
When I discovered that over three-quarters of all cruises are booked by them, I knew they would have loads of insider tips for you and me. So, I begged those I knew and others I met at a recent cruise travel conference to reveal all. I was thrown by some of these, as you will see.
The first thing we all want to know is how do we get the best or the lowest fare?
#1 Cruise Insiders – Best Fare
I already knew that I never pay more booking through my agent than going direct, but what they all told me consistently is there are three key booking periods where I can get the best fare.
First is by booking early, and ideally when new itineraries are released. This is when the lines offer lowest fares, booking incentives or discounts. Like when I booked Cunard’s Queen Anne. It came on sale and I received special rates and extra on-board credit.
The second key period is the November Black Friday/Cyber Monday and Wave Season which is usually in January. These are big booking periods, and the lines have to offer deals to stand out and attract our business. This past year I saw lots of deals with 60-70% off second guest fares, and added perks like Wi-Fi, gratuities or drinks or extra on-board credit.
The third key period that can be an opportunity is the 90 to 60 days before a cruise, after final payments are made and the lines look at how many cabins they need to fill – sometimes they will run deals and promotions.
However, they say lower prices are not guaranteed, especially as ships are rapidly selling back at full capacity again. Prices again now generally rise the closer to a cruise it gets.
Two other ways some spoke about were looking for packaged deals, where some agent groups sell specific cruise dates packaged with flights and transfers. These packages cruises can be good value.
And second, to look at other group cruises, like the ones I am working on running. Lines offer better rates based on the group organiser ensuring certain quotas of cabins are sold.
#2 Cruise Insiders – Deposits
This next watch out was a new one to me, as cruise lines in the UK seem to only offer non-refundable cruise deposits. So, any change usually means losing it.
In the US, agents said cruisers can usually choose either a nonrefundable or a refundable deposit, with a slight premium for nonrefundable.
However, they frequently see cruisers lose money as they think they are saving going non-refundable, but many have to cancel or change to a different date, particularly when planning far ahead.
Paying a slightly higher cost and going refundable is the safer way.
#3 Cruise Insiders – All-Inclusive
Most also said we should all calculate if the bundled and all-inclusive packages, like Princess Plus, Holland America Have It All, Celebrity Always Included and Norwegian Free At Sea, are worth buying.
These can add around $50 (£40) per day per person for a bundle of 3 or more on-board amenities like Wi-Fi, gratuities, drinks, speciality dining or excursion credits supposedly at up to 50% discount versus buying individually.
Their challenge, I agree on, and I’ve covered this in this recent cruise rip offs video (add link), where I show I was often spending more buying these bundles than just paying for the things I use.
They also point out that most people don’t realise that the Wi-Fi, drinks and so on included in these all-inclusive bundles are usually the line’s most basic package and won’t meet many cruisers needs.
#4 Cruise Insiders – Passport
The next common mistake they raised had me immediately go and check the status of mine. It’s passport issues.
While some USA “closed loop” cruises (which means they start and end in the United States) to places like Alaska, Caribbean, Hawaii and even New England and Canada, allow US residents to travel with any government issued ID, they said many cruisers make the mistake of not making that a passport.
All too often they have had to try and help get someone home due to an issue at home, a medical problem or something curtailing the cruise. To arrange to fly them home requires a passport.
Some pointed to when the Norwegian Escape ran aground in Puerto Plata Dominican Republic and guests were disembarked and had to fly home to the USA.
Around 300 guests without passports were not initially allowed to fly home until they could get a passport. It took lots of lobbying before an exception was granted. This would be unlikely for a one couple or small group.
They stressed, which is what got me worried, to also ensure passports have at least six months before it expires after the cruise, and several blank pages because both are required by some countries.
I’ve booked cruises at the end of 2024, and although my current passport only expires in 2026 I have very few blank pages left so I need to plan on getting a new one.
Another thing they said they see some slip up on is not booking using the exact name as shown in their passport, or whatever ID they are using. So, if you usually go by a nickname or shorter version of your name don’t book using that, as you’ll likely be refused embarkation.
#5 Cruise Insiders – Arrival
Another mistake they highlighted was cruisers seeing arriving the day before a cruise as a cost, not a benefit.
They spoke about how so many cruisers say they want to avoid hotel costs by flying in the same day of the cruise. However, many have got frantic cries for help due to delays or cancellations on cruise embarkation day.
I agree with this. Over the years, I have been saved much drama and stress by building in at least one overnight, like on a recent Azamara Quest Western Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona where bad weather passing through the UK led to cancellations and long delays. I would have missed embarkation if flying in on the day.
Getting in the day before also raised another of their insider tips. One I have slipped up on.
#6 Cruise Insiders – Missing Out on The Sights
While a cruise itinerary may look great, they warn that most of us forget we may not get to see two of the most exciting places on it.
For example, my Azamara Quest Western Mediterranean cruise was billed as Barcelona, Provence, St Tropez, Monte Carlo, Calvi, Florence, Pisa, and Rome.
However, Barcelona was the embarkation and Rome the disembarkation port. So, without arriving early in Barcelona and adding a post-stay in Rome I would not have seen any of the sights in either at all.
This itinerary also reveals another warning they gave me. Cruise line itineraries lead with must-see or famous ports. But the ship may dock a very long way away.
For example, on that Azamara trip, Provence was some way from the actual port of Marseille where we docked, Pisa and Florence were hours from our port of Livorno, and Rome up to two hours in bad traffic from the closest port of Civitavecchia.
The way to spot this, they advised, was the itinerary will usually have something like “Venice” and then in brackets after the actual port (so these days for most ships that is Ravenna or Trieste). It’s more common in Europe and Asia but does apply in Alaska where, as I discovered on my recent cruise, while the itineraries say Anchorage, the actual ports of Whittier and Seward are around 60 miles away.
#7 Cruise Insiders – Too Late
Another key mistake that they see us making is not booking everything we hope to do on the cruise in advance and waiting until on board. Things like excursions, dining, spa, or any other events.
Their clients that do that often come back having missed out on the best excursions and a favoured day and time for specialty dining.
I have had that firsthand. And I would add that as more and more of us cotton on, getting in very early is even more important.
For example, I missed out on my first choice and all the adult-only excursions on my Disney Norwegian Fjords cruise last year, even though I went in 4 weeks before the cruise. And for a Silversea Southern Africa cruise I have just booked for 13 months’ time, I Iogged in and found that 2 of the excursions I really wanted to do in Namibia are already waitlisted.
#8 Cruise Insiders – Requirements
I cannot stress enough the importance of the agents next warning. Why? Because I also get messages from passengers being refused boarding, as they did not have proof that they met the latest cruise boarding or port country entry requirements.
While the pace and frequency of pre-boarding requirement changes has slowed post shutdown, they can and will still change. For example, a few weeks before making this, the United States suddenly required any non-residents that had been to Cuba to apply for a full entry Visa – they could no longer just use an ESTA.
The EU will be introducing an ESTA soon that all non-EU members, which now includes UK, will have to have.
#9 Cruise Insiders – Insured
I am a big advocate for this next one based on the many messages I get from fellow cruisers telling me how it has saved them from eye-watering costs. So I was pleased the agents felt this too.
The most common quote was like this one that Travel Shy said to me: “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen something come up that resulted in clients either kicking themselves because they didn’t have it, or that were incredibly thankful that they did have it!”
That is insurance.
I was interested if agents felt the cruise line or third-party independent insurance was the way to go.
I take out a third party not line policies, as I found higher cover, choice of what limits I have, covers my travels either side of the cruise, and covers my pre-existing conditions. This is the way most travel agents suggested, saying at least we should compare the cruise line policy with a third party.
#10 Cruise Insiders – Asking
The other interesting mistake they see those of us that book with a travel agent making is seeing them as just a mechanism for booking, and not asking for enough advice.
Most have been on many cruises and have an enormous quantity of fellow traveller feedback on lines, ships, cabins, restaurants, ports, excursions, transfers, port hotels, and so on.
All said to get even more value out of using a travel agent over booking direct is ask them for advice.
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