First of all, welcome. You are about to embark on a wonderful journey, one that 96.4% of first-timers repeat again and again. We want you to feel that you will have a trusted advisor leading you on this journey. If we get you on the right ship, you will discover a new kind of vacation experience that will take you to new worlds with very little hassle in unsurpassed comfort.
Perhaps no portion of travel is as prone to exaggeration and misleading pricing information as the cruise industry. Look around the Internet and you will find scores of sites claiming to offer the “best deals”, “deepest discounts”, and “fantastic savings”. The cruise lines own advertising often features an incomplete price offered on the lowest possible category of accommodation.
Our cruise section is designed to help you steer a straight course through all of the phony hyperbole and come-on-pricing, we are here to help you find the best Sunset Dinner Cruises.
For all but a handful of niche lines, all cruise lines offer discounts based on projected yield per sailing. For instance, repositioning sailing’s at the beginning or end of a season carry far higher discounts than prime season space.
Any smart marketer who wants to assume that the public is naive can play the Internet price game, promising a one-week cruise for $699. Or less.
The fact is that all of the top quality lines try to assure that all of their top agents receive the same pricing benefits.
Where travel firms tend to differ is in the quality of their consulting and the benefits and amenities they provide.
We hope that the information that follows will help you make an informed decision when it comes to the planning of your first, or next cruise vacation.
SOME IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
MAKING CRUISE RESERVATIONS
Last year, 11.3 million North Americans took a cruise vacation, a 6% increase over the previous year. Despite unparalleled growth, only about 9% of adult Americans have sailed on a cruise ship. Today, we would like to talk to those of you who are considering your first cruise, and, perhaps, to a few of you who have cruised once or twice before but would like to know more about the industry.
The reservations process can be daunting. How do you pick a ship, a cabin, or an insurance policy? This brief guide is intended to help you navigate the cruise-selection process. Whatever process you use to select your cruise, be content with the knowledge that there is a 96.4% chance that once you return from your first cruise, you will sail again within thirty-six months. This represents the highest satisfaction level, by a wide margin, of any type of vacation experience and it is the core reason for the growth of the industry. But lets make certain that you get it right the first time. Here are some of the questions we are asked most often by consumers considering their first cruise:
How Do I Start?
Some of the best and least subjective information about cruising can be found in books such as The Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Fielding’s Guide to Cruising. We find the information in these books to be far more accurate than information gathered from the Internet. Friends may offer opinions based on their own experiences, but it is doubtful that they have the range of cruise experience sufficient to guide you toward exactly the right vessel. And there is only one best cruise line and vessel for you – the ships really are that different. All of your friends likely to insist that their doctor is “tops” in his or her field. It is much the same with cruises. Unless you have sampled dozens of ships and are aware of the striking differences between products, it will be difficult to make a decision on your own. Marketing departments at the largest lines aim to keep you confused. Every ship is described in glowing terms.
How Do I Select An Agent?
There are a number of cruise specialized travel firms in the United States that enjoy excellent reputations. But ultimately, it is the relationship you will share with your particular consultant that will have the most influence on your overall cruise vacation experience. Quite often, firms that sell the most cruises get preferred rates. As a general rule, you are best off working with a member of the “By-Invitation-Only” Virtuoso Network. These are the top-producing agencies in the nation. Last year the network members sold $5.1 billion worth of leisure travel. They are the top-producing agency group for virtually every one of the top-ten rated cruise lines. Conde Nast Traveler Magazine rates the best cruise consultants in the nation on a yearly basis. The ratings are published every August.
(For the complete ratings of the top ten lines, click on Cruise Line Ratings on our home page).
Planning a cruise ought to be a three-step process. First, contact a knowledgeable cruise expert to discuss possible options. It is important that your consultant tries to learn about your likes and dislikes. Do not give in to sales pressure during this first discussion. Take the time to study the brochures you will be given, looking carefully at accommodation choices and itineraries. During the second discussion with your consultant you will make the actual reservation. The third and final step in the process is a comprehensive trip review, which is usually done two or three weeks prior to your departure.
It is the first, consultive meeting/discussion that is critical. A great consultant will try to get to learn as much as possible about you and your goals for your upcoming cruise vacation. You will not be pressured to purchase. In fact, if you try to purchase, you will be asked to take the time to do some research to check the validity of the advice you are being given, you just need to make sure to pick the best option for you, try to pick an option that offers port canaveral transportation, this way you don’t have to worry about it later.
Will I get a better rate if I book with one of those 800 numbers or the Internet?
It is true that there are cruise agencies that work out of large rooms in out-of- state booking centers. And it is true that they may have a lower price than you will find in your own community. This usually has more to do with the fact that they are rebating a portion of their commission than with any special deal they have with the cruise lines. In fact, cruise lines frown on rebaters, much as the medical or legal professions frown on practitioners who would kick back a portion of their fees to attract business. A travel firm that sells on price rather than service, runs the risk of loosing the right to sell a cruise line’s product. Cruise lines cannot set the price but they can set standards and they can refuse to pay commission to those who rebate a percentage of the cost of their product.
How Should I Go About Selecting The Best Cruise for Me?
That will be determined by the skill and knowledge of your consultant combined with the research that you have been willing to do on your own. Here are some questions you will need to answer to get pointed in the right direction:
What is your budget? Be candid with your consultant. Any of the top-ten cruise lines are going to cost from $500-$800 Per Person Per Day. There will, however, be special sailings and promotions that could lower the cost by as much as $200 Per Person Per Day. Always discuss cruise costs on a per person, per day basis. Do not include airfare or insurance but do include all port charges and taxes. This will enable you and your consultant to discuss apples-to-apples without confusion.
How long can you get away? Ten to twelve days is the ideal length of time to cruise. Are you really locked into seven? One of the biggest mistakes made by first-time cruisers is the selection of a cruise that is shorter than what they need or can afford. Never book a three or four night cruise. They are not at all typical of the overall cruise experience nor are your fellow guests.
What do you expect to get from your cruise experience? Your agent will want to know this so you can be matched with the perfect ship.
How important is the age of the ship? Booking you on a new, glitzy mega-ship with two or three thousand fellow guests is no problem – but is that what you really want? Would you consider an older, more mature cruise ship? Be cautious. Wine and people seem to get better with age but we feel that does not apply to cruise ships?
Do you like the Mirage and Caesar’s Palace? We ask that question, because some of the new ships being launched closely resemble floating Vegas resorts with huge casinos, several dining options, and numerous onboard options. But there are alternatives for those of you who don’t want a glamorous, high-energy cruise experience. One cruise line employs Oxford and Cambridge lecturers on voyages that concentrate on the antiquities. There are small, comfortable ships where you never have to don a tie, sailing ships that cruise the French Riviera, 100-passenger ships that ply the rivers of the Colonial South with visits to antebellum mansions along the way, and small ships that sail with just six couples to Alaska. The point is that there are numerous options for those who want to do other than mainstream cruising. The top-three rated cruise lines are all ships with fewer then 700 guests with an “inclusive” policy, meaning gratuities and drinks are included. Most of the larger, mass market ships, feature long lines and institutional cooking.
How Do I Find the Best Cruise Line for Kids? That one is easy. Most cruise lines offer rather superficial children’s programs led by part-time instructors. The best current children’s programs will be found aboard Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises. The highest-rated children’s programs overall and by a wide margin, are offered by Disney. These are the only three lines we would consider if you are looking for the very best onboard kids programs. Holland America and Celebrity Cruises also have good onboard children’s programs.
What Will My Fellow Passengers Be Like? This is the least-asked, most critical question to consider. When you are traveling you are relatively careful about the hotel and the restaurants you select. You are concerned with health and your personal safety. But you are also concerned with something we call, for want of a better term, “the jerk factor.” A deal on a ship with a group of rampaging drinkers who are going to keep you up till the wee hours is not a deal. It’s money down the drain. Your vacation is an expression of who and what you are.
The fact is that the more expensive the cruise product the more refined an audience it will tend to attract. Of course, refinement is not for everyone. Comfort is also important. But the “jerk factor” on various cruise lines is definitely worth discussing with your agent. Cruise line brochures do not, unfortunately, offer “jerk factor” ratings