The internet has transformed the way that you can book a holiday. Research can take you around the world; drone footage can carry you over oceans and Google Maps can drop you, quite literally, on the beach.
But there are some holidays that are trickier to book than others –and cruising is one of them. We spoke to six travel agents to find out how they can make smooth sailing of the planning process, and help you bag your perfect voyage.
Agents can save you cash
Cruises offer good value for money, but they’re rarely cheap. Cruise lines constantly feed top deals through to travel agents, many of whom negotiate prices that can’t be found elsewhere. Trailfinders’ team of cruise specialists frequently sell exclusive itineraries and offers, ranging from buy-one-get-one-half-price deals on high-end sailings, to flights at low net rates for overseas cruises.
For newcomers, an expert can also advise on where it’s worth splashing the cash and where to cut back. For example, they’ll know at which ports it’s worth paying for an organised excursion, and those you can explore independently.
While most cruises are worry-free, if something does go wrong – such as missing a flight –booking through a reputable agent will also give you extra support and financial protection. This could save you a considerable amount, so always check your level of cover when booking.
Welcome to cruise matchmaking
There are nearly 500 ocean, river and speciality ships in operation, so the sheer volume of choice can be baffling. However, for a professional it’s a cinch to ascertain which liner has the perfect clubs for your kids, or has speciality restaurants to make your mouth water.
Agents are constantly ploughing through training courses, sail on their own holidays, and make regular ship visits when vessels are in the UK. Bolsover Cruise Club’s 100 employees have spent more than 17,500 nights at sea, so know each ship’s style, atmosphere and typical clientele.
“We believe there’s a cruise ship out there for everyone, whether you’re an experienced cruiser or are thinking about your first ever cruise holiday,” says sales manager Helen Moore.
Expect your agent to ask detailed questions, from who you’ve travelled with before and what you normally do on holiday, to whether any itineraries already appeal. Your budget will be pivotal in finding the right cruise, so have your figures ready.
Did you want a view with that?
Once you’ve decided on the ship and itinerary, get ready to pick your cabin. Otherwise known as staterooms, they fall into several main categories: interior, sea view, balcony and suite.
But it doesn’t end there. Each room-type will have various options within it, such as connected accommodation, single cabins and penthouses. On P&O Cruises’ Ventura there are 1,555 cabins split across 35 different grades.
Your budget will be the main factor influencing your choice, but agents are masters at navigating complex deck plans to pick the right room – from avoiding the one opposite the laundrette to determining just how accessible a cabin is for those with mobility issues. Their insider knowledge means they’ll also know how to secure a good deal if your budget is tight, such as choosing a sea-view stateroom with a slightly obstructed view, which will be cheaper than its neighbours.
They have packages you won’t see elsewhere
A cruise holiday needn’t start and end on the gangway. Highly personalised packages crafted to your specifications are what agents excel at, and typically come with flights, pre or post-sailing hotels, excursions and tours.
A recent high-end bespoke South American booking made by ROL Cruise saw customers explore the Galapagos Islands with Celebrity Cruises, and tour Buenos Aries, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Quito, with accommodation and activities tailored exactly to their requirements.
For a dose of holiday inspiration browse through the agency’s range of bucket list-busting Signature Experiences. If your diary is looking bleak for March 2020, how about an ultra-luxury 19-night adventure, combining a Silversea Arabian cruise with wildlife safaris and stargazing at an Indian tiger reserve?
Managing director Sarah Wikevand said these trips are popular with those celebrating a special birthday or anniversary: “We can arrange most experiences for customers and are happy to accommodate bespoke requests.”
How about a personal concierge?
After you’ve nailed the fun stuff, there’s still the logistical elements to take care of, and this is where you can whittle away entire evenings if you’re doing it alone. Book with Haslemere Travel, and once you’ve agreed on the main elements of your cruise, it’s on to the finer details.
Need door-to-door transfers, airport parking, lounges and the right kind of insurance to cover cruise? They’ll arrange that, alongside booking any onboard spa treatments, dining and excursions, and for more extensive itineraries they’ll secure land-based tours and restaurant reservations. They’re also normally able to get customers free additional benefits, such as onboard credit or the use of exclusive amenities.
Pack like a pro
Dress codes are one of the first questions most novices ask about cruising, and even seasoned travellers have queries when trying a new line. They can vary considerably, and a wise agent will know exactly what you need to pack.
Just ask Travel House branch manager Mandy Jones. Her customers receive printed information on dress codes for their sailing, and she shows photos from her own and colleagues’ cruises to bring the experience to life. She even has a stash of menus, daily planners and kids’ club programmes from different lines, to help customers imagine themselves on board.
Jones also has a checklist of handy items to help even the most experienced cruiser. Ever considered packing giant pegs to unite your towel and sunbed on a windy top deck?
Fancy getting exclusive access to ships?
Did you know that when ships come to the UK you can go on board to view the facilities? In 2018, more than 50 cruise ships docked at UK ports. Myriad Travel owner Tiffany Woodley explained: “We take groups of clients on board ships when they’re in Liverpool, before or after a sailing. If you’ve already cruised and want to try a new ship or line, it’s fantastic to be able to see the difference first-hand.”
Woodley is currently planning a visit for customers to explore Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Explorer when it docks in June. “We’ll send a car to bring clients to the cruise terminal, and then take them for a tour with a senior member of the ship’s team, so that they can see cabins and the public spaces. We’ll all have lunch, and after the visit we can secure them an exclusive offer.”