Originally Posted by MargieP
It has been mentioned a lot that it is best to book a cruise through a travel agent. My question is how do I go about finding a reputable agent? What should I look for?
Thanks for your help.
Choosing a good travel agent (TA) is like hiring someone. Interview at least three TAs. Tell them what you are interested in. See what they recommend. Ask them why they are making that recommendation. Is the TA making a recommendation based on what they believe is the best fit for you, or are they making the recommendation because that cruise line offers the best commission?
Find out what experience the TA has with cruising. How many cruises have they been on? How many different ships? How many different cruise lines? The experience one will get on Carnival Cruise Line is much different than the experience one gets on Crystal. The experience one gets on Holland American Line (HAL) is much different than the experience one gets on Costa (even though both are owned by Carnival Corporation). The experience one gets on Seabourn is much different than the experience one gets on Disney. Even two ships owned by the same company will offer different experiences. So the experience one gets on the Majesty of the Seas is much different than the experience one would get on the Allure of the Seas, even though both are owned by Royal Caribbean.
What professional organizations does the TA belong to? You want to see if the TA belongs to ...
ASTA - American Society of Travel Agents
CLIA - Cruise Lines International Association
NACTA - National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents
NACOA - National Association of Cruise Oriented Agencies
Virtuoso Member - this is a by invitation only and tends toward the luxury end of travel.
There are other professional organizations that are not mentioned here.
Ask your agent about any cancellation fees and price reductions. Many agents charge a small fee if you cancel, though if you have a good enough relationship with your agent, they will likely wave the fee. Price reductions mean less commission for your agent, but can result in significant savings for you.
Does the agent offer any special deals? If the agent is rebating some of the commission back to you, what suffers? Usually what suffers is service. Will your agent be there when there is a problem? Will your agent keep abreast of things and warn you, or even rebook you (for example, the ship will arrive a day late for whatever reason - will your agent rebook your flights for you, or are you going to be standing in line with 2000 other people trying to do the same thing?).
Does your agent ask you questions? Your agent should be asking you what you are interested in. Otherwise, how does your agent know what to recommend.
Think about buying a car. Is a Corvette a good car for a family of four? Is a mini van a good car for a single person who rarely transports more than a weeks worth of groceries? Is Disney Cruise Line a good match for a retired couple looking for a quiet getaway? Is Seabourn a good match for a young active family of five? The answer to all of these questions is no, but unless the TA asks, how would the TA know.
Are you looking for beaches? Then the Caribbean is a good place to go. Are you looking for scenery? Then Alaska or Northern Europe would be good. Are you looking for history? Then Europe is good. Are you looking for a quick weekend getaway? Then Carnival or Royal Caribbean would be good. Again, the TA must ask in order to know what to recommend.
After you have interviewed a few agents, come back here and see if others agree with the recommendations. Finally, choose one you are comfortable with. Do a test drive of sorts. Book a fairly easy cruise (one week or less from a North American port) and see how things work out. Then, once you are really comfortable with your agent, you can get into the more exotic cruises (European river cruises - adventure cruises ...).