The family (3) is looking to book our first ever cruise, a 15-day R/T from LA to Hawaii on the Golden Princess (1/21/09) to celebrate our 25th Aniv. and the kid's college graduation. Though I've looked over info in brochures and online 'til my eyes have fallen out, being that we're totally new, and in the dark to this game, I cannot decide if I should book online or through an agent. As a longtime AAA member they seem to have a pretty good travel agency. But in looking online at sites such as Cruisedirect.com and others the comparative cost difference is significant, up to almost $800 in our case. That's a lot of soda & snacks on board and would cover our tipping. Are there many potential major problems that we may encounter going the online route? Is a good trip protection insurance plan available if I book online? What is the track record for customer service, and what else should I be aware of, with the online agencies? What sections here should I be lurking in to learn more about this process/experience? Geez, we haven't even booked yet and already so many questions; just wait 'til we really get rollin'!
Also, is a 14-day cruise too much of a chunk to bite off for newbies first cruise?
With Princess cruises you can normally save some considerable dollars by researching and booking with an online agency.
That said... you don't have to actually book it online. Call or email agencies to inquire about their best price!
With some communication you'll get a better feeling as to the service the agency will provide. Once you find one you feel comfortable with, come back and post asking for some other folks personal experiences with that particular agency.
Just look for responses specific to the agency you're requesting info on, and take "with a grain of salt" those who respond saying use my agent, they are always the best. Those who answer a question about one agency, trying to direct you to another agency are always a bit suspect to me.
Try cruisecompete.com as a starting point (or near melting point for you ) to compare rates. Let travel agents shop for your business, and you'll get a sense of the prices out there.
I just booked my 1st ever cruise for a sailing in August. A whole lot of $$ out the door, but after diligent shopping around and homework, I did find a better deal than I would with NCL directly. Nowadays, I email my travel agent with all sorts of questions, and she's always there to help.
And I think a 14-day vacation is a-okay! Sounds fabulous in my mind. But will you miss your own bed for 14-days? Are any of you prone to motion sickness? Prefer your own cooking? Dislike others doing your dishes? Those kind of things. But you'll be fine.
'Also, is a 14-day cruise too much of a chunk to bite off for newbies first cruise? "
Probably not. But if it is your first cruise, you might be ahead to actually talk one-on-one with an experienced travel agent to get an idea about what you want.
For a cruise of that length, especially to Hawaii a balcony is a real advantage, and a starboard room would give you a better view of Kilauea at night and so forth. A room amidships would have a little less motion if that is a concern, and the food on Holland America would be better than on Princess -- and on and on. I'd talk to the travel agent personally for my first. (IMHO)
Landlocked in Denver, but cruisin every chance we get.
Polynesia, Carib. '86
Cr. Odyssey, Scandinavia, '91, 30 Day S Pac. 2002
Crystal Harm, Aust., N.Z., '94
Royal Odyssey, AK,'96
Old Cr. Pr. Canal, '97
RCCL, Carib, 1998
Volendam, Car, 2000
Ryndam, 35 day S. Am., Antarctica, '03
Is. Pr., Canal, 2004
Statendam, 34 day China, Japan, AK '06
Cr.Pr., Carib. 08
Eurodam, Atlantic, Med. '10
For this type of investment, you really will benefit for using an experienced agent. There is a ship for everyone but not every ship is right for everyone. You have no previous experience on which to base your decision. What many consumers do not understand is that online agencies do not offer significant discounts from regular travel agents. Most cruise lines have level playing field pricing policies these days. Agents, whether they are from a small office or a large online agency, cannot sell a cruise for less than the cruise line nor can they rebate more than a specific percentage of the cruise fare back to the customer in discounts and onboard credit. Every agent on "Cruise Compete" will offer you about the same price. They will throw in free insurance or hotel stays to try to get your business. In most cases these freebies are not what they appear to be. Unless an agent has group space blocked on a particular cruise, any other agent should be able to match the offer. They might be able to match it even if they do not have space. Cruise pricing can change daily like airfares so it may seem that one site has a lower price if you check at a different time. You may also want to read the fine print as often not all fees and taxes are included in the "deals". Pricing depends on the category of room booked as well. It is in your best interest to use a CLIA (cruise line accredited agent) to book your trip. Unlike the home based or Internet based agents, these agents can offer you the benefit of their training and experience. Large numbers of the customer service reps at the big online agencies work in call centers and have never even been on a cruise. Home based agents who paid a few hundred bucks for a start up business are not reliable either as they generally are unaware of all of the ins and outs of booking cruises. When you book online or through an 800 number, you do not establish a relationship with the agent. The job of this person is to close the deal on the first contact with you. If you buy a cruise that is not right for you, who cares, they have their commission and since you do not know them, they do not rely on repeat business. When dealing with a small agency and a live agent, they have a personal vested interest in getting you the best price and also the best cruise to suit your needs. They will also guide you through the entire process should any problems arise. Wouldn't you rather have a name and a direct phone number to a person who knows you by name and knows your details without having to type in a number. To sum up, you should never have to pay more by using a REAL agent than you would booking online or directly through the cruiseline. The person who books it gets the commission. Wouldn't you rather know who that person is instead of giving it to a nameless IP address?
What many consumers do not understand is that online agencies do not offer significant discounts from regular travel agents. Most cruise lines have level playing field pricing policies these days. Agents, whether they are from a small office or a large online agency, cannot sell a cruise for less than the cruise line nor can they rebate more than a specific percentage of the cruise fare back to the customer in discounts and onboard credit.
While the above is true of some of the cruise lines (Royal Caribbean and Celebrity), since the OP was referring to Princess it doesn't really hold true. While travel agents can't advertise prices lower than the "standard" cruise line pricing, they can privately discount them as much as they like.
That's not to say any independant agents can't discount an equal amount. If they choose to, they can. But, though it's a bit more time and effort than plugging info onto a TA's website, one can still save $$$ by shopping for cruise prices.
I guarantee that any good TA can match or beat any cruise you find on the internet. But if ya'll want to pay thousands of dollars to a nameless faceless internet site, be my guest. All passengers, especially new cruisers can benefit from the experience of a good TA. Internet is fine for airfare but not for unexperienced cruise buyers. No way will an internet deal ever be better than a matched deal from a good TA.
First of all, choose a travel agent or book through the specific line unless you know what your doing, which you won't on your first time unless you are in the travel industry yourself. A travel agent can get you the lowest possible price, but you have to push them a bit to do it. Be willing to walk away from that agent and go to another or book directly if they refuse to lower the price they quote, as they are losing money if they can't book you on a cruise. Most people book a 3-7 day cruise on their first outing, but if you have time and money you can do a 2 week cruise if you like. Whatever the cruise line is, your travel agent can give you the same price they give you on their site, even if it is lower than theirs. Also, many sites will give a lower price through either special deals or consolidaters. Whichever way you choose, check the company out carefully and any online site you can't call to get help with don't use. Travel insurance is also highly recommended.