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Option #1: Brick-and-Mortar Agency

travel agency brick and mortar cruise

Photo by Bananastock / Thinkstock

This is a physical travel agency located in your city. 

ProsCons
    • Convenience: Since it’s in your neighborhood, you can stop in at your leisure or while you’re out taking care of other errands.

    • Personal service: You can speak to a travel agent in person, which can be particularly useful if you have a question or a problem to solve.

    • Broad array of products: Your local agent likely can assist you with airline tickets, tours, and other travel options in addition to your cruise.

  • Neighborhood support: Your cruise booking helps bolster a local business owner and local employees.
    • Price: A small agency may not sell as many cruises as the big players and may not have access to some special offers and promotions.

    • Limited hours: Your agency may not be open evenings and weekends when you encounter a problem or need to speak to someone.

  • Lack of expertise: Since your local agency sells many types of travel, its staffers may not be as knowledgeable about cruises as a specialist agent would be.

 

Option #2: Cruise-Specialist Travel Agency

cruisesonly cruise specialist travel agency

These are travel agencies that, first and foremost, sell cruises. You’ll find these agencies online, but they typically handle as many bookings over the phone as they do over the Internet. Examples are agencies like CruisesOnly, Cruise.com, Cruise411 and CruCon Cruise Outlet. In the interest of full disclosure, Cruiseline.com’s parent company, World Travel Holdings, owns CruisesOnly, Cruise411, and several other cruise-specialist agencies.

ProsCons
    • Price: Cruise-specialist agencies sell more cruises than anybody, so they have the lowest prices and exclusive promotions.

    • Access to “sold-out” cruises: These agencies book dedicated space on popular sailings and often have cabins on cruises that everybody else lists as sold out.

  • Cruise knowledge: Agents at these businesses are cruise experts who have firsthand experience with the most popular ships and can tailor recommendations for your particular needs.
    • Call center: You’ll likely have an assigned agent as a single point of contact for your reservation, but he or she will probably be located in a large call center on a scheduled shift and may not be in the office when you need to make contact. In that event, you’ll have to deal with another agent who may not be familiar with your booking.

  • Sales goals: These agencies often receive incentives from the cruise lines to sell a specified number of cabins on a particular ship or line in a designated time frame. Don’t book a particular cruise just because your agent is pushing a specific ship or line above others. Ensure the ship and itinerary are right for you.

 

Option #3: Online Travel Agency

expedia cruise travel agency

There are numerous online agencies, the largest of which include Expedia and Orbitz.

ProsCons
    • Convenience: Available 24/7, these agencies are just a click away when you’re ready to plan your vacation.

    • Price: The big three sell a lot of cruises, so you’ll get a competitive price and the best promotions.

  • Broad array of travel products: Need an airline ticket to fly to your cruise port, or want to stay in the city a few days before you board the ship? An online agency has that covered.
    • On your own: When you book online, you plan every detail of your trip yourself. Need help? You have to pick up the phone and possibly hold in a queue to talk to an agent in the call center.

    • Impersonality: There’s no one to give you advice, suggest the best options for you and your family, or help you cut through the clutter. If you make a bad choice, there’s no one to blame but yourself.

  • Complexity: Booking a cruise online isn’t as easy as buying shoes from Zappos.com, so if you’re tech-averse or nervous about purchasing items over the internet, this probably isn’t the option for you.

 

Option #4: Independent Agents

home agents cruising

Photo by Simon Suy / Thinkstock

These typically operate as sole proprietors or franchises and affiliate themselves with a host agency. They often work from home. You’ll find them on the Internet and via social media. They generally work with customers from across the country, regardless of the agent's physical location.

ProsCons
  • Personal service: You’ll deal with a small-business owner who has every incentive to give you good customer service so you’ll become a repeat customer and refer your friends.
  • Availability: A single agent won’t be available 24 hours a day, and you may experience a delayed response to your phone calls or messages.

 

Option #5: Cruise Lines

carnival site

You cut out the middleman entirely and book directly online or by phone with the cruise line you want to sail on.

ProsCons
  • Simplicity: If you’re loyal to one cruise line and always sail on its ships, you may not feel you need to spend time shopping around or comparing prices. Just call or go online and book your cruise.
    • Limited options: If you call Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, a representative will only book you on a Carnival ship. That might be OK if you’re an experienced cruiser who's determined that Carnival is the right fit for you, but cruise newbies should consider objective advice about all cruise lines before picking their first sailings. 

    • No extras: Many travel agents include a booking incentive like a bottle of wine, a coupon book, or even shipboard credit that you can’t get when you book directly with the cruise line.

  • Difficult comparisons: If you want to look at different cruise options between several cruise lines, doing so involves multiple phone calls or visits to numerous cruise line websites. 

 

Our Recommendations

For inexperienced cruisers, we advise playing it safe and going with an agent (options 1, 2, or 4). Having an experienced professional to offer advice and help you through the more confusing parts of the process can save you a lot of time and frustration. New to cruising and not sure where to start? Check out our cruise guide for first-timers

After your first cruise, if you've done a lot of research, feel confident, and prefer to "do it yourself," consider option 3 or booking online on a cruise specialist's (option 2) website. That way, you get the convenience of booking online but still have access to the expertise and resources of an agent should problems arise.

If you’re an experienced cruiser, you might have developed an existing relationship with an agent that you want to maintain. If not, and you're familiar with the cruise line, you can book direct (option 5) but make sure to compare prices to make sure you get the best deal.