Travel cruise agents: How to choose the right cruise for you
They’ve been on dozens of cruises, sampled the food and seen the shows — these are the cruise secrets only travel agents know.
ESCAPE: Cruise Special, October 1 – Concierge Verandah. Picture: CLIA/Supplied Source:Supplied
So you’ve decided to take a cruise. Good for you. You’ll have a blast.
What do you want from your cruise? Fine wining and dining? Top-drawer entertainment? Relaxing spa treatments at sea? Exotic ports-of-call?
And how much are you prepared to spend? Where do you want to go? What do you want to see and do? Big ship? Little ship? River cruise?
You can see how tricky it gets when you start drilling down on the specifics. That s why God invented cruise agents. These intrepid souls have done the hard yards. They ve been on dozens of cruises. They ve sampled the fare, tried the waterslides and been to the shows. They ve walked the walls of Dubrovnik, swum with turtles in New Caledonia and photographed blue-footed boobies in the Gal pagos Islands. Well, someone had to do it. You can just be jealous of them like their friends or you can tap into their expertise.
They’ve been to the hot spot of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Source:istock
According to Marion Bunnik, product director and joint owner of cruise and tour specialist Bunnik Tours, cruise agents should get to know their clients before making a recommendation.
I would never just reach for a brochure. You don t want an order taker, you want a consultant who will do their best meet your expectations, she says. Of course we need to know who is going, how many, whether it is a family cruise that sort of thing. But most importantly, we need to know your interests. What you like to do, where you want to go, what excites you.
Jean Summers, director of sales at Clean Cruising agrees.
My big question is always Why are you cruising? says Jean. I want to know what sort of hotels and service levels you are used to. I ask about previous holiday experiences, both good and bad. But everything comes back to the Why? Is there a significant birthday, do you want time in the sun, lots of ship-time? What do you want to do on shore?
Are you interested in Antarctica? Picture: Silversea Source:Supplied
Don t be afraid to overreach. You never know what the cruise agent might be able to do. Part of their job is to manage expectations. Marion says a good cruise agent will think outside the square or ship and create a fulsome holiday experience. She says it is not unusual for clients to end up booking a trip far different to what they originally had in mind.
We do a lot pre- and post-cruise touring. For example, we can combine Croatia and the Baltic, the Arctic and Norway or Central and South America. If someone wants the best of South America, we might arrange island hopping in the Galapagos and a tour of Peru before a cruise from Santiago in Chile to Buenos Aires and Rio and a tour of Iguazu Falls, she says.
OK Marion, so what If I said I like say, cycling, Asian food and archeology?
Oh that s no problem, she says. Vietnam is beautiful for cycling. You could tour Angkor Wat in Cambodia and cruise around South-East Asia. And maybe add a river cruise on the Mekong and see Laos as well.
Explore Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Source:istock
So what about the cruise line? How do cruise agents match a client with a ship?
People may have a particular cruise line or ship in mind, says Marion. But if they are open to alternatives, the choice of ship may depend on where they want to go and what they want on board. For example, Royal Caribbean is a good choice if you have children while couples might prefer Holland America Line, Celebrity or Silversea Cruises. It often comes down to their budget as some lines are more expensive than others.
Jean also believes the choice of ship is critical. And it might not be on the high seas at all. While larger cruise ships will suit those who want a bigger, multidimensional experience with plenty to do, river cruises provide a more intimate encounter. They typically host around 120-160 guests and don t have the theme-park attractions that lure family groups.
Scenic Spirit Royal Panorama Suite. Picture: Scenic Source:Supplied
River cruises tend to overnight more often in port and this might suit people who want to dine out or experience the night-life shore-side. A new Uniworld river cruise product called U is aimed at the up to 45-year-old market with no children. These ships will typically leave port at two or three in the morning so you can have a fun night in town, cruise through the night and arrive in the next port at around ten in the morning. We re also very confident putting people on APT cruises. They deliver on their promises and we know our clients are going to have a fantastic time.
Jean also stresses the importance of travel insurance. She has seen literally tragic consequences because of inadequate cover.
Travel insurance should be at the very top of people s checklist and organised before they pay for anything else, she says. Research is crucial you absolutely must know what you are covered for. Cruise agents should know which policies are suitable.
Scenic Azure, Douro Valley, Portugal. Picture: Scenic Source:Supplied