Why you should use a travel agent when booking a cruise

In the era of online booking, travel agents still rule the cruising roost, booking more than 60 per cent of departures. Why? The benefits are impossible to ignore. Let AMA Travel Cruise Specialists get your vacation plans in ship-shape.

Availability: AMA Travel Cruise Specialists have access to most of the cruise line reservation systems that show current and updated availability. What that means is travel agents have an insider’s edge when it comes to finding the best offerings.

Better deals: Yes, it’s true: booking a cruise through a travel agent is often cheaper than booking online. Cruise companies tend to share their newest and best packages with agents before making them public (if they do at all). Agents also have access to special discounts, promotions and upgrades you can’t get elsewhere.

Deep knowledge: The savviest cruise specialists – like those at AMA – have been planning cruises, and sailing themselves, for decades. They also have up-to-the-minute info on travel documents, weather, safety alerts and flight changes, and can organize travel medical insurance (a must-have for international voyages).

Product matchmaking: Whether you’re a retiree, or one of the single-and-ready-to-mingle set, you probably want to cruise with a similar demographic. Agents can offer best-fit insights that are tough to glean from the companies’ websites. For example, young adults are often drawn to Carnival Cruises for its hoppin’ nightclubs, poolside parties, and concert cruises, featuring big-name musical acts like The Band Perry and Jewel.

The onboard experience: Mainstream cruise lines claim to be all-inclusive, but there are usually extra fees for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (you can purchase a beverage package instead of paying per drink), certain meals, spa services and gratuities. An agent will break it all down for you so there are no surprises later. They’ll also help you book shore excursions in advance and select your stateroom – a complex undertaking with choices of size, amenities, location, view and price.

Headache-free travel: You’ll probably fly in and out of your departure port. An agent can line up the connections like clockwork, and help in a heartbeat should problems occur. Cruisers often need more buffer time than they think; for example, it’s a roughly one-hour drive from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to the Manhattan cruise terminal, or New Jersey Cape Liberty Cruise Port, but AMA cruise specialists recommend allowing a minimum of three hours for transit. With an agent handling those details, you can say bon voyage to your worries.

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-By Kirsten Rodenhizer

Westworld is the award-winning magazine of the Alberta Motor Association. It offers a mix of travel features, auto trends and special member savings.