10 Things To Know Before You Book a Cruise

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More than 20 million people will go on cruises this year, spending an average of $1,779 per passenger per week, according to Cruise Market Watch. The advantages people find in this type of travel include the opportunity to explore multiple destinations without checking in and out of hotels, having amenities and entertainment all in one place, and the chance to make friends with fellow travelers. Because the price covers transportation, lodging and at least some of the food, it’s not cheap, but it can be reasonable.

But before you say anchors aweigh, it will pay to learn a little about cruising. Because while an all-inclusive bundle sounds great, you could encounter fishy pricing structures within the cruise world that you need to understand.

To find out how to best enjoy smooth sailing and good value, we checked in with Stewart Chiron. He’s taken more than 100 cruises in the past 25 years and maintains CruiseGuy.com. Here are his top 10 tips:

1. Research online, book through an agent

It’s always a good idea to do some comparison shopping and find interesting itineraries at decent rates — but Chiron says book through an agent, not a website. That way, you’re sure to get the most current deals, plus any insider discounts. “There may be resident discounts, military discounts, discounts based on the part of the country you live in, and last-minute deals,” Chiron says. “An experienced cruise agent can get you the right trip in the right cabin at the right price.”

The “experienced” part is important, Chiron says. You want someone with “real-world experience” and who’s been on the specific ship you’re considering, so you can ask about the quality of the food and entertainment, get an idea of what’s included in the ticket price, and learn about the atmosphere — some cruises are intimate and formal, some are more family friendly, and others are just big party boats.

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2. Book ASAP

While many cruise destinations are available year-round, the best rooms aren’t. The top rooms on the top ships are usually booked up to two years in advance. Booking early has other perks, too. “If the price drops before you make the final payment, you’ll have the cabin at the lower price,” Chiron says. “When you have this mad rush of people looking to book that last-minute space, you end up with the better cabin and you save the money.”

3. Join loyalty programs

Before you book a cruise, make sure you’re signed up for the line’s rewards program. It’s usually free, and there’s no reason not to start racking up free benefits. It’s not like you have to be loyal to any one cruise line either. That’s just the fastest way to get perks like free gifts and food, priority reservations and service, and on-board discounts. CruiseCritic.com has a fairly complete rundown of the various cruise line loyalty programs.

4. Book ship and flight separately

This isn’t always cheaper — you should definitely compare — but it usually costs less to pay your own way to the port of departure. This is because cruise lines have to look at air rates much further out than you do. Sometimes, though, they offer “free air” — in other words, the airfare cost is bundled into the ticket price, and you’re paying for it whether you use it or not. So when you talk to an agent, ask for a comparison of the cruise only and cruise and air rates.

“Less than 30 percent of all airline tickets are booked direct [through the cruise],” Chiron says, and going around them could save you hundreds, “especially when you’re going for more exotic itineraries, like to Europe.”

Self-bookings also mean you have control over the times and number of connecting flights. But on the downside, flight delays may be your problem to deal with. When the flight comes with the cruise, they make sure you get on the boat.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Lee Delong

    Carnival Cruise Lines, drunks, no respect for the handicapped, racists. Law breakers . ADA is the law.

  • Lee Delong

    Avoid Carnival Cruise. No respect for ADA, if you’re handicapped you don’t stand a chance. Wife and I both injured. Would not help with wheel chair.
    Charles Pantino

  • Lee Delong

    Flying not just this, airline also does not honor ADA. Jacksonville ,FL unbelievable until you get to DFW.

    An airline senior manager accused of attempting to meet a ten-year-old girl and her
    mother for sex was arrested at a hotel in the Pittsburgh area — with bail set at
    $150,000.00 and a preliminary hearing to be scheduled on Tuesday, July 7,
    2015, according to this article posted at the official Internet web site of
    Channel 11 WPXI-TV News in
    Pittsburgh.

    Ray
    Howland — who is 55 years old and lives in Texas but was visiting Pittsburgh on
    business — did not realize that he would be actually meeting with an undercover
    agent instead of the mother and daughter with both of whom he allegedly wanted
    to have sex while on his business trip; and he supposedly outlined the graphic
    details of his intentions in text and e-mail messages.

    Howland
    — whose current position at American Airlines is a senior manager and has been
    employed by the airline since 1989 — was reportedly charged with one count each
    of:

    Criminal attempt to
    commit rape of a child

    Involuntary sexual
    intercourse

    Unlawful contact with a
    minor

    Criminal attempt to
    commit indecent assault, and

    Criminal use of a
    communication facility

    • JCarol

      Are you suggesting that American Airlines was knowledgeable or complicit in this situation?