Last updated: 04:05 PM ET, Thu March 24 2016

6 Expert Cruise-Planning Tips From Travel Agents

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Lisa Iannucci | March 23, 2016

6 Expert Cruise-Planning Tips From Travel Agents

This year, 24 million passengers are expected to take a cruise, according to Cruise Lines International Association. Vacationers can choose from family, luxury cruises and river cruises or embark on a unique gulet excursion. There are hundreds of cruise options to choose from, so putting together a trip can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to make the process easier and more enjoyable:

Start early: One of the best tips for cruising is to book as far out in advance as possible. “This ensures clients select itineraries and cruise lines that best match their desires and needs,” said April Brown-Miller, travel specialist with BroMil Consulting in Newport News, Virginia.

Choose quality over price: Of course, budgets are a big concern for many travelers, but it’s important to find the right cruise line for you. “Many people focus too much on price and do not understand the difference between the cruise lines, even the mass market ones,” said Chris Caulfield, vacation specialist with CruiseOne in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. “For example, they may just want the cheap inside (room), but show them an outside that will cost a little more but gives them added benefits like an on-board credit that offsets that extra cost. In turn, they end up with a better experience and return happy.”

Cruise off-peak: The cruise season is typically mid-March to late September, and rates from October to late February tend to be lower in price and ships don't always fill to capacity. Prices can also be significantly higher at holiday time, so check the calendar when booking. “If you are going to travel with kids, remember there will be more crowds and higher prices when the kids are out of school,” said Chuck Flagg, franchise owner of Cruise Planners.

READ MORE: Easy, Breezy Packing Tips: What to Bring on a River Cruise

Consider excursions. Cruises aren’t always a week long, so consider a short jaunt to a new destination, especially if you’re short on funds. “You need to consider excursions and know that in Europe they will be more expensive than the ones you will find in the Caribbean,” said Flagg.

Insure yourself: In between the time you book a vacation and actually go on it, life happens and travel insurance can cover cancellations. “Investing as little as $10, depending on the cost of the trip, insures the money won't be lost in the event of an injury or other situation that causes you to miss the cruise or other type of vacation,” said Eileen Entin, Diamond Cruise & Travel in Trenton, New Jersey.

READ MORE: Mark Murphy's 5 Tips To Save Money on Travel in 2016

Travel insurance also covers incidents that happen during the cruise or vacation. “People who just go to the Web and book a vacation don't always know about this,” said Entin. “It's bad enough to get sick and have to miss a vacation but it's downright insulting to have to pay for it anyway.”

Work with a travel agent: Sarah Gilliland is a mom and travel blogger of Sarah in the Suburbs, who often cruises with her family and relies on a travel agent to book the trips. “It is their job to find you the best deals and, if you don't have time to sit around and search the Internet for the best deals, they do it for you,” she said. “It costs you nothing to use a travel agent, as they are typically paid a commission by the travel company, so why not use their training and knowledge?”

So start early, use an agent, choose the right ship and watch the calendar. It’s a great start to planning a great vacation. Bon voyage! 

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