Cruise 101: How to Book a Cruise

Things to know about planning for your cruise.
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The launch of Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas, the worlds largest cruise ship. Aerial views off Miami.

You are ready to set out on your first cruise, but now you must decide how to go about actually booking it. What is best: should you call the cruise line directly or call a travel agent, or maybe you prefer to go online and book the trip yourself. It is a little different than planning a resort getaway, so here are a few tips to help you consider your options.

DIY vs. Travel Agent

You can go to your chosen cruise line’s website and book directly, you can even call up one of their specialists and talk through your vacation options, but if this is your first cruise you may want to use a travel agent. For one, if you are still researching which company is best for you – Royal Caribbean versus Celebrity Cruises for example – a travel agent can help you figure out which is a better fit for your personal style. Agents can also help you plan your air itinerary with appropriate cushion to ensure that getting on and off the ship is not stressful.

Not All Travel Agents are the Same

Some travel agents are true specialists when it comes to cruises and you can tell by their certifications. Look for agents who have been accredited by the Cruise Lines International Association and you can be certain that they have first-hand experience across the industry. If those shipboard photos of your friends and family were the final push to convince you to sail, ask them for a referral to their agent or at least their tips for first-timers.

Travel agents will also have lots of information on the many cabin categories from which to choose. Some ships have more than 30 different cabin types: inside, outside, balcony and ocean view are not the only features to consider.

Best Time to Book

Last minute booking is possible and can be a good deal if you are looking for an easy getaway more than an outside cabin mid-stern on the starboard side. If you are planning this as your true vacation adventure, allow yourself more time; maybe six months or a year depending on ship size and destination. WAVE season, the period between January and March, is a very popular time to book. Look for special offers and perks whether you are going it alone or using a travel agent.

Booking airfare is another important decision in getting started and the tips for finding the best fare are influenced even by the day of week you purchase.

The first step for any travel plan is to decide where in the wide, wide world you want to go, you can get some ideas here.