I’ve learned a lot since we bought the local travel agency just over two years ago. I’d like to share that knowledge with you.
First and foremost, people want to know how they can get the “best deal” on a cruise.
You may have heard that by waiting until a few weeks before a scheduled sailing, you can get a smoking deal because the ship doesn’t want to sail with empty cabins. And that is true — to an extent. But it only works if you can drive to the pier — because if you need to fly, the cost of a last-minute plane ticket cancels any cruise savings.
Also, you will likely end up with a guaranty cabin. That means you are guaranteed a cabin in the category you book (ocean view or interior), but you have no choice of where that cabin will be.
Think about it for a minute. Which cabins sell first? The cabins that are mid-ship are booked first. So if you wait until the last minute to book, your cabin will either be in the very bow or very stern of the ship, or worse. Sometimes, if there are no more cabins left in the category you have booked as a guaranty, you might be lucky enough to get a better class of cabin at no increase in price. But again, the location will probably be less desirable.
Why are mid-ship cabins the first to go? Think about a seesaw. The very ends have all the motion, no motion in the middle. So if you fear motion sickness, the best place to be is mid-ship on the lowest deck. Think of a tall building in high winds — more motion on the top floor than on ground, or in this case, sea level.
How else can you get a good deal? Usually the early booking discounts (booking more than six months from sailing) will give you a nice discount. If you decide later that you cannot take the cruise on the date you booked, you can get a complete refund of your deposit up until the due date of the final payment, which is approximately 75 days prior to sailing. Carnival is the only cruise line that has non-refundable deposits for early booking discounts.
If you have served at least two years active duty or are in the U.S. military reserves, the military discount is the best in the business. You will need proof: either your discharge papers or an ID card.
Booking into an existing group also gives either a discounted price or a cash amenity — or sometimes both. So where do you find a group? You can start one of your own, if you can get your relatives and friends to agree on one date and destination, or you can check with your local travel agent to see what groups they have on the books. Currently we have a group on a Hawaii 15-night cruise round trip from San Diego in March 2010 on Holland America. And a 10-night Panama Canal round trip from Fort Lauderdale in April, also with Holland. (I chose the 10-night round trip over the 14-night trans canal trip because I would rather see the ports of call in the Caribbean than all those coming up Mexico’s west coast.) Besides, when you do the complete transit of the canal one set of docks will always be at 5 a.m. or earlier, so chances are you won’t see it anyway.
One of the reasons we affiliated with the host agency America’s Vacation Center is because of their sheer size (with more than 500 independent agents) and the great number of groups that they have in place. AVC often has negotiated a discount price with the cruise lines, again because of their size; they carry a lot of clout. Or they have amenities like $100 on-board credit for people booking into their group.
How can you save money on airfare, shore excursions and insurance? All the cruise lines sell airline tickets, excursions and insurance. It’s another way for them to make money. Generally you can get a better price if you book your own air, or have your travel agent do it, and catch a shore excursion once you are on shore from the many local tour guides that hang around any port of call. It all depends on how much of a gambler you are. The catch is that if you do not go through the cruise line, and you are delayed getting to the ship for embarkation or after a tour, you will be waving as the ship sails away without you. This happened on our last cruise to Hawaii last Christmas.
You might remember that there was some nasty weather in the Seattle area just before Christmas. Our captain waited as long as he could, some five hours, before he sailed for the Big Island without 14 passengers who never made it down to Los Angeles from the Northwest. A lot of people did make it to the ship in those five hours. But the ones who didn’t make it and who HAD booked their airfare through the cruise line were flown to Hilo, put up in a hotel for four days at no charge, while the ship sailed across the Pacific toward Hilo. Now that’s tough to take. They also could have collected on their trip insurance for missed connection.
We were on a shore excursion, again booked through the cruise line, to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific on Kauai. It’s a long ride from the dock, and after we boarded the buses to return to the ship, one of them wouldn’t start. The driver called Roberts of Hawaii, the tour company that the cruise lines contracts with, and they sent another bus. But by the time they got there and back to the pier, it was after the scheduled sailing time. Because the tour was booked through the cruise line, the ship waited for all the late travelers. If they had booked with an independent tour company in order to save a few dollars, they would have missed the ship. Getting to the next port of call to rejoin the ship is then on your dollar.
There’s so much more to tell you. I will have to wait until next month to talk more about the ins and outs of cruising.
Meanwhile, please remember to buy from local business people. In this economy it’s more important than ever. If a local business goes out of business, then you are stuck going to the Valley for goods or services.
And think about those two groups in March and April to Hawaii and the Panama Canal. Why not join us? Cruise Port Travel is your local CLIA accredited agency. We have moved our office to our home in Woodland Meadows. Call (928) 472-7878 for directions.