Fran Golden, Special for USA TODAY
Here are 10 questions to ask your travel agent when planning a cruise.
Do you have any experience cruising?
You want to work with a travel agent who can offer advice based on first-hand experience. If they haven’t seen the particular ship, ask if they at least have familiarity with the cruise line. “You don’t want to deal with someone who is just regurgitating a sales pitch or a brochure,” says Stewart Chiron, CEO of The Cruise Guy.
Are there any special offers that apply to me?
Cruise lines target offers — for instance you may get 5% off the top if you’re 55 or older, or you may be able to save if you are an active or retired member of the military or even if you live in a particular state. If you are traveling with kids, your agent may be able to direct you to a line with a discounted kids’ deal.
Can I save by tweaking my travel dates?
You may have specific cruise dates in mind, but if you are flexible your agent may be able to save you a bundle by booking you a week or even a few days earlier. One cruise may be practically sold out and commanding high fares for blah cabins, while the very next cruise may be empty, and a steal in terms of price and choice of cabins.
Where will my cabin be located?
Not every cabin in the same category is created equally. One may bring the benefit of a larger than normal balcony. Another may be located in a particularly noisy area of the ship. Choosing a specific cabin may or may not be the best way to go. Your agent will guide you in this realm.
EXPLORE: The 10 most luxurious cruise ship suites
Can you do anything special for me?
The travel agent may be able to sweeten the pot with incentives, such as onboard spending credit, a bottle of champagne on arrival, a free massage, a special shore excursion or a dinner at one of the alternative restaurants. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Have you cruised to this destination?
When your ship visits ports you will probably want to go off exploring or do an activity — whether on a shore excursion or on your own. Your travel agent should be able to offer advice on what to see and do and to make reservations, whether for tours or that fancy restaurant you just read about.
What are the dining options onboard?
This is another area where your travel agent can be valuable as your pre-cruise guide. On many ships, you need to decide upfront whether to do early- or late-seating at assigned tables or an open-seating option. Your agent can also steer you towards popular alternative restaurants that may require an advance reservation.
SEE MORE: Bite into the best cruise ship restaurants
Should I buy travel insurance?
You are investing money when you book your cruise, and a travel agent can take you through what happens if you need to cancel, including the difference between cruise line and third-party insurance policies. Make sure you understand what’s covered and what’s not. Also make sure you understand how the cruise payment plan works — with a deposit upfront.
TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY: Travel insurance basics
What happens if the price of the cruise drops?
Some cruise fares have non-refundable deposits, but most do not. A good travel agent will help you watch for price changes and help you grab a lower fare if one becomes available (within the change period allowed).
Will I be able to reach you if I run into a problem?
The big difference between a do-it-yourself approach and working with an agent is customer service. You want someone who will know your needs and be there when you need them.