With cruises, agents offer direction that direct booking doesn’t

By Kate Rice

Travel Weekly

Some travel agents may fret about cruise lines selling direct to consumers, but I see plenty of opportunity remaining for savvy and knowledgeable travel agents who want to sell cruises.

I live in New York and am surrounded by sophisticated and frequent travelers, and they are always coming to me looking for a travel professional who can help them navigate what can look like a tangled thicket of choices for vacationers out there.

And some of the choices they ask me about are cruises. They’ve done some legwork and know that they need help.

My favorite story involves my mother-in-law. I call her the professor in Prada. She’s traveled the world for work and for pleasure and specializes in off-the-beaten-track destinations. Some of her more recent adventures include riding camels while overnighting in the Moroccan desert and visiting remote villages in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

My mother-in-law was a professed anti-cruiser. But when she and her husband wanted to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary by visiting Greece and Turkey, their initial research made it clear that the only way they could execute their itinerary was with a cruise. With a barely suppressed shudder my mother-in-law committed to a cruise and asked me for help in choosing the right ship and itinerary. I connected her with the CruiseCenter, a Signature Travel Group member based in Houston. There, Dianne Pope, senior cruise and tour consultant, spent weeks helping my mother-in-law and her husband plan their trip. They left, and I held my breath.

They came back bubbling with joy over their trip. My mother-in-law waxed rhapsodic about walking past Roman centurions holding blazing torches for one onshore event; her husband confessed that he had tossed his heart-healthy diet out the window in order to enjoy Seabourn’s fine cuisine.

They’re still more land-based travelers, but guess where they went in January? Another cruise, this one aboard the Seabourn Pride, visiting Hong Kong, Vietnam and Cambodia and coming home via Singapore. And once again they turned to Pope to help them plan it.

But opportunity isn’t limited to high-end cruises. A time-pressed friend of mine, the single mother of 10-year-old twins, knew the Disney Magic sailing out of New York would be perfect for the cruise she wanted to take with her mother, an enthusiastic cruiser, and her twin daughters.

Her challenge: fitting in a cruise between the end of summer camp and the start of school. Alas, the Magic’s schedule didn’t fit her family’s, so she sought alternatives. She briefly tried researching her options on her own, then threw up her hands and called me. “I need a travel agent!” she said, sounding a little desperate.

I sent her to Carolyn Waffle, who is affilicated with Avoya Travel, and she guided her through the many choices she had. My friend considered Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruse Line, ultimately choosing Norwegian. Waffle did all the legwork for my friend so she and her mother could make an informed choice.

A vacation is a major investment, not just of money but of vacation time, something Americans never have enough of. Cruise lines and Wall Street may embrace the direct sales route because it looks more cost-effective than going through retailers, but as my friends and family have learned, using a great travel agent doesn’t just save you time and money, it means getting the cruise vacation that’s right for you.

As I’ve heard Scott Koepf, vice president of sales for Avoya Travel, say repeatedly, “How cheap does a bad vacation have to be to make it a good deal?”
When you book your cruise with a knowledgeable travel agent, that’s a question you never have to ask.”

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