Is it cheaper to book a cruise online through the cruise line or through a travel agent?
It might or might not be cheaper to book through a travel agent, but it is definitely smarter. Here's why:
If you want chocolate, you can go to See's Candies. The chocolate might even be on sale. But you'll get only See's. And that's not, I am here to testify, a bad thing.
But suppose you also like Godiva. What then? Wouldn't you need a guide to tell you which one is right for you?
"The cruise line only has their products to sell, their ships, their cabins, their ports of call," says Jay Rein, chief executive and president of TravelWorm.com, an online travel agency.
Cruises used to come in two flavors: one for the newly wed and the other for the nearly dead. That notion is outdated. There are different kinds of cruises for different kinds of people and different price ranges and different kinds of ships.
"The [travel] agent can sell you everybody's cruise ship, everybody's extracurricular activities, everybody's options," Rein says. "An agency has a greater portfolio to choose from."
As for price, an agency worth its salt should be able to help you get the most for your money, whether it's alerting you to an especially good deal or getting you upgrades and perks.
If you want the human touch, try ASTA.org or www.cruising.org/planyourcruise/experts.cfm.
But steer away from the agent who doesn't ask enough questions to know your "vacation personality" and immediately tries to tell you that a certain cruise line on a certain date is the ticket, says Evan Eggers, president of SureCruise.com, a cruise-only online agency.
You also can book through an online third-party agency or go to a site that will compete for your business, such as CruiseCompete.com.