Subject: Re: Cruises Discount sites
Judy and other Ziners interested in cruising,

This is long because I love talking cruises! Cruising is the fastest growing travel market. If you're thinking, "I wouldn't be caught dead on a cruise ship," think again. I felt the same way before we got hooked. ;) There's a cruise out there for just about everybody....

Judy, if you're an "old hand" at cruising, then read the next paragraph & the last two paragraphs and skip the rest, as this is aimed primarily at travelers who are new to cruising.

I can't recommend a cruise discount site, although I will say that I use Travelocity's prices as a benchmark for cruise shopping. I have never purchased a cruise from Travelocity, but their cruise pricing tends to run average to slightly below average, plus I love their advanced cruise search engine--it's very user friendly and can be manipulated to retrieve just the results you desire.

Note that calling the cruise line for feedback will likely result in your query being directed to their own in-house sales division. If you buy directly from the cruise line, you will almost always pay more than on the free market, although it's my practice to run it by them on the off chance the cruise line will surprise me. It's happened once in 11 cruises!

Booking early is definitely the way to go if (1) you have little flexibility in dates, (2) you have your heart set on a certain cruise line or even ship, (3) you are picky about your cabin type and location, and/or (4) you have to fly to port and you prefer to make your own air arrangements to secure the most comfortable flights at the lowest cost. (All four usually apply to me!) You can figure out the obvious opposites (1)-(4). My friends who have flexible schedules and aren't as picky as I am about ships and cabins have been able to nail some incredible last-minute, drive-to port deals! If you book early, you might enjoy price reductions after you book--or you might not. Often, price sales apply only to new bookings, or certain cabin categories, or certain cruise dates...but it is wise to follow pricing til you board ship and bring all reductions to your travel agent's attention. A good agent will pitch your plea for a reduction to the cruise line, and even if you don't qualify for it, sometimes, you'll get a shipboard credit or, more rarely, an upgrade in cabin accommodations, for the effort.

Finally, and this is very subjective, ask yourself if your approach to trip planning, accommodations, pricing, etc. differs depending on whether you are taking what I call a "destination cruise," a trip involving a coastal cruise where the focus is experiencing the ports, e.g., Alaska or any European cruise, or a "cruise vacation" to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Bermuda and the like? I know I'm more interested in getting exactly what I want for the former, and thus pricing becomes a secondary factor; but when we've decided to go to a pretty place for some R 'n R, hey, let's talk prices, baby!

We have been frequent cruisers over the past 5 years, and because we travel with 4, price is always a consideration. I have found a TA who is a cruise specialist (that's crucial--not all TAs are qualified to book cruises) who gives me good prices, great service. If we ever part ways, I would definitely go with an online cruise discounter. However, because I don't have personal experience using one, I'm not going out on a limb to recommend one. As connected as I have become with the online cruise discussion community, as well as with "real life" folks who cruise, I have noticed one thing: for every 1 person who loves a certain cruise discounter, there are 3 who will complain bitterly about their experience using them. Now, I think that's a reflection of the law of averages when it comes to how often we voice satisfaction vs. how often we voice dissatisfaction. Further, my personal opinion is that about 75% of the complaints stem solely from the client's failure to become an educated cruise consumer. By example, an online cruise discounter that works only via email isn't going to provide the same level of service as you should expect to receive from a travel agent who will work with you in person or by phone, whether associated with an online cruise discounter or a mom-and-pop agency. As with all things, there is a basic knowledge base one needs to acquire about cruise travel in order to plan a successful cruise regardless of who you use to book it. But if you are willing to do all of the research and require little to no guidance in selecting your cruise, then there is, indeed, a reputable cruise discounter out there for you.

Along those lines, if you haven't aleady discovered these two sites, I think they are tops in providing cruise information and timely feedback from cruisers: http://www.cruisecritic.com and http://www.cruisemates.com They aren't commercial sites per se--you can't buy cruises from them--but they are ad supported. Cruise Critic's discussion boards have been invaluable to me in cruise planning. Cruisemates has a "Bargain Finder" feature that allows you to post your cruise query and receive quotes from travel agents, no obligation. Both feature in-depth articles on every cruise topic you can imagine. And you will find people talking about their experiences with cruise discounters and can draw your own conclusions about which ones warrant your consideration.

Whew! Hope this helps Judy or somebody. ;)

Diana Ball near Houston, TX, just back from cruising the Med and the Nile River, WOWsome!