HOW TO CHOOSE A CRUISE
Not sure which ship or itinerary is for you? Ask the experts
So you’ve decided to take a cruise. Good for you. You’ll have a blast. So now what? What do you want from your cruise? Fine wining and dining? Top-drawer entertainment? Relaxing spa treatments at sea? Exotic ports-of-call?
And how much are you prepared to spend? Where do you want to go?
What do you want to see and do? Big ship? Little ship? River cruise?
You can see how tricky it gets when you start drilling down on the specifics. That’s why God invented cruise agents.
These intrepid souls have done the hard yards.
They’ve been on dozens of cruises. They’ve sampled the fare, tried the waterslides and experienced all of the shows.
They’ve walked the walls of Dubrovnik, gone swimming with the turtles in New Caledonia and they’ve photographed blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands. Well, someone had to do it. You can just be jealous of them like their friends must be or you can tap into their expertise.
According to Marion Bunnik, product director and joint owner of cruise and tour specialist Bunnik Tours, cruise agents should get to know their clients before making a recommendation.
“I would never just reach for a brochure,” she says.
“You don’t want an order taker, you want an expert consultant who will do their best to meet your expectations,” she says.
“Of course we need to know who is going, how many, whether it is a family cruise – that sort of thing.
“But most importantly, we need to know your interests.
“What do you like to do, where do you want to go, what excites you.”
Jean Summers, director of sales at Clean Cruising agrees.
“My big question is always, Why are you cruising?
“I want to know what sort of hotels and service levels you are used to,” says Summers.
“I ask about previous holiday experiences, both good and bad.
“But everything comes back to the ‘Why?’ Is there a significant birthday, do you want time in the sun, lots of ship time?
“What do you want to do on shore?”
Don’t be afraid to overreach. You never know what the cruise agent might be able to do.
Part of their job is to manage
expectations. Bunnik says a good cruise agent will think outside the square – or ship – and create a fulsome holiday experience. She says it is not unusual for clients to end up booking a trip far different to what they originally had in mind.
“We do a lot of pre- and post-cruise touring,” she says.
“For example, we can combine Croatia and the Baltic, the Arctic and Norway or Central and South America. If someone wants the best of South America, we might arrange island hopping in the Galapagos and a tour of Peru before a cruise from Santiago in Chile to Buenos Aires and Rio and a tour of Iguazu Falls.”
OK, so what if I said I like say, cycling, Asian food and archeology?
“Oh that’s no problem,” Bunnik says. “Vietnam is beautiful for the cycling.
“You could tour Angkor Wat in Cambodia and cruise around South-East Asia.
“And maybe add a river cruise on the Mekong and see Laos as well.” So what about the cruise line? How do cruise agents match a client with a ship?
“People may have a particular cruise line or ship in mind,” says Bunnik. “But if they are open to alternatives, the choice of ship may depend on where they want to go and what they want on board.
“For example, Royal Caribbean is a good choice if you have children while couples might prefer Holland America Line, or Celebrity or Silversea Cruises. “It often comes down to their budget as some lines are more expensive than others.”
Summers also believes the choice of ship is critical.
And it might not be on the high seas at all.
While larger cruise ships will suit those who want a bigger, multidimensional experience with plenty to do, river cruises provide a more intimate encounter.
River cruises typically host about 120-160 guests and don’t have the “theme park” attractions that lure family groups.
“River cruises tend to overnight more often in port and this might suit people who want to dine out or experience the night-life shore-side,” Summers says. “A new Uniworld river cruise product called U is aimed at an up to 45-year-old market with no children.
“These ships will typically leave port at two or three in the morning so you can have a fun night in town, cruise through the night and arrive in the next port at around 10 the next morning.
“We’re also very confident putting people on APT cruises. They deliver on promises and we know our clients are going to have a fantastic time.”
Summers also stresses the importance of taking out travel insurance and says she has seen tragic consequences because of inadequate cover.
“Travel insurance should be at the very top of people’s checklist and organised before they pay for anything else,” she says.
“Research is crucial – you absolutely must know what you are covered for.
“Cruise agents should know which policies are suitable.”
Agents can find the best cruise to suit your needs whether adventurous or scenic.