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First Cruise: Advice For Booking Your First Cruise

Walter and Rebecca offer some advice and tips to navigate the sometimes confusing world of Cruise Fares, Fees, and other considerations when booking your very first cruise. We discuss travel agents, cruise payment structures, hurricane season, and traveler's insurance among other topics.

We LOVE to cruise and we love helping others discover the joys that come with vacationing onboard a cruise ship. But booking a cruise is a bit different than booking a hotel. This episode should help booking that first cruise a little more straightforward.

Full Transcript, apologies for typos.

Walter 0:00 Hey folks, welcome back to Where's Walter. I'm Walter. Rebecca 0:02 And I'm Rebecca. Walter 0:03 And today we're planning your first cruise by looking at options to book that cruise. Walter 0:16 In another episode, we touched upon this but you know, booking the cruise can be one of the most confusing aspects for a new cruiser. It's not like booking a hotel, you know, you just see the hotel room, a whole bunch of websites, there's all the various prices you pick it and go. With the cruise, with every level of cabin there's, there's different variations of the cabin. There's all kinds of extra fees, there's this, there's that, port fees, a lot of things that first time cruisers don't understand. So we're going to talk about a few options that could help you in booking your first cruise. So first of all, we're going to start out talking about travel agents, booking direct and hurricane season and this especially applies for those of you watching from the United States. If you're watching this from the US, more than likely your first cruise will be a Caribbean cruise. They're the cheapest, they're the most plentiful, and they have a lot of variety. And so there's something called hurricane season. And it generally in the US, it actually runs from say June to November, but for the purposes of cruising, generally they consider August through say early October, late October to be hurricane season for cruises. And there's two things to know about this. One, the prices can be a little bit cheaper. If cruise lines are going to run sales, they will generally run them or if they're going to reduce rates, they will generally have cheaper rates during hurricane season because there are a lot of people who are afraid to cruise during hurricanes, they get concerned that hey, the ship might get caught in a hurricane. Which leads me to point number two. Ships can move, islands can't. So we happened to sail during Hurricane Irma and... Rebecca 1:51 Maria. Walter 1:51 Maria. Yeah, so we were actually right in between the two. We left Miami three days before hurricane Irma hit St. Thomas, which was supposed to be our first stop, and our ship just simply went straight south to Curacao, changed the itinerary and basically sort of kind of followed Irma back in and we ended up having the best weather we've ever had on a cruise. So don't let hurricane season scare you about booking your cruise during that time, because the ships will change your itinerary during that season. And that is one thing to understand about booking any cruise. Any itinerary can change at any time without notice, even after you get on the ship. Things may happen beyond the ship's control or whatnot. So all of your planned stops may or may not happen. So you kind of gotta roll with it. Now the most direct way to book a cruise is, well direct. Most cruise lines have websites now and you can go ahead and peruse through the various ships, the itineraries and go ahead and book your cruise. But again for a first time cruiser, there are a lot of things that you have to take into consideration, such as you know the specialty meals, the dining packages, the drink packages, this package, that package. What kind of discounts are in play, might not be in play? Are they a good deal? So there is a lot to navigate, especially for a first time cruiser. So we actually recommend a travel agent. And I know a lot of you are probably thinking, Oh, wow travel agent, I'm going to have to pay them, actually they don't right? Walter 2:00 No, the cruise line pays their commission. Walter 2:24 And that is one thing to understand about booking any cruise. Any itinerary can change at any time without notice, even after you get on the ship. Things may happen beyond the ship's control or whatnot. So all of your planned stops may or may not happen. So you kind of gotta roll with it. Now the most direct way to book a cruise is, well direct. Most cruise lines have websites now and you can go ahead and peruse through the various ships, the itineraries and go ahead and book your cruise. But again for a first time cruiser, there are a lot of things that you have to take into consideration, such as you know the specialty meals, the dining packages, the drink packages, this package, that package. What kind of discounts are in play, might not be in play? Are they a good deal? So there is a lot to navigate, especially for a first time cruiser. So we actually recommend a travel agent. And I know a lot of you are probably thinking, Oh, wow travel agent, I'm going to have to pay them, actually they don't right? Walter 3:25 See. So, you can use all the services of a travel agent. You don't have to pay them anything. The cruise line actually pays for them. And one of the things about you know, a good travel agent and we recommend that you do some research on that. They know the cruise lines well, they know the ships, they know the itineraries. So first of all, they can walk you through making sure that the ship that you choose and the itinerary that you're choosing actually meshes with your vacation style. You know because we want to make sure that your first cruise is a good one. And if you get the wrong ship and the wrong itinerary for what you guys are expecting, you might be a little disappointed. So a travel agent can help with that. Now, the second part of this, let's say, for whatever reason, you need to make changes to your cruise, you can't go or you want to go ahead and change ships, do you want to change an itinerary, if you booked it yourself, now you have to go through that whole process of contacting the cruise line, working through all the changes, trying to get the changes made, you work through a travel agent, all you have to do is just call them and say we want to make a change, they then have to pick up the ball and call the travel, and call the cruise line and do everything for you. Which makes your job a lot easier. And sometimes as simple as, Hey, can you make the changes, please, thank you, hang up, they go ahead and make all the changes for you and then get back to you. So going through a travel agent certainly makes that a lot easier. Rebecca 4:44 And if you go through a travel agent, you're actually required to go through that travel agent to make your changes. Walter 4:52 Yeah, so it just makes it that much easier for you. So we already said they don't cost you anything, right? They're paid by the cruise lines. Now, they can also offer some extras sometimes. Because they do a lot of business with these cruise lines, sometimes they can get perks. It's something as simple as maybe there's a bottle of wine waiting for you in your cabin or sometimes champagne, some chocolates. They could get you some, potentially, some free meals on board or some onboard credit, things like that, which is kind of cool, right? Now we have booked ourselves through Costco travel for most of our cruises, and on our very first cruise, Rebecca had actually done a bunch of research... Rebecca 5:31 Yes. Walter 5:32 ...prior, but it was our very first cruise so we decided to call Costco travel. Rebecca 5:37 Well, that was the only option at the time. Walter 5:39 Yeah. And she spent a while, at least a good two hours on the phone with us, walking us through. I mean, we, we talked about balconies, we talked about ships. We talked about the itinerary, we talked about this, we talked about that. And she asked us, Have you considered this? Have you considered that? It was a really nice walkthrough for a first cruise. And since then, we still use Costco travel. Now we do book online these days, because now we understand all the procedures. But at any given time, we can call. And in fact, our next cruise, we went through Delta, skymiles travel. Rebecca 6:12 Skymiles cruises, yes. Walter 6:13 Skymiles cruises, to book Virgin Voyages, because Costco doesn't happen to carry Virgin yet. And they were very pleasant. And now with all the changes going on, we were able just to simply call Delta and say, Okay, our cruise was canceled, we would like to change it to this one. And then they went at it, and a couple days later, everything got settled up. Rebecca 6:29 And in fact, when, originally the cruise was a Cuba itinerary, and when that all changed, they contacted us, they helped us make changes to that option. So that was very helpful. Walter 6:44 Yeah, so the travel agent, if there is a change to your itinerary, they're going to contact you and say, Hey, we were just notified by the cruise line, your cruise has been changed. What would you like to do? Now with Costco travel, sometimes we get extra onboard credit. Sometimes we'll get a cash card that's given To us you use at Costco after the cruise is over, sometimes they actually give a little bit of both. With Delta, we get extra skymiles on our, on our skymiles plan. So that's why Rebecca decided to use them for our Virgin Voyages cruise. So that's the other thing to look at, you know, with travel agents, you know, what kind of perks could you get that go beyond just the cruise itself. Cruise lines are running specials all the time. And they look amazing when you see them, oh, wow, 50% off second person, oh, third or fourth person goes free. It's very important to look at them carefully. And you do need to read all the fine print. And sometimes you have to look at the history of the cruise or maybe look at the rates on both sides of the sale. Because, like that 50% off, the cruise line might have raised the rate by 50% off just to drop it by 50%. So it's still the same price, right? So what what are some of the other things to look for? Rebecca 7:47 Yeah, I mean for us, when there's a cruise we're interested in, I'll start a spreadsheet and just track the price. So I know, aside from their jargon and what deals they're offering, I know if the price has changed. And sometimes the sales you see are only available to new bookings. So you can't take advantage of it if you are already booked and you want to, unless you cancel and then rebook. Walter 8:14 And that's very important. Yeah, to understand that because a lot of times sales apply only to a new booking, and you could cancel and rebook, but keep in mind, you might lose your deposit that you already had on first booking, right? Rebecca 8:24 Because you do have to be careful whether the deposit is refundable or non refundable. And that is definitely one thing to confirm before you complete your booking. So you know, one way or the other, sometimes they'll allow you to make a change, but quite often, there's like $100 or $200 per person change fee. So depending on your deposit, you've lost it all anyway. Walter 8:48 Yeah. So the fine print actually really, really matters when you book a cruise and Rebecca just kind of lead us right into our next topic, which is the down payment and the payment structure. Now, payment structure for a cruise is different than a hotel. You know with a hotel, you simply give your credit card number, you booked the hotel and they don't actually charge you until you come there. And in fact you have until 48 hours usually before the, before you show up at the hotel to cancel. Cruise lines is quite a bit different. So what you're going to do first when you book the cruise, you will be putting down a down payment or deposit, whatever it is they call it. And then somewhere between 90 and 120 days before the cruise, you will be putting down your final payment. And at that point you're committed to taking the cruise or you could potentially lose your deposit. So let's talk about that. So the deposit when you book is most likely going to be non refundable. So that means if you cancel for whatever reason, you're going to lose whatever that downpayment is. Now that downpayment is, what like 10 to 20% usually, Rebecca? Rebecca 9:50 Usually, unless they're running a special with a lower down payment, like hundred dollars downpayment. Walter 9:55 Yeah, so for the most part, the downpayment will be between 10 and 20% of whatever your cruise is, so you know if it's a $3,000 cruise, it's $300 to $600, is what you'll be paying for the deposit or down payment. That is when you actually book the cruise, and then 90 to 120 days prior to the cruise, whatever that cruise line sets up, you will then make the final payment, which is the rest of your fare to come on board. Now once you've made that final payment, you are committed to going on that cruise. Rebecca, what would generally happen if they had to try to cancel their cruise after they've made that final payment? Rebecca 10:34 Well, every cruise line has a specific structure of the, how many days you might get, start out with you might get 75% back if it's a certain amount of days, 50% at an smaller amount and it keeps going down till you get nothing back usually about 30 days prior. Walter 10:53 And what she's talking about is prior to the cruise, so the sooner that you cancel before the cruise, the more money that the cruise line would give you back minus that downpayment. So they might give you 75% of the fare back if you cancelled say, like 100 days out, and they might not give you anything back, if you had to cancel, say 10 days out. Rebecca 11:13 And your travel agent should be able to walk you through all of those details. Or you can look on the individual cruise lines' websites, and they will have that information. Walter 11:23 And again, it's a lot of fine print sometime. So again, another good reason to have a travel agent because they will walk you through exactly. And one of the questions that you should ask your travel agent, what happens if we cancel after the final payment, and they should be able to walk you through, well, here's what will happen, because you will lose money. There's no way around that. Now there is a way to get a refundable deposit, but you have to pay more for the fare, right? Rebecca 11:49 Generally, yes. Walter 11:50 Yeah. So if your cabin is 1500 dollars per person, that's a non refundable deposit. If you want you could call the cruise line or tell your travel agent, we would like a refundable deposit. Well, that fare is going to go up, because the cruise line to it, and probably, my guess would be, go about what the down payment would be somewhere in there, but they will raise the fare if you ask for a refundable deposit. Traveler's insurance has always been a big topic among cruisers. I mean, should I get it? Do I need it? Well, first of all with all the changes going on, cruise lines may now require it, so it may no longer be an option. So traveler's insurance essentially does two things. One, it protects you in case you have to cancel your cruise after the final payment. And two, it can help you get medical coverage if you're outside your home country, which is especially important to you US viewers. Was there something else Rebecca? Rebecca 12:44 Yeah, the the trip coverage portion can also cover such things as airline delays and you have additional expenses there, if your luggage is lost and you need to buy clothing. There's cost limits on all of that, but it will cover that as well. Walter 13:03 Yeah. And I think one thing you mentioned earlier if there's a change in your itinerary, so it's supposed to be a round trip, but then your cruise ends up somewhere else coming back to a different port. Now there's additional expenses to get home. So traveler's insurance actually does a lot of really, really good things. Now, traveler's insurance will cover many reasons for you to cancel, you know, obviously, injury, medical issue, maybe there's a death in the family, something going on. So traveler's insurance will cover a lot of reasons that you have to cancel and you will get up to 100% of your money back even if you cancel the day before the cruise. Now, there's another version of it that says, for any reason. So you literally don't have to have any pressing issue. It's just, I don't want to go on the cruise now or something has changed that doesn't fall into the guidelines of traveler's insurance. Rebecca 13:51 Such as say you lose your job, that's not a covered reason, or you have to change jobs and your vacation policy changes. That's not a covered reason. A lot, a thing that's important to a lot of us, is something goes wrong with one of your pets. That's not a covered reason. Walter 14:09 Yeah. So you know, for any reason, it's going to cost you a little bit more obviously, to get that version of it. But it's literally, for any reason that you want to cancel the cruise, you will get the money back and you can cancel it one day before the cruise and you will get your money back. The traveler's insurance is very, very important. Here's a good reason do it. And I don't know why people still do this but they will do their flight to the port on the same day as the cruise. The ship will not wait for you. If your flight is delayed. If your flight is canceled and you cannot get to the port that day, you're going to miss the cruise. And as that ship sails away, so does all of your money. Traveler's insurance will protect for that. So, you know we highly recommend travel, I don't know that we've ever done one without it. Rebecca 14:54 No. Walter 14:55 Just a bit about, if something were to happen to us in another country, because every cruise we go on, we're in another country, if something were to happen to us, and we had to get off the ship and get medical attention from the local, you know, health officials, our health insurance won't cover that. So traveler's insurance will. Rebecca 15:12 And, just if you have to be medically evacuated back to the US, that can be really expensive. And that is something that there will be at least a certain amount of coverage for with traveler's insurance. Walter 15:26 And again, a travel agent can help you with this. A good travel agent can help you with this and navigate the various, you know, traveler's insurance, and where to get it. Now the cruise lines do offer insurance and then there's third party that offer insurance. Now what do we typically do, Rebecca? Rebecca 15:42 Generally, we get third party. Because we usually booked through Costco, they offer really good third party insurance, with very, very high coverages for really barely more than what the cruise lines would charge. And that's one of the things when you're looking, you have to make sure you're comparing apples to apples, is how much coverage do you get for medical evacuation? How much coverage do you get for trip cancellation? I mean, you have to look at those coverage amounts. Walter 16:14 There's a lot of research in going into a cruise. And you know, I sound like a broken record. But again, a good travel agent can help you with a lot of this. So, obviously a little bit more involved than just going in and just say, it's not like a hotel, you don't just pick a room and then you're done with it. There's a lot of other things that you have to consider. And, and definitely consider a travel agent. We'll put the links to the two that we use down below this and on our website. So, hope that was helpful for you. If you like what we're doing, please subscribe to the channel. Click that little bell icon, so every time we have a new cruise video or recipe, or an interview or drink, you'll know that it's up there. So thanks for watching. I'm Walter. Rebecca 16:53 And I'm Rebecca. Walter 16:53 We'll see you next time.

Research Links

Costco Travel: (requires a Costco membership)

We are not affiliated with either travel agency, nor were we compensated for their mentions. These are the agencies we use.


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