Several weeks ago, I read the news that every cruiser dreads: Your cruise has been
Yikes! My long-anticipated, two-week cruise for next summer was not going to happen
as planned. I needed to find another date—not an easy task when working within the
limited time frame allotted for my husband’s vacation as well as a seasonal itinerary
that runs infrequently. Fortunately, it all worked out and we are rebooked. What
did I do to get this resolved? Nothing. At least not presently, as this was the result
of a decision I made several years ago, one that has paid off numerous times.
You see, I have the good fortune of working with a professional travel agent, one
who has the knowledge and experience to handle all issues pertaining to cruise vacations,
no matter how unpleasant. While Internet boards were filling up with concerns posted
by anxious cruisers who were bumped from our sailing, I remained stress-free—at least
after the initial shock.
A common question I receive, both on the Internet board I manage and in person from
friends and family, is how to make a cruise booking. Is it best to book directly
with the cruise line? How about an Internet agency? Or, what if I want to use a travel
agent? This is, clearly, a personal choice. Yet, the advice I offer, when asked,
is to consult a travel agent who holds professional certifications from Cruise Lines
International Association (CLIA).
Before continuing, I must state a few caveats. First, by no means am I encouraging
anyone to leave an agent with whom you have developed a relationship. In fact, professional
travel agents frown at taking away business from trusted relationships. Second, a
travel agent may not be the right choice for everyone. Many passengers are comfortable
booking their own cruise vacations on the Internet, just as I am with making my own
air and hotel arrangements. Finally, as it is the policy of NauticalNotebook.com
to not accept or make endorsements, this article is for informational purposes only.
(Hence, the lack of a direct link.)
So, for first-time cruisers and those who may be on the fence about what type of
booking arrangement to consider, this is for you.
So, why the big deal about a CLIA agent? This may be answered in two words: training
and experience. In addition to required coursework and exams, CLIA certification
requires personal cruise experience on several lines and length of cruise, and ship
inspections of five to nearly 15 different ships based on level of certification.
This practical experience helps the CLIA agent select ships, as well as destinations,
for his or her clients, after considering the clients’ personal preferences.
For example, my TA lets us know where it is advisable to take a cruise-sponsored
shore excursion or where we can venture out on our own. (Who would have thought that
something called Giant’s Causeway would turn out to be a highlight of our British
Isles cruise? Our TA had been there and suspected that we’d enjoy it—and she was
right.) CLIA agents know the questions to ask their clients to find the right fit.
CLIA presently offers four levels of certification programs:
· Accredited Cruise Counsellor (ACC): Requires 30 credits of mandatory coursework
and exams, 50 credits of elective training (seminars, exams, conference attendance),
personal cruise experience (one 2-6 night cruise, one of 7 nights or longer, on different
cruise lines), and five ship inspections (on different ships).
· Master Cruise Counsellor (MCC): Requires ACC certification plus an additional 50
credits of mandatory coursework, 30 credits of elective training, personal cruise
experience (two cruises of 7 nights or longer, on lines not used for the ACC), and
three additional ship inspections.
· Elite Cruise Counsellor (ECC): Requires MCC certification plus additional training
seminars, personal cruise experience (one of 7 nights or longer on a cruise line
that was not used toward the ACC or MCC designations), and five additional ship inspections.
· Elite Scholar (ECCS): Requires ECC certification plus annual training courses,
personal cruise experience (one of 7 nights or longer on a cruise line that was not
used toward the ACC, MCC or ECC designations). This level must be renewed annually.
This is in addition to meeting requirements for number of bookings (increase incrementally
from one level to the next) and working for a CLIA-affiliated agency.
CLIA also offers a number of other programs, including Luxury Cruise Specialist and
Accredited Cruise Manager.
Locating an agent with CLIA certifications is a simple process. A search engine is
located on the association’s Web page, http://cruising.org/vacation/welcome. Enter
your ZIP code in the box marked “Cruise Expert Finder” to generate a listing of agents
and agencies in or near your area.
You also don’t need to limit yourself to agents a short distance from your home.
My TA, for example, lives and works 2500 miles away from me. I found her the old-fashioned
way—word of mouth. You might also look for the CLIA certification logo in advertisements
you see in your newspaper or on the Internet—which indicates the agency’s affiliation—and
then ask for an agent who has earned at least the ACC designation.
This is not to say that an agent who has not met CLIA’s rigorous requirements for
certifications is not a good agent. I emphasize that for first-time cruisers, the
clear experience and expertise of a CLIA agent is a great starting point.
Some Final Thoughts
My recent experience was not the first time I needed to rely on my travel agent’s
expertise to resolve the situation. I leave you with a few more of these instances.
· The first occurred on our very first cruise, a honeymoon cruise back in 1990.
Two nights prior to our departure, we were bumped from our hotel on the Walt Disney
World (WDW) property to make room for additional attendees of a conference. (The
hotel had been booked through the cruise line, which had a Disney affiliation at
the time.) WDW made arrangements for us in another hotel, yet this was not on the
Disney property and would necessitate us taking shuttle buses to the various parks,
rather than our anticipated walk to EPCOT. Now, this was a long time ago, so I don’t
recall the details, yet the change in hotel alone was not sufficient for our TA.
She was able to get a few added amenities for our inconvenience, such as discounts
on dining and merchandise. (Still, all of these years later, we have not returned
to WDW, although we have cruised more than 30 additional times.)
· Another instance took place in 1996, on a Southern Caribbean cruise out of San
Juan. Back then, it was common for airfare and hotels to be booked as part of the
cruise package. To maximize our time in San Juan—a city we had been to just once
previously, as a port of call—we decided to arrive the morning of the day prior to
the cruise. (It was also common then to arrive the same day as the cruise departure.
This is no longer recommended.) When our TA received our air tickets a few weeks
before the cruise, she noted immediately that our arrival was for 9:00 pm, not the
pre-noon time we had requested. She was able to argue successfully that the line
did not deliver as promised, and we found ourselves on an 8:00 am flight that arrived
in San Juan at noon. And, we had a fantastic day of touring.
· As for a situation that was confined to the ship itself, I turn to the story
of our travel companions on a 2005 cruise to the Mexican Riviera, who had booked
with the same CLIA Master Cruise Counsellor as we had. Our friends had booked a specific
cabin on this cruise—one that they’d had previously and enjoyed—and specified that
they did not wish to be considered for an upgrade. Their cruise documents were in
order. Yet, when they arrived at the embarkation pier, they learned that their cabin—an
aft balcony booked nearly one year out—had been reassigned to another party. They
were moved to a cabin one category above on a higher deck, but its midships location
was far less desirable to them. Their pleas to return them to the cabin they had
booked were ignored, despite their standing in the line’s loyalty program. So, while
still at check-in, our friends called our TA, who immediately took on the problem
(and had to deal with supervisor upon supervisor to do so). After a series of calls—all
handled by the TA—our friends’ initial reservation was restored. Throughout the cruise,
our friends kept telling us that this was an argument that they would not have been
able to win on their own.
· And, to show the flip side, I share our 2003 experience of a transatlantic crossing
SNAFU. By this time, our then long-time travel agent had retired, so I went with
an Internet agency. (I’m an expert, after all, right?) All went smoothly until we
received our air arrangements a week before the crossing. The crossing was from Southampton
to New York, and we lived in Boston. So, we needed pre-crossing air from Boston to
London, which was—and still is—a very common non-stop route. Imagine our surprise
when our tickets showed a departure from a New York airport! I called the TA, who
didn’t return my calls. So, I then pleaded my case to the cruise line, which wouldn’t
talk with me initially as they were authorized to talk to my TA only. To the credit
of the cruise line, they were able to set up a three-way call that included the TA.
The TA felt this wasn’t a problem, as she thought that New York and Boston were close
enough. (They aren’t.) We managed, with the cruise line’s help, to get a flight from
Boston—yet, due to the late date, we had to forfeit the business class seats that
came with our accommodation on the ship. Needless to say, this is the last time we
used this agency.
Now, this does not mean that you will always have bad or inattentive service with
an Internet agency or non-CLIA agent. In fact, we’ve gone this route several times
before discovering our current TA and, other than the instance noted above, all went
well. Still, having the security of a knowledgeable agent to go to bat for you if
needed—all for no extra cost—is an essential part of my cruise planning.
And now, with our next cruise vacation salvaged, I will examine shore excursion options.
And, when I have any questions, I will know who to ask.