I've been on more than 15 cruises. Here are my best tips for planning a cost-effective and seamless trip to sea.
- Halee Whiting, 32, is a frequent traveler and cruise enthusiast — she even got married on one.
- She recommends working with a travel agent, getting insurance, and bringing a portable laundry bin.
I'm a frequent cruise-goer and travel blogger with my own hotel sales consultation company.
I've cruised more than 15 times — including on one of the first cruises to embark since the pandemic. This is what I wish I knew before booking my first cruise.
One of the biggest things I would recommend for people who haven't cruised before is finding a travel agent or advisor who specializes in cruises
Even with me being in the industry for as long as I have, having a travel agent is helpful.
When I got married, I did a wedding cruise, and we had our ceremony in Nassau on the beach. We had a two-hour cocktail reception, then got back on the cruise.
I decided to use a travel agent because I didn't want all the guests calling me, but this travel agent was with a bigger agency and the experience was awful. I almost felt like I was telling her how to do her job.
She wasn't very flexible and I swore off using an agent. Then, I ended up joining a cruise community on Facebook, which is a huge thing because cruising is so social, and I had to book through their travel agent to go on our group cruise.
The agent and I ended up talking — and we're now best friends four years later. We even host a weekly travel talk show together going over travel news for our little travel community that we created on Facebook this year. Working with him was just a totally different experience.
When I was doing a trip this past August, my plane ended up being rerouted because of a windstorm, so we ended up landing at an airport and had to clear customs there and wait for the plane to fuel up.
It was 8 p.m. on Saturday, and I called him and he told me what I could purchase and have covered through my travel insurance. He had me send him all my receipts, submitted it all to the travel insurance company, and got me refunds for my hotel, meals, and flight.
Travel agents don't cost money — they make their commissions from the ships and travel insurance agencies or tour companies. They also get access to a completely different set of rates than Expedia or what you see online.
If somebody's preparing to go on a cruise during the pandemic, using a travel agent is huge even if you're a seasoned cruiser because the guidelines keep changing, and it's their job to stay on top of it.
Travel insurance is also great because it covers anything from medical issues to trip interruption or even theft
I'd never had travel insurance until my travel agent educated me on it, but it's been helpful already. I had my phone stolen in Paris last year and my travel insurance covered it.
Some people I know kind of don't want to spend the money, but for my husband, my daughter, and I for our two cruises at the end of August it cost $225 total. So worth it.
It's not necessarily the medical aspect that gets used the majority of the time — it's trip interruption, the hiccups, and things of that nature.
I also recommend doing your research
Watch a cruise-ship tour video and stateroom tour videos. There are websites like Cruise Critic, where people rate certain room types. You could, for example, see if anybody has stayed in Adventure of the Sea room 9244 and see the reviews on that.
My husband's a bigger guy, and the stateroom showers are kind of like tubes, so if you're a big and tall guy you might need to research what room you're booking to know what's best for you and what will be comfortable.
What people don't realize is, online they're going to have pictures of their newest and greatest ships, and not all the pictures online are completely accurate to what your room is going to look like. If you're seeing videos and pictures of Symphony of the Seas and you go and book the Brilliance of the Seas, you're frankly going to be a little disappointed.
I've had cruise regret on certain ship types that I've booked because it was cheap. And there are certain classes of ships that are not for me.
Join Facebook groups to meet people ahead of your cruise
I've met so many new people because of cruises. Facebook, as much as it's an older social-media platform, is a great hub for the cruise experience.
There are a lot of groups to choose from, too — for example, there will be a group called Adventure of the Sea June 12 that you can join and ask questions and meet with people going on the same cruise ahead of time.
You can also go to Instagram and search hashtags for your different cruises and you'll see content creators and bloggers that cruise and even other cruise-goers you can connect with. You'll also find people such as myself doing lives every week and answering questions.
There are things you can bring to make your room — which is typically much smaller than a hotel room — more comfortable
For example, I bring magnetic hooks because your walls are metal to hang my bathrobe or different things from them. I also bring a pop-up hamper for laundry. Little cruise-packing hacks.
Another thing people don't realize is you have very limited outlets, so I have a multiport charging outlet.
Before my first post-pandemic cruise, I wish we had a little more information about what the onboard experience was going to be like
I don't think I was emotionally prepared enough for how different the environment would be with the mass reduction of people onboard and how the COVID-19 protocols altered the social experience.
Another thing people need to be aware of is it's not just knowing what your cruise line protocols are — you need to keep up with your port-of-call protocols. My friend is on a cruise right now, and Barbados required masks the whole way through.
You need to be flexible, and you need to make a conscious decision about purchasing from a line that aligns with your values and wants.
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