Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cruise Search, Three Ways

According to a recent study by the travel deals site, a third of all cruisers are now booking their shipboard vacations online, a jump of 20% in the last year.

But are they going to the right sites? Truth is, there’s no website that’s always going to be the best for bookings and research. But the following three offer crucial information that many don’t, making them good stops before your port calls.

Cayole: Know that you’d like to go somewhere adventurous in summer and can only spend a certain amount? Head to, a site that simplifies the cruise search process by allowing would-be passengers to input the parameters of what they’re seeking.

For example, a traveler who knows they want to get to Alaska in June for a week, and need to spend less than $750, will find that there are some 38 sailings to choose between, from 7-night Celebrity Jaunt from Vancouver to Seward ($599) to round-trips out of Seattle on Norwegian starting at $699. Customers can shape their search even more specifically by inputting the names of the ports they wish to depart from, which cruise line they wish to sail, even the type of cabin (interior, ocean-view, balcony or suite) they’re hoping to snag.

All in all, Cayole is a superb tool for those at the very beginning of the decision-making process.

CruiseCompete: is run by a cruise agency, and one can book trips through it. The savvier strategy, however, might be to head to the reverse auction site works a bit like travelers post which cruise they’re hoping to take and on what date. Cruise agencies then compete for their business.

In general, there won’t be much difference in price, on the major lines, from one agency to the next. But each has different contracts with the cruises lines for the perks they can pass along to their clients. So Agency X may be able to offer a free cabin upgrade, while Agency Y may will try to win the bid with $100 of shipboard credit and a promise to cover all shipboard gratuities in the course of the sailing (an average of $14 per person per day). The agencies are not given customer’s information until they get to the booking stage. Instead, they send their “bids” to a mailbox CruiseCompete sets up for customers on its site. Pretty nifty, eh? To misquote Gertrude Stein, a cruise is a cruise is a cruise…except when it’s a “specialty sailing”.

We’ve all heard about the so-called “cougar cruises” which attract men and women of different generations hoping to hook up. But this is just the raunchiest iteration of the specialty cruise, which can range from sailings with special events and discussions for those interested in music or politics, to cruises in which fans of bridge play away the evenings, or fitness buffs sweat off the pounds together. is the web’s top source for finding these very specific types of cruises.

There are literally dozens of specialty sailings each year, from those geared towards wine lovers, scrapbookers, poker players and gardeners. Participants find that, beyond getting to spend hours on their favorite hobby, they enjoy being surrounded by like-minded people.

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