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Should I book a cruise online? Here’s what to know.

In World
June 11, 2024

Travelers can buy almost anything they need for a cruise online, from flip-flops to sunscreen to the trip itself.

Many travelers book cruises through travel agents, but that’s not necessarily the right move for everyone. “Some people don’t want to deal with people,” said Joanna Kuther, a New York City-based travel agent and owner of Port Side Travel Consultants. “They want to go online. They don’t want to have one conversation.”

But with seemingly endless search results and websites vying for prospective guests’ attention in ads, the experience can be overwhelming. And while booking online offers convenience, there can be some drawbacks.

What are the best websites to book a cruise online?

When booking online, Kuther recommended going directly through the cruise line – if you know which one you want to sail with.

Travelers can easily browse itineraries, the line’s ships and their layouts, and other add-ons and promotions offered. If customers reserve other aspects of their trip, like flights, directly through the line, they will also have greater protection in the event of disruptions.

Cruise booking tips: There’s more to it than picking your travel dates

“So if there’s a cancellation or a delay, it’s their job to get you to that ship,” Kuther said. “That’s their commitment.” However, she noted that travelers may not have as many choices as when booking their flights themselves. (Cruise lines often have in-house vacation planners who are familiar with the brand.)

Travelers can book cruises via third-party sites as well and may be able to find deals doing so. Booking.com introduced a cruise option late last year, allowing travelers to book sailings, flights and hotels in one place. Other sites like Expedia and Orbitz also offer the category, and there are cruise-specific sites as well like Cruisebound.com and Cruise.com.

Those can also offer a comprehensive way to see what cruises are out there. Brandon O. Smith, who runs the YouTube channel The Weekend Cruiser, said Vacations To Go’s search function is particularly good. Many travelers also like Costco Travel because it’s “kind of built into their ecosystem,” he added.

Travelers booking through online travel agencies may have to pay fees that cruise lines do not charge, however, Smith said.

What if I need help with my booking?

Customers who book online on their own may have to contact the cruise line or third-party site when they have questions or issues, and the customer representative’s familiarity with the kind of trip they’re taking might vary. “And I think that’s one of the big shortcomings,” Smith said.

Some travelers who have used third-party booking sites have had to jump through hoops to get help when their plans have gone awry.

Should first-time cruisers book a cruise online?

There is a wide range of lines and ships that cater to different types of vacations.

(click here for USA TODAY’s cruise line guide).

Smith recommended new cruisers work with a travel agent who can help them determine what kind of voyage is right for them. “Word of mouth is a great way to find people, and finding people who know your style of cruising,” he said. “So, if you’re a family of five, you want to find somebody that’s familiar with looking for larger families.”

If a traveler is looking for highly personalized advice, he said, “You’re not going to get that through an online booking tool.”

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at ndiller@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What are the best cruise booking websites? What travelers should know.

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