FINDING A GREAT AGENT If you don't know a good travel agent, ask your friends for recommendations, preferably those who have cruised before. For the most personal service, look for an agent in your area, and for the most knowledgeable service, look for an agent with cruising experience.
Of course, the easiest way to do this is to find a travel agency that specializes exclusively in cruises or cruisetours. But there are also good cruise specialists who work within full-service travel agencies. If you are calling a full-service travel agency, ask for the cruise desk.
It's also a good idea to ask the agent you are working with if he or she has actually been to the region you want to visit, and on the ships that you are considering booking.
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Even if they haven't sailed on that particular ship, travel agents are routinely treated to familiarization trips (FAMs) that can consist of a ship tour and lunch on board when the vessel is in port.
An easy rule of thumb to maximize your chances of finding an agent who has cruise experience, and won't rip you off, is to book with an agency that's a member of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLL4; www.cruising. Org ; © 754/224-2200 ), the main industry association. Members are cruise specialists; agents accredited as Certified Cruise Counselors by CLIA have particularly extensive training. Membership in the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA; www.asta. Org ; © 800/275-2782 ) ensures that the agency is monitored for ethical practices, although it does not designate cruise experience. Tap into the websites of these organizations to find reliable agents.