WATCH OUT FOR scams The travel business tends to attract more than its share of scam operators trying to lure consumers with incredible come-ons, and cruises are no exception. To keep yourself safe:
Get a Referral A recommendation from a trusted friend or colleague is one of the best ways to hook up with a reputable agent.
Use the Cruise Lines' Agent Lists Many cruise-line websites include agency locator lists, naming agencies around the country with which they do business. These are by no means comprehensive lists of all good or bad agencies, but an agent's presence on these lists is usually a good sign of experience.
Beware of Snap Recommendations If an agent suggests a cruise line without asking you a single question about your tastes, beware. Because agents typically work on commissions from the lines, some may try to coerce you into cruising with a company that pays them the highest rates, even though that line may not be the right fit for you.
Always Use a Credit Card to Pay for Your Cruise A credit card gives you more protection in the event the agency or cruise line fails. (Trust us! It happens occasionally. ) When your credit card statement arrives, make sure the payment was made to the cruise line, not the travel agency. If you find that payment was actually made to the agency, it's a big red flag that something's wrong. If you insist on paying by check, you'll be making it out to the agency, so it may be wise to ask if the agency has default protection. Many do.
Follow the Cruise Line's Payment Schedule Never agree to a different schedule that the travel agency comes up with. The lines' terms are always clearly printed in their brochures and usually require an initial deposit, with the balance typically due no later than 45 to 75 days before departure, depending on the cruise line. If you're booking 2 months or less before departure, you'll often be required to pay in full at the time of booking. However, the cruise lines have been making changes in this regard, so read the fine print carefully.
Keep on Top of Your Booking If you ever fail to receive a document or ticket on the date it's been promised, inquire about it immediately. If you're told that your cruise reservation was canceled because of overbooking and that you must pay extra for a confirmed and rescheduled sailing, demand a full refund and/or contact your credit card company to stop payment. Ensure that names are spelled properly and that your receipt reflects the date, ship and itinerary you had booked. Even good, competent travel agents can make mistakes sometimes, so it always pays to be attentive to any documents you receive.