You can always book your sailing directly with the cruise line, but consider turning to a travel agent, who will bring insider information to the table. Try using Travel + Leisure's A-list, our editor-vetted network of agents, some of whom specialize in cruising. Whomever you choose, a few queries can ensure that you have the right agent — and that you're getting the most out of his or her expertise.
When Was Your Last Sailing?
"It's important to hire an expert who knows the ins and outs of lines, ships, and destinations," says T+L A-List agent Mary Curry of Adventure Life. Some agents make sales from brochures or ship inspections instead of firsthand experience. Asking how frequently your advisor ventures out on the seas can give you an idea of his or her depth of knowledge.
Which Ship or Cruise Line Is Right for Me?
The sheer number of ships on the market makes it important that your agent knows the players. He or she should be able to address such factors as size, atmosphere, amenities, cabin categories, and what kind of passengers the cruise attracts. "What might be right for some may be a miss for others," Curry says.
When Is the Best Time to Travel?
The Antarctica-bound should choose November for pristine landscapes and March for whale-watching. Those prone to seasickness should avoid the Baltic in May and after September. "Summer crowds in Italy clog up everything," says A-List agent Betsy Patton of Direct Travel, who recommends Mediterranean voyages in spring or fall.
What Can You Book Beyond the Cruise?
Though your fare will include meals and, in some cases, drinks and gratuities, this is only one facet of your trip. Your agent has the ability to complete the picture by organizing flights, pre- and post-cruise stays and tours, and even shore excursions that forgo the larger group experience for something more intimate.
Can You Offer Any Perks?
Your agent may have a special relationship with certain cruise lines, which can give you advantages over booking directly. He or she can negotiate cabin upgrades, shipboard credits, and price matches, as well as arrange perks like early boarding, access to cocktail receptions and captain's dinners, or a complimentary bottle of champagne.