Choosing the Best Cruises Is Simple—If You Know Where to Look | TravelResearchOnline

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Choosing the Best Cruises Is Simple—If You Know Where to Look

When a client says to you, “Find me a cruise that’s safe and affordable,” it’s easy to do—if you know where to look.

The factors I look for are the following:

  • The quality of the ships and the service your clients are likely to receive.
  • The vax status of the nations they will visit.
  • The lowest nightly price of available balcony staterooms.

Use these data after seeing the answers to a brief Five-Minute Profile submitted by each client. You will suggest cruises that will be better choices than other travel advisors, or ones cruise line reps can provide, and will likely generate deposits within a few days.

Let’s do this for two seniors whose Five-Minute Profile says they have cruised on Carnival, Holland America, and Celebrity before. They enjoy dining and shore excursions off the ship, and they are willing to spend $8,000 each on a cruise to somewhere they haven’t been. They want a cruise of less than two weeks, and a ship with more Berlitz stars than any of which they have previously sailed.

 

 

For during this holiday season, their best choices will include the following voyages.

 

I’ve color-coded some responses. Green indicates stats that are superior, yellow indicates stats that are cautionary, and red provides definite warnings. For instance, in this table, the only nation that shows red in vaccinations is Turkey, where the Viking Venus stops for a few hours in Kusadasi. Because its famous ruins are visited by millions, it’s likely that the inhabitants of Kusadasi will be vaxed before most others in Turkey.

Berlitz Star Ratings and Other Data

The best to get unbiased information about cruise ships is Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2020 by Douglas Ward. The paperback version is $24.99 on Amazon, and page 3 of the book permits you to download a free version for your Apple or Android portable devices that may be more up to date than the annual paperback.

Douglas Ward’s book originated the Berlitz Stars© that is the single-best quality indicator for 300 cruise ships. I don’t hesitate to recommend any cruise ship with 4+ stars or better, even if I haven’t sailed on it. There are fewer than 50 ships with 4+ or better ratings. Unless they have a disqualifying characteristic (such as making all announcements in German or Japanese rather than English), I know they won’t disappoint my clients if other factors such as the number of guests and the passenger/crew ratio are right.

I will sometimes recommend ships with 4 or 3+ stars if they fill unique niches such as mega yachts, sailing vessels, expedition ships, ships intended for families traveling with children, or resort ships that cater to millennials. If you have the latest Berlitz cruising guide by your elbow, you’ll seldom go wrong in recommending cruise ships. The statistics and the two-page descriptions they provide for each ship are unique and essential for travel advisors seeking out the best cruises. They make great holiday gifts for your best clients, since a new edition is distributed at the first of the year.

All the ships except for the Crystal Esprit have 4+ star ratings. The Esprit’s 4-star rating is because it’s a mega yacht with lots of water toys and more crew members than guests, but without balconies and some other amenities. Reviews in cruise blogs are mostly glowing.

Vaccination Data

Buying cruises is something of a crapshoot right now. It’s OK to place deposits when there is a good chance of having them returned in cash if you cancel; but having your clients’ make $10K-$30K final payments is a much greater risk, if you don’t consider the destinations’ vaccination status. With the Delta Variant spreading worldwide, many destinations that aren’t half-vaxxed will likely close down, if their governments don’t mandate vaccinations. The fully-vaxxed rate for the United States is about 49% right now, putting us on the cusp. A green status is given to countries that’s at least 10 percent ahead of the United States and a red status is given to nations that is 10 percent behind us.

The information you need is available daily at The New York Times website. First, scroll down to the section, Tracking Vaccination Status Around the World, and click on the heading Fully Vaccinated. As I wrote this last Friday, the list starts with Malta (72% fully vaxed), Iceland (70%), Chile (62%), Uruguay (61%), Aruba (60%), Hungary (55%), U.K. (55%), Canada (54%), and Curacao (52%). Seychelles is also at 70%, according to another source. Assuming all these nations will improve their numbers at least 10% by November, when most cruising to these nations begins, all these countries (except Turkey) will be great destinations.

Countries in the European Economic Community may be the best places to cruise this fall and winter. Laggards such as Japan (23%), New Zealand (13%), and Australia (12%) may mount crash efforts to avoid closing travel for this long. They have national health systems and the cash to improve their health status immediately. This might permit them to catch up with their First World counterparts by Christmas.

These are suppositions. If your clients have deposits down for cruises in these areas, iIt will be essential for you to track the percentage of fully vaxed persons on an ongoing basis. Right now, I’d only bet on Europe when it comes time to make final payments. I just withdrew my deposit for a voyage to Australia in November; and I’ll probably withdraw my deposit on a cruise to Japan and Alaska in May 2020, unless Japan mandates vaccinations for all adults pretty soon.

Comparing Costs

The most important metric for comparing cruise costs is nightly cost. You can calculate this for any cruise, if you’re a travel advisor, by looking up the cost for the least expensive balcony stateroom available and dividing it by the number of nights of the cruise. Do this on the website of your travel consortium or the cruise line’s travel advisor website, so you will know the categories of rooms that are still available. You can also call the cruise line’s “800” line for this information, but be sure to write down the date and time of the call and the rep’s first name.

Better still, if you are pretty sure your client will be interested in booking at the quoted price, get a “courtesy hold” on an actual reservation with a room or category before contacting your client. This avoids your client accusing you of “bait & switch,” if you call later and the booking you quoted is no longer available.

A good buy for ships with 4+ stars is $400-$450 a night. If air or excursions in all ports is included, the cost can be somewhat higher. Notice almost all the cruises I suggest in this article, except for the Crystal Esprit in the Seychelles, cost substantially less. This contradicts the hype about no good buys being available. There are many good buys this winter, if you avoid the Caribbean which is priced much higher than the Med this year. With the notable exceptions of Aruba and Curacao, the vax rates in other Caribbean nations and in Mexico are south of 30%.

Some Notes on the Cruises

The Crystal Esprit’s cruise to Seychelles is a voyage to a billionaires’ playground on your mega yacht. The ship has 62 passengers and 91 crew. Seychelles is a series of islands in the Indian Ocean that France formerly owned. Due to tourism and its strategic location, its economy and health system are robust.

The Cunard Queen Elizabeth is one of the world’s most iconic ships. For this voyage, Princess Grill Suites are also available with a private dining room and lounge for only $7200. The Cunard ships are also renowned for their speakers that sometimes include well-known diplomats, scientists, financial gurus, and authors.

The Oceania Riviera is a foodie’s paradise with nine dining rooms for 1258 guests and one of the best cooking schools afloat. One of the small dining rooms is Privée, where the chef prepares seven-course wine-paired dinners for only 10 guests that are among the best meals we’ve ever had on ships or ashore. Service and accommodations on the Riviera are outstanding.

Viking only launched Venus last year. Like its sister ships, it provides service, cuisine, and staterooms that rival Seabourn, Silversea and Regent, while maintaining a modern Scandinavian vibe. At $360 a night, this cruise is an outright steal.

Free Five-Minute Profile

You can use my Five-Minute Profile to gather the information you need to suggest the cruises that will most appeal to your client. Contact me here for a copy you are free to reproduce. We will also let you know about a service that prepares a table like this one, with at least 4 cruise suggestions for clients from their Five-Minute Profile. Either you or the client can complete the profile, and the service won’t know the client’s name.

 


Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is steve@sruisesandcameras.com.

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