Travel Agent Shares With Us The Biggest Mistakes To Avoid When Booking A Cruise

From the outside looking in, booking cruises appears to be a one-and-done affair. Since many offer an all-inclusive experience, you might assume that the process begins and ends by simply choosing and booking one that tickles your fancy. Planning a cruise is certainly less headache-inducing than orchestrating a trip with multiple flights and long layovers. However, travel agent Victoria Fricke, from Vic's Vacations, told Explore in an exclusive interview that a few blunders can spell the difference between an enriching, memorable cruise and a disappointing voyage.

Fricke notes that a common error among travelers is failing to consider their itinerary once they disembark at the cruise ports. Too often, vacationers fall victim to tourist traps like overpriced bars and restaurants or souvenir shops selling the same generic items. "While [there's] nothing wrong with visiting those establishments, you're missing the entire culture and experience that destination has to offer if you don't plan ahead and explore. Look on blogs, talk to your travel advisor, look up the destination on YouTube and find the hidden gems," she advised, noting that a little research can greatly improve your experience. If you don't want to plan, you can ask your travel advisor to help you look into booking cruises that offer shore excursions or sightseeing tours.

Additionally, Fricke also supplied valuable advice to help you avoid incurring more expenses on your next cruise. She cautioned cruise-goers to be wary of this major mistake: falling prey to advertising ploys from cruise lines.

Don't be blinded by marketing schemes from cruise lines

Many travelers don't realize that cruises aren't truly all-inclusive, despite what advertisements say. Fricke told us that while most cruises cover essentials, including food, port fees, onboard activities, and basic child care, they don't include alcohol, specialty drinks, desserts, dining locations, and a bunch of other "fun" stuff. When booking cruises, Fricke suggests paying close attention to the fine print instead of relying solely on the advertised prices. "Cruise lines are notorious for a marketing strategy that draws you in with a low price that's too good to be true ... and oftentimes it is," she warned.

When it comes to comparing cruise lines, she says that it's important to determine how much add-ons cost and if the cruise offers packages so you can budget appropriately and save as much money as possible. "Many first-time cruisers don't take these additional amounts into consideration and might have been better off going to an all-inclusive resort instead," she added. "Especially if looking for a budget-friendly trip, this is a huge mistake to avoid."

The last thing you want is to spend the bare minimum on a cruise, only to spend more than you should have onboard because everything else costs extra. It's vital to clarify what the cruise includes before taking the plunge. Fricke also advises keeping your eyes peeled on cruise sales around holidays like Black Friday to get deals on onboard credits.

Scheduling your flights prior to embarkation wisely

If heading to the port involves hopping on a flight, Fricke told us that you can potentially ruin your entire trip if you book a flight that is too close to embarkation — even if it's hours apart. She says that too many cruise-goers make the "catastrophic" mistake of flying in on the day of the cruise, failing to give themselves ample leeway between landing at the airport and embarking on the ship.

"It sounds like the correct route. Get a flight that lands in Miami at 10 a.m., board your cruise at 2 p.m., and enjoy. The reality is far too much can go wrong on travel day," she explained. "From weather to missed connections, the reason for the delay doesn't matter. If you miss your flight and are late the boat does not wait."

When booking your flight, she advised that it makes more sense to arrive the day prior, ideally at a hotel close to the port, so you won't have to rush on the day of the cruise check-in. "Unwind, let the kids swim, go to dinner, and start fresh the next day ready to enjoy their cruise," she continued. Conversely, Fricke says it's fine to fly home the same day as disembarkation — provided that your flight is after 1 p.m.