Why I use a travel agent: One vacationer’s ‘tale of two cruises’

LONDON, ON — I love to travel and do so frequently for business and for pleasure. But I didn’t think I was a ‘cruiser’ because I love the road less travelled.

My husband and I had enjoyed visiting all-inclusive resorts but wanted to try cruising for our honeymoon several years ago. We booked a short cruise on a line popular with families through a travel aggregator website.

It was such a forgettable, regrettable experience that it took seven years to decide to try again but it was worth the wait. The second cruise was delightful and has turned me from a boat-bummed traveller into someone who’s now cruise-enthused and looking forward to the next one.

The difference: booking through a travel agent.


We thought that since the trip would take place in early December, before the Christmas break, that there wouldn’t be many children on board. Well, I was so, so wrong. The Mexico-bound cruise was stacked with families of young children and teens. Hard partiers were also present in large numbers.

There was no serenity deck (adults-only area) – not that I knew what that was at the time – so there was no escape from the little ones running up and down the decks; I was almost knocked over, tray and all, in the breakfast buffet line. My husband was dismayed that the pools were so full that taking a swim was out of the question.

The port was closed due to fog the day we were to embark on the trip and the cruise line offered us the whopping sum of $15 as an onboard credit to compensate for eating lunch while we killed an entire day walking around the charming old town area. We were worn out and finally checked our luggage after hauling it around all day. Big mistake as our two allowable wine bottles were confiscated.

Lots of lessons here but the biggest one was to use a travel agent because this was a case of ‘what you don’t know can hurt you.’ We had no one to go to bat for us with the cruise line or to ask questions of; no one to caution us about closed ports or checking luggage with alcohol in it. We were cast adrift, all alone in a sea of cruisers.


Fast forward to last spring when we booked a cruise through a travel agent. She listened to our previous tale of woe and made sure we understood best practices of cruising: board early for maximum time to explore the ship and take your bathing suits for an after-lunch swim; get the drink package so we don’t have to worry about paying for a morning mimosa if we want one; get a balcony to enjoy private time outdoors; book on a higher end cruise line that doesn’t specialize in family travel; book a longer cruise during school months to be further assured of a more serene experience; book excursions ahead of time.

Our 10-day Caribbean cruise, which stopped in four enjoyable ports, was a wonderful way to celebrate my husband’s retirement. It felt like that honeymoon we wanted but didn’t get to enjoy.

It’s the little things that our travel agent took care of that put the shine on our experience. For instance, having our travel agent do the check-in ahead of time meant we had to lineup just long enough for our pictures to be taken for our on-board cards and to check our luggage.

She didn’t mind my dozens of emails asking questions: like will they have toiletries and blow dryers in the room; will we be able to change our dinner table if there are annoying people next to us; should we tip above the amounts which we pre-paid, where can we park our RV while we’re at sea?

We don’t always use a travel agent, for booking flights or shorter trips to popular destinations like Las Vegas, but when we do it’s about knowing that there’s someone else at the wheel for a while.

Jill Ellis-Worthington is a London, ON-based travel writer who says she “conveys the essence of a locale, while uncovering hidden gems where others see the mundane.” She can be reached through writeoncommunicationservices.com. Jill’s travel agent is Michelle Whalen of Uniglobe Travel.

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