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Wednesday, May 18th
Cruises Only has one of the widest selections of cruise lines among all online booking sites, with 27 different companies to choose from. These run the gamut from popular-and-budget-friendly Carnival to the intimate-and-luxurious Regent Seven Seas.
Looking at our apples-to-apples comparison fares on Royal Caribbean and Disney, how did Cruises Only do?
When it came to RCL, we were shown no available staterooms in the interior category, just "Call for prices". That stateroom was still showing as available for booking on the RCL site itself - and, in fact, the price had decreased by a few dollars from the first time we looked it up. We were able to get Cruise Direct pricing on interior staterooms if we went farther into the booking process - where, lo and behold, the price exactly matched what we found on the RCL site. Unfortunately, many customers would stop at the "Call" indicator and look for a different cruise - or different cruise booking site.
Cruises Only didn't have as many hoops to jump through when looking at our comparison Disney sailing, probably because it wasn't a last-minute cruise. The fare was exactly the same as the quote on the DCL site, but only as a "guaranteed room" fare. That means that while Disney let us choose the exact stateroom we wanted for that price, Cruises Only gave us a guarantee of a particular stateroom level without letting us pick which deck or area of the ship (fore, midship, aft).
What about any perks for booking through Cruises Only? There was a bonus offer for an Amazon gift card on last-minute sailings, but the site didn't tell us exactly how much we'd get, only that after booking we'd get a link on the invoice to a form to fill out. Then, we'd get an Amazon gift card that "will not exceed 10% of cruise fare" that would be sent out within 30 days of the sailing. That's not as good as an onboard credit we could use on our cruise vacation, in our opinion - especially when competitor sites tell you upfront exactly how much you'll get.
There was a similarly vague promotion on the Disney sailing: Amazon gift card, unspecified amount, probably not received until after the sailing was completed. The Disney booking added the ability to make the reservation with no money down - a nice perk if you don't want to pay the upfront 20% deposit usually required to book a Disney sailing.
The fine print at the bottom of the Cruises Only site had another "surprise": a $24.99 processing fee on all bookings that's not included in the quoted price. This fee is non-refundable - so even if you cancel your sailing for some reason and it's early enough to get a refund from the cruise line, you'll still be out $24.99. The top-rated cruise vacation booking sites don't charge processing fees, putting Cruises Only even lower in our rankings.
Cruises Only, along with another cruise booking site in our review (Vacation Outlet), is owned by World Travel Holdings. When we checked most recently, the parent company had an "A+" rating with the BBB. But, there were more than a few negative reviews and complaints there, mostly regarding Cruises Only's fees and policies. Customers said that the company's representatives were almost rude when responding to issues. When you're paying for an expensive, much-awaited vacation like a cruise, that's the last thing you want when something goes wrong.
For all of these reasons, Cruises Only ranks at the bottom of our listings, along with its sister company, Vacation Outlet.
Lots of travelers are turning to cruises for the best of all worlds: the excitement of exotic ports of call, the convenience of not having to change hotels with every new destination, and the delight of world-class dining and entertainment day and night.
In fact, cruising isn't limited to a particular group when it comes to popularity. Parents with young children may gravitate towards cruise lines that are known for their top-notch onboard clubs for kids, and young singles tend to choose sailings with tropical destinations - and unlimited drink packages! From casinos to spas and so much more, a cruise vacation has something for everyone.
While you might think that the best deal on a cruise is found by booking directly with the cruise line, you're more likely to get extra incentives if you purchase your cruise through an online partner company. The agents working for these companies know all of the most current incentives, like onboard credits or discounted shore excursions, and it doesn't cost you extra to get the help of an agent. The internet makes it especially easy to price the destinations and dates that interest you, get a ballpark amount, and then request a detailed quote - or even book your cruise right away! - with just a few clicks of the mouse.
If you're new to cruise vacations, you should be aware that there are costs to expect beyond the price of the actual sailing. Most initial price quotes don't factor in taxes and port fees, for example. Also, you're generally expected to pay a certain amount in gratuities - to the stateroom attendant who makes your bed and often leaves you with towels shaped into cute animals each night, and your wait staff in the dining room. Some cruise lines have suggested amounts, while others automatically charge your credit card on file for the gratuities they require from each guest.
Onboard, while many things are part of your all-in-one vacation experience, you should anticipate paying extra for alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, though some cruise lines have packages you can buy that include them. And, of course, if you want to take advantage of your ports of call for shopping, excursions like swimming with dolphins or taking a guided tour, you'll want to budget for that as well.
When deciding which site to use when booking your next cruise vacation, how can you tell which company offers the best service? Here are several criteria to keep in mind as you make your choice:
TopConsumerReviews has reviewed and ranked the best cruise vacation booking sites available today. We hope this information helps you find the perfect sailing for your travel party. All aboard!
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