Yes, travel agents still exist! It seems terribly old fashioned to use a travel agent, but the good ones will not cost you a cent more than booking directly - they are paid by the cruise lines and not the customers. And then cruises are not quite as simple as booking flights or car hire; so for first time cruisers it's especially advantageous to use a good travel agent. You'll usually get more personalised service from a travel agent, and naturally you'll get more independent advice than from a cruise line! Even if you prefer doing all your research yourself, it's worth checking with a travel agent whether they can beat the price, before you finally make the booking yourself.
Intuitively, booking directly with a cruise line would result in the cheapest price, as the middle-man is skipped out. However, cruise lines sometimes offer travel agents specials in order to get more business from them; and as they save on marketing costs. Whilst it's usually part of the deal that travel agents may not quote prices lower than the cruise lines, they may package the special prices, typicaly by adding flights into the deal and quoting one price for both flights and the cruise (so you cannot easily see that the cruise component is what's bringing the package price down). Alternatively, the travel agent may offer additional frills like onboard credit, a free upgrade, a drinks package, spa treatments or a bottle of champagne. Some travel agents add frills through "rebating", which means that they are using some of the commission they're earning from the cruise line to finance the frills - these travel agents need to book high volumes to be able to afford to do this, and client service may suffer.
If you're looking for a specific type of cruise (e.g. Alaska), then be sure to select an agency which specialises in selling those types of cruises, as they're more likely to have access to deals.
On the other hand, a major downside of using a travel agent is that if something goes wrong, you have to work through them.
Once you have decided on your cruise use cruisecompete.com to get multiple travel agents to quote you for the cruise (prices are usually similar, but some offer onboard crredit).
Travel agents to consider are (links to their newsletter signup pages):
Also see the following, which don't have a newsletter:
Disclosure: This website is attempting to earn commission income where possible via the above agents, to pay for costs and keep it going (at the moment there are zero agreements, but this is the intention!). This will not impact on the price you pay for cruises. If you are still bothered that it might, then navigate directly to the travel agency's website, rather than using the above links. Agencies through which commission income is not earned are also included; and some agencies which offer commission income are not included (e.g. Booking Buddy, Cheap Tickets, Cruises Only and Your Travel Centre).
Should you ask an agent to package your holiday? This is certainly the easiest way of doing it, but it's likely that the agent will be adding in extra profit in the process, so be sure to check the price of doing each componenent seperately yourself.
If you've read this far you deserve a bit of entertainment. Combine plentiful alcohol and a holiday spirit with people from all walks of life on cruise ships; and here are examples of some of the more bizarre things witnessed on cruise ships:
Children licking everything - from condiment dispensers to the handrails. Hello norovirus! Children eating with their mouths on the ice cream dispenser, and with their heads in the chocolate fountains - sometimes adults are caught doing the same. Children spitting in others' food. Parents abandoning their children whilst going out drinking.
Fights - yes, they happen! From "ladies" throwing punches in jacuzzis or queues, with security attempting to intervene; to arguments about whose deck chair/towel/table it is. In worse incidents there are bottles being utilised as weapons, or knife fights at dinner. Sometimes it's a couple arguing - "I should have married your brother!", "You drunken street hooker". A husband punching his wife. Wives climbing from one balcony cabin to the next to get away from drunken husbands. Crew searching the ship for a missing girlfriend, only to discover her drunk and cheating in another guy's cabin. A teenage bully beating up his Dad!
Extremely drunk people being supported/dragged by other fairly drunk people to where they need to be. Inebriated teenagers drinking alcohol out of shampoo bottles. Drunks pouring beers over each other's heads in the hut tubs.
People urinating and doing numbers 2's in odd places; with the resulting turds in places they shouldn't be (e.g. be careful of landmines when stepping out of your cabin door!). Sometimes it's drunks, sometimes it's the desperate and sometimes it's pranksters. A drunk guy squatting & doing his business in the elevator. A man defecating in the urinal, claiming he couldn't wait for the stall to be empty. An overweight lady peeing in the hand basin. A man peeing off his balcony into the sea.
Passengers being escorted off the ship by multiple staff with all their luggage - you have to have done something seriously wrong to suffer this indignity! Sometimes they are still protesting all the way out, and occassionally with handcuffs on. Security guarding a passenger's room, who has been confined to it for the trip.
People in all states of undress - naked in the whirlpools late at night is relatively common, as is couples being overly intimate in public. A sexy lady in her bikini, but with the panty liner hanging out the back. Naked passengers on the balcony of their cabin, sometimes the elderly. People walking into breakfast in their pyjamas. A naked female on the waterslide. A naked girl wondering along the hallway trying to find her cabin at 4am, knocking randomly on doors. A teenage girl on the surfing simulator in her bikini, with the top coming loose and her boob showing. A child peeing on a couch.
Clothed people jumping into the pools.
Passengers wearing hats with their platinum cruise cards from previous voyages attached to it.
Passengers and crew being intimate in plain sight in their balcony cabins or jacuzzis. Condoms lying around everywhere at 5am (at least they were safe!). Regular cruisers sometimes stay away from the jacuzzis, knowing what goes on in them; especially on the party cruises. A bit rarer, but sometimes the intimacy involves multiple men/women with wide differences in ages - granny getting it on with a randy teenager. Men unwittingly hooking up with trans men. When it involves adults with underage children, it can get more serious - fights and arrests. The laundry is a common spot to be caught by the crew. Very rare is it happening on a crowded dance floor. Sometimes the intimacy is a solo effort, e.g. a man pleasuring himself on the dance floor. Some gents take escorts with them on cruises. Two months after the cruise discovering that you're pregnant.
Being propositioned by strangers; e.g. men inviting other men to their cabins.
There is sometimes heavy security around cruise ships at some ports - e.g. guards with automatic weapons.
Medical incidents - heart attacks, death sometimes under suspicious circumstances, wounds from inebriated passengers falling. People injured from jumping to the deck below. The occassional gurney being rolled by with a body bog zipped up on it. A passenger dying on a deck chair and it taking hours for the crew to realise. Alcohol poisoning is common.
One generally needs to be very careful in balcony cabins, as during the daytime one can be seen in the reflection from the neighbouring cabins.
Man overboard - drunk passengers and suicides.
Freakish incidents like submarines surfacing near the ship.
Very bad weather - e.g. hurricanes.
People losing everything in the casino.
In the Caribbean it's relatively common to rescue cuban refugees on rafts.
Just married couples in their wedding gear is common; but sometimes they're the ones getting nude and naughty.
Drug busts (especially from South American cruises).
Pirate boats near Somalia (e.g. the MSC Melody incident). However, you have nothing to worry about if you see a small boat alongside and somebody yelling "pilot boat" (not pirate boat).
Ships getting stuck on sandbars.
Don't feel bad if your cruises have been relatively boring, but cruise enough and you're bound to witness some of the above.
The tablets don't work for everybody. Some unfortunates spend the entire cruise in their cabin, too ill to do as much as open the door.