Readers who know me personally know that I am a huge cruise fan. My wife and I have sailed on 17 cruises during an 11-year span. Some of the voyagers were as short as five days; others as long as two weeks. We have sailed to numerous ports in Alaska, Bermuda, the Mediterranean, the Hawaiian islands, the Panama Canal, and of course the Caribbean (South, West, and East).
We have sailed on the well-known cruise lines: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, MSC, and Costa. For about eight years, I was the webmaster for a cruise travel website for interracial families. During a prior job at a digital advertising agency, one of my clients was Celebrity Cruises. So, I am very familiar with the cruise industry.
Perhaps you have seen recently an offer for a free cruise. Or maybe a friend or family member is asking you to join them on a free cruise. With online scams and identity theft risks, some consumers are understandably wary of these free cruise offers. How can a consumer spot a valid offer from a scam?
Over at Cruise Critic, a popular website and online forum used by cruise vacation fanatics, there is a good article by Dan Askin explaining these "free" cruise vacation offers, and a couple of the companies operating them. Some of the fees and expenses cruise passengers will have to pay during their "free" cruise vacation:
- Government taxes, fees,and port charges (e.g., a fee cruise lines pay per passenger to each port their ship visits)
- Daily tips for your cabin steward, waiter, and waiter's assistant
- Alcoholic drinks
- Souvenirs and items bought at on-board shops
- Shore excursions and tours
Find out if you also have to sit through a timeshare pitch. Also, know the company you are dealing with before you send any money. If the company name is unfamiliar, research it at one of the cruise fan websites (I have used Cruise Critic, Cruise411.com, and Cruise-Addicts.com) or the Better Business Bureau website for any reviews and/or complaints. You want to find reviews by consumers who have already sailed on the cruise line and/or ship in the offer. You might also check the travel section at ePinions.com.
About a cruise offer from a particular company, Askin wrote:
"Celebration Cruise Line is the actual name of the line on which you'll be sailing. Caribbean Cruise Line is not a cruise line at all, but the name of a wholesaler that's touting the free cruise. But, the difference between line and wholesaler seems to be blurry at best, with many, many complaints on sites like Cruise Critic, complaintsboard.com and ripoffreport.com conflating line and seller... As a travel wholesaler, Caribbean Cruise Line is licensed and bonded in the State of Florida... the charges against Caribbean Cruise Lines have been fast and furious -- consumers have had difficulties getting refunds, been subjected to aggressive sales tactics, discovered that salespeople had misrepresented cabin location... Florida's Division of Consumer Services (DCS) has record of at least 40 complaints..."
Many cruise lines based their marketing headquarters -- the business function that sells cabins to consumers -- in south Florida because that's where the ships depart for Caribbean port destinations. So, you may find the Florida DCS website helpful. Cruise Critic devotes a section of their online forum to Celebration Cruise Line.
In my experience, I always purchased a cruise vacation through a known, reputable travel agent. Why? I got a better price with a travel agent partly because I managed a cruise group. Plus, I let the travel agent do what they do best: deal with the cruise lines, airlines, and any travel wholesalers. I never bought a vacation from a travel wholesaler. Travel agents know the trustworthy travel wholesalers from the ones that aren't.
Which cruise line is my favorite? Which port destination is my favorite? Ha! Buy me a beer sometime and I may tell you.