I received my Cruise Line Industry Assoc Accredited Cruise Counsellor (CLIA ACC) Certification today! http://ow.ly/d/jE7
This is the time of year when Alaska cruises are a hot topic of conversation. Since the Alaska Cruise season is May-September, this is when some of the focus shifts from the Caribbean and Europe to Alaska. Alaska cruises offer a unique mix of nature, history and culture that can’t be found anywhere else.
A great add-on to an Alaska cruise is the variety of land packages that can be added before and/or after a cruise. Alaska cruises sailing out of Seattle, Vancouver and Seward offer many options from a night or two, up to extended stays of a week or more. You can have a luxury city experience all the way to a rugged outdoor camping adventure, and anywhere in between.
I love these cruises since they can be customized for many preferences such as: hobbies, activity levels, cultural experiences and the nature lovers. You can focus on wildlife and fishing, photography, hiking, biking, kayaking, flightseeing, and lumberjack adventures. These cruises are great for families looking for a unique vacation experience that is fun for all ages.
When cruising to Alaska you will get to visit many different cities and ports, but the highlight has to be the glacial fjords. Places like Glacier Bay National Park or Tracy Arm Fjord gives you the opportunity to see glaciers, snow-capped mountains, along with lakes, rivers and a breathtaking coastline. For animal lovers, there are sea lions, bald eagles, bears, mountain goats and some of the best places for whale watching opportunities.
Planning an Alaska cruise is the first step to making memories that you will treasure forever.
When I was a kid my parents used a local agency to book our travel. I didn’t quite understand how these plane tickets would show up, but somehow a call was made and then a paper ticket came in the mail. I remember thinking that it had to be a cool job to be a travel agent. You could spend your day talking about great places and taking care of people.
In the past few years I’ve been going through boxes of stuff that I cleared out of my parents’ house after I graduated from college. In one box I found a stack of itineraries for flights to Florida when I visited my grandparents and aunt. When I was in High School I had the wonderful opportunity to take a school Spring Break Trip to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Once again I was interested in the travel process. Each day we had tour tickets ready for us, funny and informative guides and there were pre-planned dinners with entertainment. After I got home from that trip I made my first scrapbook, including ticket stubs, hotel information and brochures of places we visited. I didn’t know I created my first “destination guide”.
Fast forward to when I was planning our honeymoon. I went to some local agencies for information and collected stacks of brochures. I asked friends for referrals for a travel agent. After talking to a few agencies I found a “cruise only” agency that had the cruise I wanted at the price I wanted. My agent gave me great service. She let me know when rates went down and we were able to take advantage of some upgrades. I booked with that same agent again. She knew what cruises we liked, what cabin categories we preferred and where we wanted to go next. When I called back to book another trip I found out that my agent retired. I was bummed. I talked with her replacement and it wasn’t the same experience. All of the sudden I felt like a line item on a spreadsheet and not a customer. I knew right then what I expected in a travel agent. I just didn’t know that I was about to become my own agent.
Each of those experiences stuck with me. It was the simple idea that being a travel agent had to be a fun job. There was a “ta-da!” moment when tours and travel plans magically happen. And then there’s an understanding that travel was about people, dreams and expectations. This built the foundation of how I knew what kind of travel agent I wanted to be. It’s about making dreams come true. It’s about taking care of the details. It’s about listening to what the customer wants and expects and making sure they book a trip that meets those needs.
Being a travel agent is a fun job and I hope that one of my clients’ kids goes on a vacation that I planned and thinks “Wow! Amy has a cool job!”
Travel consumers have a lot of options when deciding where and how to book their travel. There are online travel agencies (big and small), brick-and-mortar agencies, home-based travel agents, and even credit card companies are offering travel services. It can be hard to see past the TV ads, e-mail advertisements, and social media marketing campaigns to decide where and how to book travel.
One advantage of booking with a travel agent is service. Many times service gets lost when bookings are made online or through a call center. A customer can become an account number and a line item in a sales summary. With a travel agent you are an individual, with unique needs, plans and preferences.
So, where is the value-add when all prices are equal? Once again, it’s service. When clients book a trip with me, I create a custom destination guide for their trip. These guides include info about the location, weather, local transportation, the best beaches, favorite restaurants, the must-see sites, and many other tips. It’s something that I give as a gift to my clients. Some agencies charge $20-49 for these guides, but I like to send it for free as a bonus for my clients.
I have clients that print out the guides and others save them on a Smartphone so they can look up information at any time. These guides are one more way that I stand out from the faceless and nameless online agencies. It’s one more way for me to help my clients plan a great trip they’ll never forget.
I received a call from a client that had always booked land vacations with me in the past. They had never considered a cruise before, but they’ve seen my pictures and have been reading my blogs and newsletters over the years. One Sunday morning they saw an ad for a cruise that sparked some interest. Being first time cruisers they had plenty of questions about what to expect for their cruise vacation. Some of the questions were:
- What should we pack?
- What can we wear to dinner?
- Where happens when we board the ship?
- What will the weather be in each port?
- What excursions are available?
- Will we have internet and Smartphone access at sea?
- What are the dining options on the ship?
- Do we need to exchange currency in each port?
As a travel agent, I have access to resources and tools that allowed me to answer their questions in a timely manner. My personal experience and training also gives me the knowledge to answer many questions that others might have to research. It saved my clients a lot of time and effort I was able to make sure they knew everything they needed for a great vacation. For this client, I sent them current ship overviews, info about life onboard and created custom port guides for each stop on their cruise.
This client contacted me a few times while they were on the cruise. It was great to hear from them and what a great time they were having. We chatted briefly once they got home and now I am looking forward to seeing all of their pictures from their first cruise.
I have been a Cruise Specialist for 6 years. That’s the official number, but I think I’ve been a cruise specialist long before I became a travel agent. I loved cruises before I ever went on one myself. I studied the cruise lines, ships, activities, dining room menus and shore excursions. I was fascinated with cruises and I know some of that came from watching TV, but it was also the stories that I would hear from my grandparents and friends that cruised.
Once I made the move to become a travel agent for a career I started taking classes with each of the cruise lines. Most lines have a cruise “school” or “university”. For example, I am Freestyle Certified with NCL University. To achieve this I had to take a series of classes on the different ships, staterooms, dining and entertainment options, and the ports and excursions. Each step of the way I had to take quizzes and tests to prove that I was proficient in each topic.
I have taken 10 cruises so far. I have sailed with Premier, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian. I have also done many ship inspections, including Holland America and Costa. My goal is to sail multiple times each year to gain experience on other cruise lines. I am also completing my ACC (Accredited Cruise Counselor) certification with CLIA (Cruise Line Industry Association). CLIA is the world’s largest cruise association and I have been a member since 2007.
One advantage of working with me is that I have direct access to the cruise line’s business development managers. They are the representatives for the cruise lines that provide information, special rates and can assist with any issues that can arise before or during a cruise. These managers help me to make sure that I have access to the most up-to-date information about what is going on with the cruise lines. These direct relationships give me a strong advantage over booking a cruise with an online agency. If there is a question or a problem I can get answers from my manager, where you may never have a name or a phone number of someone to call at an online agency.
If you are considering taking a cruise but don’t know where to start, or if you have some ideas and need some guidance feel free to send me an e-mail or give me a call so we can discuss your travel plans.
Going on a vacation usually brings out the romance. Couples needing to get away. Mom and Dad planning some alone time on a trip. Or singles finding that romantic encounter you see in the movies.
Romance is found around the world, at sea and on land. It can be a candlelight dinner overlooking the ocean or a couples’ massage at a resort spa. For some it’s getting away to a seaside boutique hotel with no televisions or phones. For others it’s the once-in-a-lifetime adventure on safari in Africa. Romance is what you want it to be. It is not one size fits all.
Some of my favorite trips to plan are honeymoons. Honeymoons are all about love and romance. One honeymoon I planned was a 7 Day Eastern Caribbean Cruise that included stops in St. Thomas and St. Maarten. The couple planned a great balance of spa treatments and relaxation on sea days, and they snorkeled and sailed while in port. They spent most nights dining alone at a quiet table for two, and ordered room service for breakfast and ate on their balcony watching the ocean.
I always enjoy finding out what my clients like doing to make their vacation special. I have even taken some of those ideas for my own vacations. On Princess Cruises they have a ScholarShip@Sea Program that includes pottery classes. On one cruise we took a class and made our own bowls and painted them. On other cruises we have opted for the pre-made pieces that we painted. It’s a great way to have a souvenir and a memory. It was fun and we got to create something together.
Romance can happen anytime and anywhere. Where do you find it?