Group leaders taking their travelers on a cruise for the first time have much to look forward to, including wonderful vacation experiences, delicious food, fine service and a wide range of entertainment. However, unlike individuals, who can find good deals available for a cruise of their liking with relative ease on the Internet, the “mechanics” of handling a group sailing are not conducive to amateur experimentation. Coordinators need to be aware that servicing group-cruise needs is a sophisticated business that requires both a serious commitment to the effort and experience-based knowledge of everything necessary to deliver a wholly satisfying trip.
With all due respect to my friends at the well-known major cruise lines, almost all are very large companies whose primary goal is filling ships while making as much money as efficiently as possible. Consequently, trying to work directly with a cruise line is not a good idea for a novice.
The lines are not set up to provide the numerous services needed to administer a “first time” group sailing successfully; these include choosing the most attractive cruise value, planning promotions, printing and distributing fliers, hosting a cruise night, taking and confirming reservations, managing inventory for the group’s benefit, handling deposits and final payments, requesting desired dining room seating and arranging convenient connecting transportation.
Additionally, lines are not always inclined to offer the most attractive pricing or amenity packages to groups without any previous cruise history; and they will never make anyone aware of superior offerings available from their competitors.
Group leaders would be well advised to begin an initial cruise effort by finding a qualified, reputable specialist: a travel agent or tour operator with a well-established reputation for professionally handling group cruise arrangements, not just for selling a cruise now and then to whoever might walk through the door. Group leaders should make sure to request existing customer contacts as references for confirmation or ask for recommendations from coordinators of other groups who have cruised frequently in the past.
Determine that the individual who will handle your sailing has substantial personal experience both at sea and working with a number of cruise line group departments. This must be a person able to determine the best lines, ships and destination “matches” to meet the interests and budget of your group members, then negotiate the best arrangements for you. Alternately, this person may be able to offer your group space in an attractive and suitable “block” that the seller has already booked in advance at the lowest possible rates in order to meet the projected needs of a series of group clients.
The only exception to this suggestion might be for groups interested in a river or inland waterway cruise, as there are well-respected companies that either operate or charter their own smaller vessels and who are capable of handling all of your group’s needs directly, should you so desire.
Whoever you select to plan and manage your cruise will advise and work with you on the following (and other) topics, but I’d like to offer a dozen important tips that will help you get the best possible experience out of your group’s first cruise: