Editor's note: This story is from the Cruise Critic Archives. Content was up to date at time of publication.
The question is so common that
' U.K. Web site raises the issue right up front on its Frequently Asked Questions page. Here's the reality check: While the cruise you are purchasing in the U.K. may be the same seven-night Mediterranean voyage from Barcelona as the one I'm buying in the U.S. or other places in Europe, there are culturally -driven differences in how fares are constructed and sold. That is one reason why Cruise Critic launched the new Cruisecritic.co.uk in Great Britain, its first country-specific Web site. While featuring the same comprehensive depth of reviews, features, port stories, and boards (known in the U.K. as forums), the site incorporates U.K.-oriented touches, such as showcasing deals only available to British Isles residents.
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Ultimately, she adds, "Different markets have different buying habits and different dynamics."
Some other trends that apply across-the-globe:
Travel agents may have been sidelined by airlines and hoteliers, but they play a large and important role in selling cruises, just about everywhere --but especially in North America and Europe.
Editor's Note: Be cautious. One thing to watch out for -- Most travel agencies that provide online information will often produce a surfeit of "positive" reviews and comments. There's nothing wrong with good feedback, but it's important to remember that, ultimately, these companies are in the business of selling cruises.
Why the Differences?
In contrast, travellers in the U.K. want less of the do-it-yourself bother (shopping around, buying elements separately) and instead prefer more comprehensive packages: that include cruises, flights, transfers, taxes, port fees, and hotel accommodations as needed.
And there's one more challenge to consider: If paying for your trip by credit card -- which we heartily recommend -- you will be required to adhere to all rules set in the country of origin.
Shopping for a cruise? Below we outline the geographical distinctions.
One other British buying habit is early booking. In fact, Kari Reinikainen -- a Hastings resident who tried to find an autumn cruise to Europe nine months in advance, found the pickings slim indeed.
As for the perception that U.K. fares are more expensive than their American counterparts, here's why: British pricing typically includes all flights, transfers to and from the ship, government and departure taxes, port fees, any overnight stays included in the itinerary, and any day accommodations in hotels, prior to flying back to the U.K.
As expected, all of the cruise lines in the U.K. have Web sites, but they're becoming increasingly more country-specific. In this case, the focus is on travellers hailing from the U.K.'s England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Princess, for instance, which has long directed U.K. travellers to its U.S. site, is hard at work on its own distinct portal. Notably, none of the sites promote online buying --, which is more prevalent in the U.S. than here -- in any meaningful way.
Another important development for cruise line Web sites is the creation of proverbial bells and whistles that take their offerings beyond simple brochure-like images and ship schedules. They offer some useful (and, frankly, amusing) tools that provide more comprehensive details about ships and trips and also encourage travellers to visit just for fun. Fred. Olsen, which relaunched its site this year, has added Google Maps and Google Earth. Ship bridge-cams -- which help you can find out where your favourite vessel is cruising --– are a popular feature on Princess.
As for bagging deals and discounts, the cruise lines primarily encourage travellers to head to places like Cruise Critic, which feature a plethora of
, or to travel agency Web sites. Agencies, like cruise lines, are increasingly trying to establish their sites as first-points-of-contact for passengers in buying mode.
The most important thing to know about European cruise purchasing is that it varies greatly from country to country and region to region. Spain and Scandinavia may both start with an "S", but that's where the similarities end.
The Italians and Spanish, for example, like to depart from local ports, while Germans are happy to fly to their departure ports. Overall, the European market isn't as "package"- oriented as in the U.K. instead, fares are often offered as cruise-only with the option of adding flights.
"We're watching an interesting development in Scandinavia, where 40 percent of our direct sales from customers are coming to us through the phone or Internet. They're way ahead of any other region. It's an extremely wired market."
As in the U.K., travel agents, selected by the cruise lines, handle the vast majority of booking arrangements in local currencies. (But so many have adopted the Euro that this is not as much of a complication as it could be.)
But, whether Europeans prefer to stick with country-based cruising or embark on pan-Euro-style travels, buying traditions differ.
While the timing of Cunard's marketing materials may vary, the cruise product itself goes on sale at the same time globally. So, for instance, you can technically buy a cruise on
at the same time in Germany as in Britain, but you might not necessarily hear about it as quickly in Germany, where travellers prefer to book closer to sailing dates.
North America's U.S. & Canada
"U.S. fares on U.S. departures and, indeed, on U.S. cruise lines do tend to be more competitive, but... these tend to be only the actual cruise element... so a lot of consumers may not be comparing like for like," notes Wooldridge, of Fred. Olsen, which only recently decided to expand its traditionally British outreach efforts to include North Americans.
The American and Canadian cruise markets, which are significantly larger than those in other countries, have long embraced the Internet as a resource for information, booking and social networking.
The most interesting news nugget is that the race for the best fare doesn't necessarily stop when you've paid your initial deposit.
Colbert says she tries to review her bookings periodically, searching for better fares that might have materialized in the meantime. In one case recently, she changed a booking twice, saving one couple $800 and another $1,000 on the original costs of their staterooms.