Not really. Both 'Travel Agents' and 'Travel Consultants' (also known as 'Specialists') are able to act on your behalf by booking travel (flights, trains, etc.) and/or travel related items (hotels, tours, etc.). However, by definition, a travel consultant is much more than just a travel agent. When you have a business trip that takes you from Denver to Paris, then from Paris to Berlin, and then back home to Denver (complicated), any travel agent can handle that for you. But when you and your spouse want to celebrate your twenty-fifth anniversary by finally taking that European dream cruise you’ve both been talking about since the kids were little, you’ll want a specialist.
Travel Consultants are indeed Travel Agents, but Consultants typically have a specialty. Perhaps even more than one specialty. Think of it like this. When you come down with a cold, or sprain your ankle, or even need a couple of stitches due to a knife-vs-bagel incident, you visit your family doctor. But when you have something more serious, you consult a specialist. Preferably one that has plenty of experience dealing with your particular malady. When planning that European cruise that has several moving parts to it (pun fully intended) you want a Travel Consultant that specializes in cruises (a.k.a. your cruise specialist).
You see, your cruise specialist has likely taken many hours of specialized education from several cruise lines, has personally taken many cruises, taken many overseas flights, experienced lots of tours and excursions, stayed in lots of overseas hotels, and has learned firsthand how differently things are done in countries other than our own. Therefore, that cruise specialist can not only create a travel itinerary that can seamlessly take you where you want to go and do the things you want to do, but can also minimize the chances of problems and frustrations arising.
And because that cruise specialist has been on lots of overseas cruises, perhaps even taken the same cruise on the same ship on which you’re going, they can give you lots of great advice that can greatly enhance your experience and get you more for your money.
I’ll never forget the first time Lyn and I planned one of our many cruises, this time with a cruise specialist. The specialist turned us onto a cruise line that was far superior in accommodating food allergies, of which Lyn has many. Until then, Lyn had to pack a suitcase full of food and snacks for those occasions when the ship's menu was lacking in things she could eat. What a pleasure it was for her to be able to order gourmet meals prepared just for her. They prepared special appetizers, entrees, soups, breads and even deserts for her.
Because one of her allergies is to wheat, I’ll never forget when we discovered that the ship carried special wheat-free (gluten-free) dough so they could make a special pizza just for her. That’s the kind of enhancements I’m talking about. Advice like that comes from consulting a specialist.
A cruise specialist will also enhance your experience by helping you pick not only the right stateroom but the right location of that stateroom. There are several factors to consider, again based on your likes and needs. As an example, Lyn loves cruises, but doesn’t like to feel the effects that weather has on a ship while she tries to sleep. When sleeping in a stateroom far forward and on a lower deck, we have felt the vibrations as the ship hits the taller waves. Lyn's not a fan of those vibrations. When sleeping in a stateroom in the forward or aft (rear) sections of a ship, Lyn also doesn’t like the gentle rise and fall as the ship traverses larger waves. Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of people who enjoy the rhythmic vibrations of the bow hitting those waves as well as the gentle up and down as the ship moves across the water. In fact, I’m one of them. In my opinion, it’s part of the fun of being on the water. But because Lyn prefers a more stable sleep environment, we always default to a stateroom somewhere in the middle of the ship where those movements or vibrations are lessened or non-existent.
There are several other considerations when choosing your stateroom location, but without the expertise of a cruise specialist you might not know how to pick the stateroom location that’s just right for you. The bottom line here is that you are about to spend your hard-earned money on a vacation that might just be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. On the other hand, you might love it enough to make it a once or twice a year thing (like Lyn and I try to do). Either way, a cruise specialist will not only save you a ton of time trying to research and plan your trip, but they will enhance your experience by knowing where and how little problems and frustrations can arise, and help prevent them.
They will also enhance your trip by giving you advice on all other aspects of your trip, usually drawing from their own experiences. The two examples above (1. Which cruise line deals better with food allergies, and 2. Picking the right stateroom location.) are what I call ‘Game-changers’ because they both involve really big factors of any vacation (i.e. Food and Comfort). You can imagine that not being able to eat well or sleep well on a cruise ship might just ruin the whole experience for some people. But just like in your daily life at home, when you are traveling to new and exciting places, in your own country or abroad, there are lots of little needless frustrations that can be avoided if you are working with the right cruise specialist.
Here are just a few examples:
Early in our cruising career, we were on our way to a cruise through the Greek Isles that began from a port in England. Lyn and I planned to tour London for four days before getting on the ship.
By the way, this is one of the major pieces of advice we provide. If you’re already spending lots of time and money on flights, you might as well turn two separate vacations into one. Visiting London was on our bucket list so when planning our Greek Island cruise, it was a piece of cake decision to choose a ship that started out in England and carve out four extra days to tour London. On one of our Alaska cruise vacations which takes you to several westernmost Alaskan ports, we added four days to tour several interior areas including a venture into Canada. We try to do that sort of thing with every trip we take and make the suggestion to everyone we talk to about planning a cruise. Of course, not everyone can take the extra time from work or stretch their budget, but it is always worth considering.
Anyway, we took a taxi from Heathrow airport to our hotel in the heart of London. When I pulled out my wad of Euros that I picked up weeks earlier from my bank back home (thinking all the while that I was smart to be prepared with foreign currency) our cabby told me I needed to pay him in British money (Pounds). I wasn’t prepared for this. Knowing that England was a member of the European Union I just assumed that Euros were the accepted currency. I learned from the now slightly impatient cab driver that this was not the case. England was indeed part of the Union but was the one country of all twenty-eight that decided to maintain its own currency….the British Pound.
I later learned that many places in England will accept Euros as payment for goods and services, including some cabbies, but some did not, including the now very impatient cabby giving me this lesson. I offered him US dollars but his reaction to that was a real surprise to me. He practically spit at the bills I proffered. Turns out that these days, US dollars are held in contempt by much of the world. While most hotels will provide exchange services for your dollars, you’ll find that most other businesses, small and large, will absolutely refuse to take them (I had another similarly embarrassing moment later that same day at an ice-cream stand).
After a far longer exchange than was necessary, the cabby waited as I went into our hotel, waited on line at the front desk to exchange my money into Pounds, and returned almost a half-hour later with the proper currency. He was not a happy camper and the sour experience stayed with me to this day. Because of that experience, being prepared with the right currency is a discussion I have with everyone planning a trip abroad. I even advise them as to how to get the best exchange rates and how to avoid expensive service fees.
Every minute of your vacation is precious time. Your goal should be to enjoy every moment and not waste a single one on trifles like having to deal with nonsense. A good cruise consultant will provide you with great tips and advice that will help you achieve that goal.