Cruising With 200 Of Your New Best Friends

If you can collect a group of friends, family, colleagues or even people you’ve never met but with whom you share a common interest, hobby, lifestyle, sport or passion to go on a cruise, you can cruise free. I think a 100% discount trumps a 50% discount any day of the week.

Arranging a group cruise is surprisingly easy to do as long as you consult a travel agent who specializes in group cruises. An experienced group consultant will help you determine the most important aspects of a group cruise: departure date plus which cruise line, ship and itinerary is best for your group. Best of all, you don’t have to fork over money, worry about booking cabins or mail out documents.

I consulted Alishah Kier, one of America’s Vacation Center’s affiliate travel agents who has been booking groups for eight years. I asked her to walk me through the steps of getting a bunch of people together, talking them into taking a cruise together.

The first step is deciding what the group will be; I discovered the list of potential groups is as long as my arm. A group is a bunch of people with something in common. They may be family, friends, church members, golf buddies, fellow gym rats, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Jane Austen fans, computer geeks, people of Scottish – or any – ancestry, hikers, accountants, lawyers, photography buffs. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to target others who share my interests. In addition to the more obvious celebrations such as a wedding, sweet 16 party, birthday, wedding anniversary, bar mitzvah or high school/college reunions, group cruising may be used as a vehicle for fund raising or workshops. For example, Alishah worked with a minister in setting up a marriage retreat at sea. An added bonus is that meeting space and audio-visual equipment is available at no extra charge should your group need them.

Once the group is decided, it’s time to consult your group specialist. Alishah questions clients about the members of the group. “If they’re more conservative we’ll go with one cruise line whereas if they’re liberal, I might recommend resort casual. Have they cruised before and if so, what have their experiences been?” With this kind of information in hand, she’ll make recommendations for cruise lines and itineraries.

Alishah recommends a lead time of at least 15 months prior to departure. The more time you have, the easier it is to market the cruise and most people can commit to a trip that far in advance.

Once the ship, itinerary and departure date are determined, your cruise specialist will get the ball rolling with the cruise line. “An experienced agent knows what kind of cabins and the best locations to book.”, Alishah says. She says the minimum number of staterooms that can be reserved is eight and says that number can grow very quickly. She cites a minister who thought he wanted 15 cabins for a marriage retreat; his group ended up with 200 staterooms.

Your work involves marketing the cruise to prospective group members. Alishah helps clients create special brochures and gives a crash course on marketing, radio advertising and press releases for newspapers.

Alishah explained the logistics of booking a group cruise. A $25 deposit is expected 25 days after the group space is reserved. Each participant works directly with the the travel agent in booking the cruise from the initial deposit and cabin selection to obtaining cruise documents. Your group will have until 90 days prior to departure to get people and the total price is expected 70 days before departure.

An experienced group specialist can arrange a complimentary cocktail party for your group, reserve function rooms, special shore excursions and nice touches like champagne and chocolate delivered to staterooms. If your group needs special activities, such as tee time at island golf courses or break out rooms for seminars aboard ship, your travel agent will do that as well. If you have ten people or more in the group, Alishah will book group air space for you and arrange transfers between the airport and the pier.

So what about the free cruise? According to Alishah I only need 25 cabins to get a free cruise including port charges, taxes and fuel surcharge. Since I have plenty of time to find people interested in cruising in my group, it should be easy.