Secrets to Booking the Best Cruise Vacation

No. 2: Use a travel agent. There isn't one advantage to booking directly with a cruise line. You'll never receive the professional and, most importantly, objective advice that an experienced cruise agent can provide. A true cruise specialist will be able to match you with the best ship and deal.

Best Dates for Cruises

No. 3: Be flexible with your dates. Cruise prices may vary by sailing date. If possible, check a few dates before and after your desired sailing date to ensure maximum savings.

No. 4: Book early. Don't wait. Book your cruise as soon as possible. Some of the most desired specialty itineraries such as Europe and Alaska require you to book in advance to avoid paying higher air and cruise fares. The difference can easily be thousands of dollars.

No. 5: Consider travel insurance. A cruise is an investment of money and time and should be protected. Besides providing protection against cancellation, policies also cover interruption and travel delay, and are worth serious consideration.

Purchasing travel insurance isn't necessary on most cruises until final payment time because there is no risk up until that point. Consult your agent for specific details. Insurance can be purchased through the cruise lines or separate, third party companies. Consider both options because prices for similar coverage may differ significantly.

Buying a cruise is like buying a car. It's an investment not only of money but also your time. You'll be on these ships for three, four, seven nights or longer, so you need to make the right decisions. Do your research and these can be vacations of a lifetime that can be repeated over and over to your dream destinations. Why not save a few bucks along the way, too?

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Stewart Chiron, the Cruise Guy, is one of the world's leading cruise industry experts. He has been in the industry for more than 20 years and a regular contributor on trends and deals for leading news organizations, including ABC News. His Web site, CruiseGuy.com, offers details, deals and tips aboard all of the major cruise lines to destinations around the world.

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