Wanted: An older couple want to try a cruise for the first time, but they’re unsure about aspects of cruising such as tipping, dressing for dinner and seasickness. They would like to depart from the UK, to avoid flying, and would like to see the British Isles, northern Europe, Norway or the Baltic. They would prefer something more British than American and would prefer to mix with like-minded passengers rather than lots of families with kids. They’re flexible on dates.
Impression: The store was presentable, with smart staff and displays that were easy to browse.
Service: An agent greeted me immediately and invited me to their desk. The agent was knowledgeable about cruises, destinations and cabin types, and I was given plenty of options. She encouraged me to ring back and said everything could be done via phone, including payment. The agent mentioned insurance when prompted, and said they can arrange parking when I decided about the cruise.She was friendly, and brought me a cup of water when I asked, but kept a slight professional distance. Both recommendations suited my needs perfectly.
Quotes: The first was a seven-night cruise to the Norwegian fjords in September from Southampton on P&O Cruises’ Ventura, in a balcony cabin. It cost £2,758, with £140 onboard credit. The agent said the ship had mostly British passengers and would not have many children in September. The second was a 14-night Baltic cruise in September from Southampton on P&O Cruises’ Arcadia, in a balcony cabin for £4,198, with £280 onboard credit. There was a third quote for an eight-night Scottish isles trip on Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ Black Watch in August, for £3,998.
Overall: The shopper was very impressed with the range of cruises offered.
Peakes Travel Elite
Impression: The interior was elegant with attractive wooden pieces on the walls and colourful brochure displays covering a wide range of destinations. Employees were elegant and smart.
Service: I was acknowledged straightaway and sat with a friendly, enthusiastic agent who suggested various destinations, including the Mediterranean. They explained the differences between cabin types, dress codes and how it is rare to get seasick as ships are large and stable. I had the agent’s undivided attention, even when the phone rang. The agent showed me their own photos and they said they often choose cruises for their own holidays, so they could make recommendations based on personal experience.
Quotes: Both quotes were for cruises in September, in balcony cabins on P&O’s Ventura, sailing from Southampton, with parking included. The first was for seven nights to see the Norwegian fjords, for £2,898. The second was for 12 nights, visiting Spain and Portugal, for £3,346.
Overall: The agent was professional, friendly and built a good rapport with the shopper, who may well have considered the Iberian cruise even though it was not originally a destination they would have considered.
Polka Dot Travel
41 Castle Street
Impression: The shop was clean and staff presentable, but the handwritten displays in the window were a bit chaotic.
Service: I was invited to sit with an agent as I entered, and was given information about cabin types, tipping and itineraries. However, I was not asked about my budget and there was no attempt to close the sale. I was not given a business card, although the agent did write their details on one of the quotes. We were interrupted by a phone call and it took a couple of minutes for the agent to transfer the call to a colleague, but the agent did apologise. They were polite but not enthusiastic, and the staff member did not build a close rapport with me.
Quotes: Both were cruises from Southampton with P&O Cruises. The first was a seven-night itinerary on Ventura in September to the Norwegian fjords for £2,338, including £65 onboard credit. The second was four nights on Aurora in August to see Guernsey and Bruges, for £1,330, with a shorter cruise offered in case seasickness might be an issue.
Overall: The agent was professional but the shopper was not greatly enthused by the experience.
Eve Edwards, travel consultant
“We see cruise sales growing every year. There has been quite a rise in demand for no-fly cruises as airports are getting busier, whereas embarking and disembarking in the UK seem to be less hassle. I recommended P&O and Fred Olsen as they fitted the brief and I was able to give some personal insight.”
Both Worldchoice and Peakes Travel Elite scored well thanks to offering great service and a wide range of options. Worldchoice edged it, thanks to quotes for three very suitable cruises. The service at Polka Dot Travel was less enthusiastic, and the agent missed an opportunity by not asking about the budget, as there was plenty of scope for a more lucrative booking.
The top-scoring agent each weeks bags a £25 Amazon or Love2Shop voucher, courtesy of Elite Island Resorts.
Elite Island Resorts offers eight all-inclusive beach properties in the Caribbean.
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Saint Lucia: St James’s Club Morgan Bay
St Vincent & The Grenadines: Palm Island Resort & Spa.
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