Thinking about a cruise? There are so many ships, so many cruising styles, so many itineraries and destinations, that making your plans should be a snap … right?
Not necessarily. In fact, it’s that ocean of possibilities that can make picking the right cruise difficult. And no matter how good a swimmer you are, you can’t change your mind once you’re on board.
Enter Eden Prairie travel agent Mark Rigby, who with his wife, Helen, is co-owner of the Eden Prairie Cruise Planners franchise. “Our clients tell us what they’re looking for, and we work with them to find the right cruise experience,” Mark explains. “For example, someone might want a family-oriented cruise, while others would prefer a ship with fewer children aboard. And there are foodies, who are expecting something beyond buffets. There are a lot of new options for them, as many cruise lines, particularly the smaller outfits, are going more and more for a fine dining experience. Explorers might want to go on expedition-style cruises, like the ones that head to Antarctica. Based on individual preferences, we can narrow down the options pretty quickly.”
Cruise Planners can even arrange private charters – “A small group, perhaps eight or so family members, might charter a boat and crew,” Mark notes. “They might even want to have a chef on board.”
Where are people cruising to these days? “Lately, we’ve been focused on river cruises,” Mark says. “The Rhine and Danube are always popular, as are smaller rivers like the Douro in Portugal, and the Seine. And there’s a lot of focus on Scotland and Ireland.” The British Isles and Ireland attract interest from travelers who want to cruise around the islands, and from those preferring to take advantage of the land itineraries Cruise Planners represents. Often, according to Mark, these are people who want to delve into their ancestry. Land tours can be privately chauffeured, with a driver doubling as guide. There are even hybrid excursions: “We can set golfers up on cruises around Britain and Ireland, where they dock and play famous courses before heading on to the next links.”
The Caribbean is a perennial draw, Mark says, “especially with Minnesotans in winter. And, at the moment, the Mediterranean and the Greek islands are popular.” Many Mediterranean cruises originate in Barcelona, one of Mark’s favorite European destinations. He also loves to visit Lake Como, in the northern Italian lake country, and has an extensive knowledge of Germany, where – a native of the United Kingdom – he was stationed for three years with the British Army.
Cruises originating on the West Coast might include voyages from Seattle or Vancouver to Alaska (“That’s about the only place my mom hasn’t sailed to,” says Mark, who reports that his mother goes on a cruise every year). Cruise Planners also represents lines heading out of Long Beach, near Los Angeles, to Hawaii and South Pacific ports. Those are cruises that involve full days at sea, unlike destination-hopping journeys that involve night sailings and days in port. The same goes for round-the-world cruises, and the traditional Atlantic crossings still offered by Cunard Line’s RMS Queen Mary 2, which Cruise Planners can also book.
Sifting through so many options with savvy, professional assistance isn’t the only reason for relying on Cruise Planners and Mark’s years of experience. “As one of the largest travel agency franchise companies in North America, we buy in volume, so passengers can take advantage of economies of scale,” Mark points out. “Our clients get better prices, and perhaps even prepaid gratuities and other additional benefits.”
Even with help from Cruise Planners, planning requires … planning. “Clients typically plan 12 or 18 months in advance,” Mark advises, “or maybe as far as two years out, for one of the more specialized cruises.” But despite the wisdom of booking well ahead of time, “it’s not unusual for people to want to set sail tomorrow. Especially on river cruises, though, that’s not a good idea, as there’s seldom much last-minute space left.” One bit of Mark’s advice holds true no matter how far ahead cruise passengers book: “If it’s your first time cruising, stick with one of the shorter itineraries, say, three to five nights. That way, you can decide if the cruising experience is for you. There are always plenty of eight- or nine-day options to choose from later on.”
Call (952) 452-8941 or visit rigbytravel.com today to begin your adventure with Eden Prairie’s cruise experts!
“As one of the largest travel agency franchise companies in North America, we buy in volume, so passengers can take advantage of economies of scale. Our clients get better prices, and perhaps even prepaid gratuities and other additional benefits.”