If this is the case, set aside a fixed amount of money - an amount that you can afford to lose - and when that is gone, casually sip the last of your drink - but NEVER eat the ice; nervous, out-of-control ice eaters have been known to snow in their pants - then slowly but humbly stagger away from the table with downcast eyes, pockets turned inside out. Your dog will still love you.
How to earn a free cruise -
It is a well known secret that cruise lines offer a "TC" - or Tour Conductor berth - to travel agencies booking groups. With most cruise lines the ratio is one free for every fifteen full fare paying passengers traveling on the same cruise. The sixteenth person pays only the taxes and fees. (Note that only the first two people occupying a cabin are credited towards the TC- third and fourth people sharing a cabin at a discount rate don't count- so you can't stack-the-deck by cramming five people into each of three cabins.)
Tip - There several ways to leverage this offer - and most travel agencies will work with you on this. Give the credit away to a fellow cruiser; use it to defer your own cost of cruising; tell your travel agent that you want the credit to be an overall discount for the group- or, like a bankrupt CEO bailed out by tax payer money - skip the cruise, pocket the credit as a cash bonus and retire to your deluxe double-wide on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Pros & cons of booking direct with the cruise line -
Pros - If you know exactly which line you want to take, the cruise line should be able to answer all your questions in great detail and will take your booking direct. You can access a cruise line's online booking engine 24/7 and not have to wait for the travel agency to open for business.
Cons -The cruise line is going to offer the same price as travel agents - you won't save any money on the fare. However, they are not going to tell you about any other cruise line that might match your needs - or have lower prices for the same itinerary. If you register on many of the cruise lines own sites for information, the lines will contact you often. One can receive weekly phone calls and emails for months or years!
Once you've talked with a travel agency, you need to let the agency handle the cruise booking details, follow up questions, etc. (although other cruise related add-ons such as airfare, hotels, car rental, travel insurance, shore excursions, etc. can still be handled on your own - or online if you are a "do-it-yourselfer" and wish to avoid agency service fees.)
If the cruise line knows that you have already reserved space through an agency they are not likely to provide further information. In such case, when called directly, the cruise line will stonewall - relentlessly referring you back to your travel agent for any more details.
Now you are ready to cruise - to max the experience while controlling the costs. But there's more. Coming soon - articles on getting the best airfare; the best stateroom, maximizing shipboard experiences such as dining, activities, entertainment, as well as how to get the best deal on travel insurance (hint: it is usually NOT the coverage offered by the cruise line).