I'm a fan of specialists – and not just when it comes to medical doctors. When we needed to replace our front door, we hired a company that only does doors and windows. When my Honda needs repairs, I take it to a Honda specialist. I prefer an electrician do my electric and a plumber do my plumbing, not a handyman.
I bring the same enthusiasm for specialists to my travel. Some of my best in-destinations experiences have been with local tour companies that focus on just one destination – a food tasting tour in The Bahamas, a Maori tour in New Zealand, an Aboriginal Dreamtime tour of Uluru in Australia.
When it was time to book a safari for a milestone birthday, I used a travel advisor who specializes in safaris. Next year, for a trip I'm planning to the Atacama Desert and Easter Island, I'm using an advisor who specializes in that part of the world. I use another advisor for cruises.
While it's not always possible when cruising, the idea of using a cruise line that specializes in a specific area of the world similarly appeals to me. There aren't a whole lot of lines like this – Paul Gauguin Cruises in the South Pacific, Alaska Dream Cruises in Alaska, Ecoventura in the Galapagos, and Celestyal Cruises in the Eastern Mediterranean, to name a few.
Last month I had a chance to give one of these companies a try, specifically Celestyal. The line hosted me on its popular Idyllic Aegean itinerary, which makes fives stops in Greece and one in Turkey.
Traveling with a company that knows one geographic area inside and out definitely had its advantages.
For instance, when rough waters meant we couldn't tender during the day at Mykonos, Celestyal was able to call on its deep contacts in the region and find a quick replacement for us. We were the only cruise ship visiting the small island of Syros, which after a day in Santorini was a welcome respite from the crowds! Celestyal was even able to pull together a shuttle bus to take people to and from the beach.
And, we were still able to call on Mykonos later in the day after all the other "big" ships had left and we could pull up to the dock.
Unlike other cruise lines that want to balance your time on shore with your time on its ships (where you're likely to spend more money), Celestyal focuses on giving you as much time in port as possible so you can actually experience the destination as fully as possible.
That means early and late arrivals, giving you lots of time to explore and dine ashore. Not including breakfast, I probably ate near as many meals ashore as I did on the ship. (Even on the ship I always had the option to choose Mediterranean and Greek dishes, particularly at dinner.)
My one disappointment with Celestyal was that its shore excursion offerings when we were onboard weren't too different from what other cruise lines offer. However, the line has recently rolled out a series of "authentic" excursions that are designed to go deeper than the cookie cutter excursions every cruise line offers.
Whether or not a cruise line (or tour company) that only does one specific country or geographic region is right for your clients or not depends on many factors. Cruise lines like these don't usually have lots of restaurants, top-deck attractions, or myriad of onboard entertainment. And for some clients, those might be important to have. But be assured, some clients will like the idea of going local. There's no better way to see a place than in the company of a local, and small companies like Celestyal can give your clients that feel. And, making it a win for you as well, most companies that specialize in a specific destination cost more. In many cases that means a commission with a comma.
(Speaking of specialists costing more… that's one of the many reasons advisors should hone their own expertise in at least one area of the world or type of product; you get to charge a fee for your expertise!)
What other geo-based specialist cruise lines do you work with? We'd love to share with your fellow travel advisors.