USA TODAY: When things go wrong on a cruise, it can help to have a travel agent

By Gene Sloan, USA TODAY

Why book a cruise through a travel agent? The potential for a trip-ruining event such as this week's fire on the Carnival Splendor or last month's rudder malfunction on the Celebrity Century are one big reason.

When things go wrong to the point of bringing an early end to a voyage (a relative rarity in the business, thankfully), a good agent can be a godsend in salvaging at least part of one's hard-earned vacation time -- or at least that's what we often hear from readers here at the Cruise Log.

Just this month we received a note from Cindy Hall of Snellville, Ga., who was sailing in the Mediterranean aboard the 1,808-passenger Celebrity Century on Oct. 15 when the line discovered damage to the ship's rudder. The cruise was canceled two days into a 12-day voyage, and passengers had to disembark the ship in a small port in southern France at the height of countrywide transportation strikes.

Noting that the crew of the ship was no help, Hall says she would have been lost if not for the aid of her agent, who she was able to reach by email from the ship.

"My agent and the travel insurance company were our only contact ... with anyone in the outside world," Hall says, noting that in a 36 hour period she only was able to get a phone line out of her cabin twice.

Hall, who was traveling with her husband for their 30th wedding anniversary, says her agent worked through the night to find her alternative accommodations.

Working with the travel insurance company that had insured the Halls' trip, the agent was able to arrange a hotel room for the couple in nearby Nice, France and a return flight home to the USA, and he even helped them make dinner plans.

"As they were celebrating their 30th anniversary I was able to locate, recommend and reserve a table at a wonderful French restaurant in Nice," the agent tells USA TODAY.

Celebrity was heavily criticized by cruisers for its handling of last month's sudden trip cancellation, but agents noted that the company was working beyond its expertise.

"While many were asking for Celebrity Cruises to assist with making alternative arrangements, one has to be aware that they sell and operate cruises". "They are not travel agents used to working with many other suppliers all at once for over 1,800 guests."

As for the Halls, they're already talking about giving cruising in the Mediterranean another try, though maybe on a different itinerary.

"This time (they) probably will do an Italian intensive cruise as they have (now) seen the south of France".

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