Freighter cruises are a unique and under-appreciated type of cruise vacation, as we explained in a recent article (see link above). Freighter cruises are unique because they take place on freighters (like large container ships), and they are under-appreciated because, despite being a great alternative to standard cruise vacations (at least for some people), hardly anyone considers taking one, not even seasoned cruise vacationers. (Indeed, many are not even aware of the existence of freighter cruises.) Given their relative obscurity and the fact that we recently shed light on them, we thought we should explain how to go about booking a freighter cruise. Our basic question is therefore this: how do you book a freighter cruise, and is it much different from booking a regular cruise vacation?
We’ll answer the second question first. Booking a freighter cruise is quite a bit different from booking a regular cruise, probably because taking a freighter cruise is quite different from taking a regular cruise. If you want to take a regular cruise, you’ll likely start with one of the major deal sites, like CruiseDeals or Travelocity, to search through different possibilities, and there is a reasonably good chance you’ll end up booking through one of these sites. Freighter cruises, however, are completely absent from the realm of deal sites on which so many vacationers now rely. Alternatively, many passengers directly book with cruise lines they have historically traveled with, but this approach doesn’t really work with freighter cruises either. Unless you have a connection with a freighter that takes on passengers, you likely won’t be able to book directly with a ship. As we explained in our previous article, freighter cruises are first and foremost about shipping cargo around the globe, and not about transporting the few passengers that ride along. (There are often only a few passengers on board a freighter.) It is not as if freighter ships have a team of agents that stand ready for your call through a toll-free number.
So, how can you book a freighter cruise? Barring any special connection to a freighter ship, you’ll likely have to book your cruise the old-fashioned way: through a travel agent. (Occasionally this won’t be necessary if you happen across a ship like Aranui, which offers passenger trips in the French Polynesia, but unless you have an intimate knowledge of the various freighter ships around the world that take on passengers, you’ll likely need an agent.) There are a few agencies that cater to freighter cruisers specifically, such as Maris Freighter Cruises and TravLtips, although a good travel agent from any given company should have an idea of how to book a freighter cruise. If you already work with a travel agent, he or she should be your first source, but if you don’t have one, the two listed above are good places to start.
Booking a freighter cruise, as you can see, is very different from booking a regular cruise. Standard cruise vacations are part of an enormous industry that has given rise to large cruise lines with teams of booking specialists and numerous websites specifically designed to help you book a cruise. By comparison, freighter cruises are obscure, and so to book one requires some fairly esoteric knowledge (and hence the need for travel agents). Even so, it is not particularly difficult to book a freighter cruise, and if you want to take one, the booking process should certainly not deter you.