Surfing for Cruises

Where falls short is in the leisure-travel sector. That’s the forte of sister site Preview Travel, which will still be accessible after the merger. Preview Travel offers an extensive array of land-air packages and special last-minute deals. Typing in a destination in the “Where do you want to go?” field takes you to a brief synopsis of the location, courtesy of guidebook publisher Fodor’s. A customized mini-guide service draws on the Fodor’s database to produce hotel and restaurant reviews, points of interest, and the best time to vacation, based on your specifications.

If you need to speak with a live person, customer-service numbers are easy to find. If you prefer, you can opt for live customer-service chat. You’ll also find unbiased information to help you in the decision-making process, and a well-frequented interactive community. And its dynamic Cruise Finder feature makes booking cruises a breeze.

This is no mean feat, as booking cruises and tours on the Net has long been a cumbersome affair—you have to e-mail the tour or cruise operator and wait for a reply just to establish contact. But the process should soon get a lot easier as more sites incorporate XML. XML’s support for links that point to multiple documents enables online agencies to link to smaller, independent suppliers. Indeed, Web travel consultant PhoCusWright predicts that tour and cruise bookings will grow from 1 to 2 percent of online travel sales to 8 percent over the next two years.

One of the best sites for researching and booking cruises is Recently upgraded, the site offers the widest variety of cruises, and its intuitive interface helps ease the often-complicated buying process. You also have access to a live cruise specialist on a 24/7 basis.