Consumer Watch: How to get VIP treatment on cruise

photo Ellen Phillips

I can't believe I'm actually planning a cruise after what just happened with Carnival's ship, but I'm looking at such a great deal I can't pass it up. Is there anything I can do to get VIP treatment aboard the cruise ship or at least better-than-"steerage"?

- Barry Boat

Dear Mr. Boat: In order to get the best service possible, you need to enlist the expertise of a travel agent who specializes in cruise travel.

Not only can this person get you the best prices, he or she can ensure you're accorded at least some of the VIP treatment you desire, if it's available. While a cruise allows you to experience a variety of activities and destinations, you sometimes can feel like an anonymous member of the crowd.

This is especially true on large cruise ships, which often sail with thousands of passengers. Whether it's your first cruise or your 20th, though, you can get VIP treatment, adding luxury and enjoyment to your vacation. In many cases, getting that VIP treatment will cost you more money, but the individualized attention, special perks or more luxurious accommodations may be worth the price.

• Travel on a small cruise line with fewer passengers. Some cruise ships sail with fewer than 500-1,000 passengers, meaning that you may receive more individualized attention from the cruise staff. The ships might be smaller and have fewer amenities, but with fewer passengers competing for staff attention, you may feel like a VIP.

• Book a more expensive stateroom for your cruise. Even large cruise ships have a limited number of luxury multi-room suites or villas, and many of them include the services of a dedicated staff, such as butlers, as part of the daily rate. You also might have access to private lounges or dining rooms, or other personalized services as a guest in one of these accommodations.

• Cruise on the same line regularly, and join the company's frequent traveler program. Repeat travelers on the same cruise line often receive perks that aren't available to the general public, such as room upgrades, complimentary meals at their specialty restaurants, drinks or excursions and other VIP benefits.

• Ask for perks when you book the cruise. Sometimes, it pays to ask about any specials or shipboard credits that might be available. When you book, let the agent know if you're celebrating a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. Depending on the cruise line, you might receive VIP treatment that makes your celebration special.

• Always act pleasantly. Build relationships with the cruise line staff, from the waiters, bartenders and housekeepers all the way up to the activities director and maitre d'. These folks can get you special treatment. Stand out in a good way, by taking the time to introduce yourself and making small talk -- and tip generously. A nice tip can go a long way toward ensuring you receive exceptional service.

Tax Tip: Piggy-backing on last week's tip, even though people looking for their first job can't qualify for tax deductions relating to actually looking for that job in the same locale, they do have the opportunity for a potential tax break if they find the position away from home. If this first job is at least 50 miles from your current residence, you can deduct the cost of relocating to a new home, including travel expenses and the cost of moving household items to your new residence.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Email her at consumer