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Mediterranean Cruising For Dummies

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I'd like some advice from all you savvy cruise vacationers out there. My wife and I want to cruise the eastern Mediterranean in 2012 as part of a summer holiday in Europe. I'd like to research and book this a cruise package sooner rather than later so I can move on to planning other parts of our trip. We've traveled a bit but have been on a cruise only once--a decade ago for a week in the Caribbean--so we're very much uninformed on the subject. We're quite flexible on details like the date of the cruise, its' duration, ports of call, carrier and such. And, we're not necessarily looking for the least expensive package but, rather, the package that offers a fair balance between quality experience and value. Here's where I need your advice. I like planning our trips myself but, given my lack of experience on the matter, should I consult a travel agent? If I do the planning myself is there a particular website I may not be aware of that I should mine for the best bargains or are the standard travel sites (i.e., Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) all I need? My impression of cruise shopping is that there can be wide variations in pricing for identical packages (kind of like buying airline tickets) with the bargains going to those shrewd travelers who have a strategy. Is my impression correct? If it is then what is this strategy? Enlighten me, please. I'm counting on you seasoned cruise takers to make me an instant expert.

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