The winter months mark a very popular time for cruising, especially in the Caribbean and other warm destinations. This period is also known by industry insiders as "wave season," when cruise lines and cruise agents launch aggressive sales to capture advance bookings for the entire year.
Cruises often have a longer booking period -- sometimes as much as one year out -- so these deals cover not only last-minute sailings, but also spring, summer and winter cruises as well.
While the recent Costa Concordia tragedy in the Mediterranean has placed a newfound emphasis on cruise safety and made first-time cruisers wary, it hasn't affected cruise demand -- and travelers are still scooping up deals.
Some of the best deals we see all year are available right now, from short weekend trips to the Bahamas to longer South Pacific sailings on luxury ships. Offers often include extras such as pre-cruise hotel stays, on-board credits and prepaid gratuities.
If some of these cruise deals strike your fancy, here are some tips to get the best deal and experience:
1. Look to travel during the weeks following a major holiday. While cabins go quickly and are costly for cruises that include a major holiday, sailings one week later are generally much cheaper and less crowded. This means smaller crowds both on board and during excursions -- and more money in your pocket.
2. Cruise lines often advertise their lowest rates for "guaranteed" cabins. These are assigned on board not at the time of booking, so you can't request a specific cabin. But you are guaranteed to be within the category (inside, ocean view, etc.) booked. Feeling lucky?
3. Cruising provides the one-stop-shop benefit of bundled pricing. It's essentially accommodations, meals and entertainment in one vacation price. Not to mention it's a great way to visit multiple destinations in one trip.
4. Fares for children are often discounted, especially as the third or fourth passenger in a cabin. Most ships also have extensive kids programs, giving mom and dad a nice break (and possibly a little bit of a vacation).
5. Repositioning cruises -- when a cruise line sails the ship from one region to another -- often come at a significant discount. We've seen 13-night transatlantic cruises on high-end ships available for less than $500 per person. Try living at home for less than $40 a day.
6. In recent years there has been a lot of buzz surrounding mega-ships such as Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas, Norwegian Epic, Carnival Magic, Disney Dream and Celebrity Silhouette. The newest ships are spectacular and popular with travelers -- and often priced at a premium. But many cruise lines have ships that are just a few years older and highly rated by Conde Nast Traveler and others. They offer very similar experiences for a lot less.
7. For the best deal on Alaska cruises, look around the edges of the sailing season. Sailings before Memorial Day and after Labor Day often have the best prices.
8. Many of the best deals on Caribbean sailings are available during hurricane season (July through October). Get a great deal and use some of the savings on travel insurance for peace of mind.
9. Plan ahead for popular excursions and book before you go. It will save time once on board and avoid any frustration when a desired itinerary sells out. Most have a 24-hour cancellation policy, so if you change your mind, you can cancel up to 24 hours beforehand.
10. Check back often. Cruise prices can fluctuate on a weekly and even daily basis, as the cruise lines scrutinize their inventory and adjust pricing on specific ships and departure dates.
So get a deal, pack your bags and set sail.
-- Andrew Young is based in New York City and is Travelzoo's U.S. Website Editor. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.
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