It's like a floating city! These days cruise ships come equipped with shopping malls, water slides, midnight buffets, theaters and even ice skating rinks. And when you know the tricks to saving big bucks, you can score the cruise of your dreams at an affordable price this time of year.
The first quarter, January to March, is typically the best time to book a cruise. It's what the cruise industry calls "wave season." The thinking is that most people want to get their vacations on the calendar at the start of the year. Cruise lines want you to book with them so they discount fares and offer perks like onboard credits.
Don't want to wait till wave season? It's okay--last minute cruises almost always net the best deals. Look for last minute fares within 60 to 90 days of departure, which is typically when the final payment is due and ships have an idea of their capacity. Just make sure last minute airfare prices don't negate your LOLcruise deal.
If you're more of a planner and want to travel during peak travel time (like summer in Alaska), then book at least six to 12 months in advance. River cruises are growing in popularity and it is recommended that you book 12 to 15 months in advance if you really want to save money on a cruise.
Book on an old ship recently refurbished rather than a brand new one. According to CruiseCritic.com, ships slated for a major refurbishment in the next couple of years are Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas, as well as Carnival Freedom, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Gem.
Look for "kids sail free" promotions. It's becoming more common for cruise lines to offer a deal where the 3rd and 4th guest (your kids) in a stateroom cruise free. And since cruises typically charge per person, this type of discount is huge for a family of four. It can really make the difference between being able to afford a cruise and staying at home. Plus, many times they'll throw in a room upgrade or discounted deposit.
Your ticket on board may be the big-ticket item, but all those other costs (airfare, car rentals or one-night hotel stays before or after your trip) can quickly add up. Choose cruises that depart from ports that are within driving distance or a cheap flight away.
- Consider taking a repositioning cruise. These generally happen in spring and fall when ships relocate to accommodate the change in season. For example, cruise season in Alaska starts in May, so on the west coast, you may find deals on ships heading north.
Love your cruise so much you can't wait for the next one? If you book a future cruise while onboard, you'll often enjoy reduced fares and perks like onboard credits.