How far in advance should I book a cruise?
Most cruises can be booked anywhere from 18 months to one week ahead of sailing. When you choose to book the cruise is up to you, but there are pros and cons for booking early or late. Booking further ahead gives you more choice when it comes to cabin location. So, if you want a specific cabin or even a particular category that happens to be popular, you'll want to book as soon as possible.
The closer to the date of sailing you book, the less cabin choices you'll have, but the more likely you are to save money. With the exception of high-demand sailings, the prices on most cruises tend to drop as the sail date approaches.
Whether you are booking early or late, you're liable to get extra perks. Cruise lines use incentives to get people to book early, and close-in when ships haven't sold out. Perks can include extras like prepaid gratuities, free drink cards, or on board cash for spending.
Do I need to pay for my cruise all at once?
No, you do not. You will be required to put down a cabin deposit, which can range anywhere from $50 (during a special lowered-deposit promotion) to a few thousand dollars for a round-the-world cruise. A deposit can range of $250 to $1,000, depending on length of cruise and cabin type. The rest of the payment is usually due one to three months before the sailing date. Check with your cruise line or travel agent for specifics, as some cruise lines have stricter rules. Disney Cruise Line, has final payment dates much further out, from 75 to 150 days prior to sailing.
Shop During Wave Season
Wave season is busy promotional period that goes from December or January to March. This is a great time to book not only for price, but to book for availability. This can be a great time to put down a deposit on your summer vacation, securing the space you need in the cabins you want months ahead of time.
What is a guarantee cabin?
You face two big questions if you take the risk of booking a cruise cabin guarantee. Do you really save enough money to make the not knowing worth it? And most importantly, what are the chances you'll wind up with an upgrade? You are guaranteed a cabin in the category you've chosen, and there is always the possibility of an upgrade. The real risk is giving up the chance to pick your own cabin location, mid ship, high deck, low deck, etc. You might end up with the oddball cabin no one wants because it's a strange shape, under a noisy deck or a long trek from the elevator. If you really don't care where the room is, and price is all that matters, then booking a guaranteed room will work for you.
How do you save money on a cruise?
- Never pay the cruise brochure rate. The glossy brochures with “sample” pricing looks great but unless it's a very special high-demand trip, do not pay the cruise brochure rates.
- Be flexible. If you are willing to travel at the last minute and have the flexibility to wait, you could find the best rock-bottom fares.
- Book early. Cruise lines are luring “advance planners,” those who book a cruise and pay a deposit six to 18 months in advance, by offering great fares and throwing in upgrades and value adds such free or reduced airfare, free specialty dining, beverage packages, shore excursions, prepaid gratuities, and cabin upgrades.
- Look for sales. The cruise industry is full sales; some lines offer short-term promos. Wave Season (January through March) offers an outpouring of sales. The internet has some of the best mediums for finding deals, ranging from last minute to two years out. Note that most of the online cruise site offer VERY similar, if not the same bargains. Scouring every cruise site will generally not get you a better deal, just maybe fill your inbox up with promotional emails. I like Avoya travel, and have used them to book cruises before.
- Cruise close to home. Cruise ships depart from cities all along the U.S. coastline. You can cruise from just about anywhere in Florida year-round, as well as New York, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans and Galveston.
- Book on board. If you book your next cruise while on board your current one, you can take advantage of reduced deposits, fare discounts and possibly free on board credit. Deposits are usually refundable, and you can choose or change itinerary later.
Don't fly in the same day you set sail!
Get your vacation started at least one day before your cruise by booking a hotel room near the ship, This way you won't have to worry about flight delays, or traffic delays getting to port. Enjoy your morning at the hotel, feel rested and relaxed, and ready to head to the cruise port.
Know your dining options.
In addition to table size, there are usually two basic dinner choices that you will be presented during the booking process on most of the mainstream lines: One of two set dining times in the main dining room—usually around 6 and 8 p.m.—or an open seating option, whereby you can have dinner in the main dining room any time from about 5:30 to 9 p.m. Once you lock in your choice for a set dining time or the open plan, it is not always possible to switch it after embarkation, so consider this before you book.
The open seating option might seem to be the easiest pick, allowing the greatest flexibility. But at prime time (around 7 p.m. for most cruises) there may be a wait for a table, especially for parties larger than four. You will be seated in a different location nightly and, unless you request a private table which are not always available, and you’ll be dining with different guests nightly. If you opt for the traditional set meal times you’ll be assigned the same table and waiters each evening and break bread with the same fellow cruisers nightly.
Know what's included.
Cruises used to be a fairly inclusive product, but cruise lines have figured out that one way to increase overall revenue is to lower the upfront price of a cabin, and then charge for extras we used to take for granted. The the list of inclusions varies with each cruise line. Most charge for sodas, but Disney Cruise Line doesn’t. Celebrity charges for pay-per-view movies on your TV, but Holland America has an extensive DVD library on each ship, delivered to your room. All of them include meals at the main dining room and grazing at the buffet, but they charge for specialty dining. And don’t forget to check airfares before booking your cruise. A great deal on a Mediterranean cruise during peak season isn’t that hard to find, but Europe’s summer airfares may give you heart palpitations.