Call us Scrooges, but we find it hard to be impressed with Wave Season offers. Every January, we get excited about forthcoming cruise deals only to be disappointed by the actual promotions. Perhaps that’s because we want to see really cheap prices and amazing upgrades, rather than the same old onboard credit, upgrades within the same category and half-off fares that look remarkably like the existing pricing.
But skepticism aside, you can get good value from a Wave Season deal – if your interests dovetail with a cruise line promotion and you’re willing to be flexible about sail dates or even cruise line. To help you navigate the murky waters of Wave Season promotions, here are a few things to note followed by our winners and losers of this year’s deals.
Don’t expect rock-bottom prices. You may get a few dollars off, but cruise lines don’t slash rates until the last minute on sailings that aren’t selling out. With Wave, you’re looking for a fair price, even a good price, not a ridiculously low rate.
Discounts are included in the fare. In most, if not all, cases, the fare you see online is the one you’ll pay – with all the 50 percent off and two-for-one offers already taken into account. You don’t subtract more from that price, and in fact, you’ll likely be adding taxes and fees into it.
Understand the upgrade. When you think upgrade, you imagine paying for an inside cabin and getting assigned a balcony stateroom. When cruise lines say upgrade, they mean you pay for one category of cabin and they give you a stateroom that is in a higher category – on paper. That could mean, you book an inside and get a higher-category inside (which might or might not be “better” in your mind), an obstructed view outside or an actual standard outside. And the price you pay might not be a discount on paying the regular rate for the upgraded cabin.
Read the fine print. In the same vein, always read the promotion’s terms and conditions. Free kids’ fares are nearly always for kids sharing a cabin with two paying adults. Promotions are available only on select sailings and might be capacity controlled. Understanding the offer will lead to less disappointment when you start delving into actual fares.
And now the winners…
Best Wave Season Deal: Holland America is offering fares up to 50 percent off, free or reduced fares for third and fourth passengers in a cabin, and free or reduced hotel stays on select sailings. What we like is there are value-adds for a wide variety of destinations, and the Web site clearly states which promos apply to each itinerary.
Worst Wave Season Deal: Royal Caribbean is the biggest loser with an onboard credit offer that’s only available on select sailings to select destinations. Inside cabin bookings are excluded; book an outside cabin on a Caribbean sailing and you get $50 OBC per cabin. Sure, if you can afford a suite on a Europe cruise, you’ll get 400 smackers to spend at the spa and on specialty dining, but we expect a little more during Wave Season.
Most Confusing Deal: Norwegian’s sale looks quite appealing: free upgrades, kids’ fares in Europe 50 percent off, e-coupons and cruise-and-air deals to Europe and Hawaii. But while the line touts oceanviews for inside prices, balconies for outside prices and mini-suites for balcony prices, when we looked, many of the inter-category upgrades were on family cabins, and some upgrades were within the same category. Each sailing had only a few upgrade possibilities. Also, the prices for upgrades to a higher category were often more expensive than booking that category directly, just on a different deck. You might be able to snag a deal with Norwegian’s multipromo sale, but you could easily be fooled into paying more for a supposed upgrade.
Best Luxury Deal: Oceania is offering two-for-one cruise fares and bonus savings, free airfare, and two-for-one shore excursion packages on select 2013 and 2014 itineraries.
Best Deal for Families and Groups: Holland America is offering free or reduced fares for passengers sailing as the third or fourth guests in a cabin. We found these discounts on Alaska cruisetours, Canada/New England, Caribbean, Europe and South America sailings.
Most Unusual Deal: We’re intrigued by Celebrity’s somewhat unusual deal, giving cruisers to Europe their choice of two of three offers: a Classic Beverage Package for two (valued at $88 per day), prepaid tips (valued at $30 per day) and onboard credit ($100 – $300 per cabin, based on cruise length). Most lines don’t give you a choice of offers.
A Deal That’s Better Than It Sounds: At first glance, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ free Internet offer sounds fairly piddling. But when you think about it, Regent already includes airfare, shore excursions, hotel stays, all beverages, tips, specialty dining and ground transfers in its fares. What else could it possibly offer passengers? (Oh, and there’s a two-for-one cruise fares promo running as well.)
Find more details on all the current Wave Season promotions.
Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got dozens listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.