In an unprecedented move, most cruise lines -- including the luxury ones -- are promoting huge sales this summer. It feels like Wave Season, the time at the beginning of each year when cruise lines offer low fares and extra perks to entice travelers to book vacations. But, it's about six months too early, which means now is the time to book if you want a great deal. Most of the best offers are for early bookings of 2010 cruises, but some fall 2009 sailings are included, as well.
Typically, cruise lines start the hard sell on the upcoming year's cruises in the winter, when cold weather and the end of the holiday season gets travelers thinking about their next getaway. But with the economy continuing to struggle and booking windows shortening, cruise lines are promoting 2010 cruises earlier this year to get a head start on sales. Deals include balcony cabins for the price of outside staterooms, free or reduced airfare and free or discounted third- and fourth-passenger rates.
Even more surprising is the plethora of luxury cruise sales. Previously, luxury cruisers were poised to pounce as soon as the books opened in order to reserve their favorite suites. Now, with luxury travelers also waiting longer before committing to thousands of dollars in cruise fares, luxury lines are doing something they've never really done before -- offering amazing discounts and free perks (like shore excursions and airfare) on a large number of sailings, well in advance of the sail dates.
Here are some of our favorite Wave Season in July promotions:
Silversea is offering a 60 percent discount on the published fare for all 2010 sailings of its five cruise ships and a 50 percent discount on the line's expedition ship, Prince Albert II. In addition, Silversea is offering free roundtrip economy-class airfare from 22 U.S. and Canadian cities. You must book by December 31, 2009.
Princess is rewarding early bookings with free balcony upgrades on select cruises departing between January 2 and May 7, 2010. Book by August 31, 2009. In a similar move, Azamara is selling balcony cabins on select 2009 and 2010 cruises for the price of outside cabins. The booking deadline is July 31, 2009.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a variety of promotions, including free shore excursions on all 2010 cruises, single supplements of 10 to 30 percent on select departures and kids' fares from $399.
Holland America is pushing 2009 and 2010 bookings with a bunch of offers, including free or discounted airfare, free or discounted third- and fourth-guest rates and 50 percent off Alaska cruises.
Also, watch out for short sales, which offer low prices during narrow booking windows. Crystal had a three-day sale last week, and Seabourn is having a one-week sale this week. For details on these and other current promotions, visit our Wave Season deals page.
As always, shop around before you book your cruise. If 2010 is anything like 2009, there will be plenty of last-minute deals to go around. But, if you see a good price, you might want to book now to lock in your preferred cabin category and sailing date. Who knows? The economy might rebound before the cruise lines need to start another round of sale fares.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor