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Cruise Travel Agent vs. Online Booking
Cruise Travel Agent vs. Online Booking
How to Book a Cruise: Booking a Cruise FAQ
Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)

How to Book a Cruise: Booking a Cruise FAQ

How to Book a Cruise: Booking a Cruise FAQ
Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Cruise Critic
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Booking a cruise may feel like a daunting task. In fact, there are several questions you need to ask yourself beforehand. When is the best time to book a cruise? Where should I book a cruise? What is the best cruise cabin for me? The list goes on.

We've gathered the top FAQ for booking a cruise and compiled them here to make your cruise reservation process that much smoother.

When Should I Book a Cruise?

Eri Vincent, Sasha Sydnor, Carlos Martinez and Micah Ramos relax on a catamaran. (Photo: Naima Green/AIPP)

Generally, you can book a cruise 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 (certain suites and inside cabins tend to sell out first), you'll want to book as soon as possible.

The prices on most cruises tend to drop as the sail date approaches. That means that the closer to the date of sailing you book, the less choice you'll have in cabins but the more likely you are to save money.

The one exception to this is with high-demand sailings, like those during school holidays and each destination's high season.

Whether you book early or last minute, you're liable to get extra perks. Cruise lines use incentives to get people to book early (usually six months to more than a year ahead of sailing) or close to sailing day when ships haven't sold out. Perks can include extras like prepaid gratuities, drink packages, free internet or a free dinner in a specialty restaurant.

What Is the Best Way to Book a Cruise?

Connecting at Sea: Internet and Phone Use Onboard (ID: 45) (Photo: tolotola/Shutterstock)

You can book a cruise online or via phone directly with the cruise line you've chosen. You can also use a travel agent to book cruises (online booking sites, airline cruise deals and credit card cruise deals are all essentially travel agents).

If you're undecided on which cruise line you want, but you're prepared to make a booking for a particular date, you'll want to use a travel agent. He or she will be able to discuss which cruise line and ship are right for you, then assist you with your cruise reservation.

Keep in mind that a cruise line sales rep will help you research options, but only regarding the cruise line that employs them.

Which Are the Best Cabins on a Cruise Ship?

MSC Armonia Cabins

The cruise ship room (or cabin) you pick should be determined by what's most important to you. Is it vital to sit solo outside and soak up the tropical rays in the Caribbean? If yes, you'll likely want a cabin with a balcony.

Would you just like the cheapest cabin so you can spend more money elsewhere? Then the windowless inside rooms will likely be your best bet.

In addition to selecting your cabin type, you'll also want to look at the cabin's position on the ship. Do you or someone in your room have trouble walking? Then you might want to be located near the elevator. Light sleeper? Make sure you're not over or under a high-traffic area like a restaurant or the theater.

For more detailed information on cabin selection, check out How to Choose a Cruise Ship Cabin or read our list of Best Cruise Ship Cabins.

Cruise Critic Message Boards are another place to get detailed reviews of specific cabins from members who have the inside scoop on the cabins you may be considering.

Do I Need to Pay for My Cruise Reservation All at Once?

What to Expect on a Cruise: Booking a Cruise With a Travel Agent (Photo: Princess Cruises)

No, you don't. 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.

The rest of the payment is typically due one to three months before the sailing date, again depending on the length of the cruise and the cabin type. Check with your cruise line or travel agent for specifics, as some cruise lines have stricter rules.

In most cases deposits are refundable if you cancel your booked cruise before the final payment date. Carnival offers several special fare deals with nonrefundable deposits, however, so be sure to read the fine print before you put down any deposit.

Alternatively, if you book a cruise (on any line) after the final payment date is due, you'll need to pay the full price of the cruise up front.

Some cruise lines and many travel agents allow you to pay off the cruise in installments before the final due date. Keep in mind, with virtually all cruise lines, the final payment date is a hard deadline. If payment is not received, the booking is usually canceled within 24 hours.

Pay close attention to your final payment as most cruise lines do not send payment reminders. Most cruise lines do offer automatic payments for convenience, however.

Can I Cancel or Change a Booked Cruise?

Booking Online for a Cruise (Photo: Song_about_summer/Shutterstock)

In most cases, passenger names, ship and sailing date changes to cruise bookings are allowed by cruise lines, though they're sometimes subject to a per-person service fee. This is generally allowed only if changes are made well in advance of the cruising date (how much in advance varies by cruise line).

Keep in mind that any perks that came with the original booking almost never transfer to the new ship or sailing date, as the new reservation is considered an entirely new booking.

Changes made after the final payment date are almost always subject to a cruise line's standard cancellation policies because changes are technically considered cancellations.

Cancellation policies vary by cruise line but there is always a schedule of penalties that get steeper as the sail date approaches. Penalties often vary by the length of the cruise being canceled, as well as by cabin type canceled.

Most cruise lines follow cancellations schedules, keeping a percentage of the deposit or fare you already paid depending on when you cancel. A good rule of thumb is the closer to the sailing you cancel your cruise booking, the more of your money the cruise line will keep.

Again, these cancellation schedules vary by cruise line, with some lines being more generous with cancellations and others stricter.

Do I Need Travel Insurance When Booking a Cruise?

Travel Insurance Document (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Travel insurance is never a requirement while on a cruise, but it is always highly recommended. Travel insurance is your best protection against the financial loss that can accompany various travails, like personal illness, unforeseen cancellations, weather delays and lost baggage.

How Do I Know if My Cruise Quote Is a Good One?

Saxsen Norton, an actress and model, Hero Otway, a model and actress, and Geo Vanna Gonzalez, a Miami-based artist, enjoy drinks at Sunset Bar on Celebrity Edge. (Photo: Naima Green/AIPP)

Cruise pricing can be complicated because, much like airfares, cruise fares fluctuate constantly. Fares vary based on itinerary, the time of year, the cabin category, the ship's age, the type of cruise line and even how much time is left before the sail date.

When comparing cruise quotes and fares, you'll find that cruise prices between sellers tend to be similar. What you're really looking to see is if the price the cruise line is selling at right now is a good one. For that, you need to be monitoring prices prior to booking to see how rates are rising and falling on a daily basis.

Once you have a baseline, you have two choices: Book the cruise now, knowing you're paying the same price most people are paying, or wait for a possible sale or price drop. The risk of waiting is that, if the cruise is selling well, prices could increase and your choices of available cabins narrow the longer you wait.

Don't forget to factor in promotional perks when you're assessing if a cruise fare is worth booking or not. While a cruise fare might be the same across sellers, a booking that comes with prepaid gratuities or onboard spending money will ultimately be a better deal than one that doesn't have freebies attached.

And remember, when comparing fares, make sure you're including all taxes and fees.

Updated October 12, 2022

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