Welcome to shoulder season, a time of price drops, promotions and generally fewer crowds onboard your cruise ship. Whether you're looking to book now and cruise tomorrow or save now for a sailing down the road, September and October (and parts of November and December) bring a wealth of cruise deals the lines hope will fill cabins during low season (off-peak travel times). The following tips are some things to watch for in the coming months and to keep in mind when booking your next cruise vacation.
1. Know Your European Off Seasons
Europe is a safe bet for low-season savings, but pleasant weather lingers in many of its regions throughout early autumn; you won't see real savings in the Mediterranean, for example, until late November and early December. If you're looking for a cruise to Europe, fall is the time to head north. Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia and the British Isles) provides many bustling but less-traveled ports that will cost you more to explore in the summer months. If you can stand packing a few extra layers to prepare for chillier weather, then you might be able to snag deals in these cooler regions.
On the rivers, Christmas market cruises dominate the end of November through December, but a European river cruise in early to mid-October can still be found at a reasonable discount.
2. Book During Hurricane Season
Set apart from holidays and high seasons, you can still book a warm-weather cruise vacation for less during September and October. Bermuda, Hawaii and the Caribbean remain top tourist destinations, but all see price dips in shoulder season, partially because it's also hurricane season. Consider buying trip insurance and being flexible with flights and other vacation plans if you're booked on an itinerary affected by hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 through November 30.
3. Travel to Certain Seasons in Fall
September, October and the cooler fall months are prime for saving in certain regions (like Europe and the Caribbean), but for other destinations, such as Canada/New England, early autumn is peak for tourism and prices will spike to reflect demand. Occasionally, you can find last minute deals on leaf-peeping itineraries, but keep in mind that if you are planning a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay, many properties book up well in advance.
4. Take Advantage of Seasonal Value-added Options
Choice isn't just a trend; it's here to stay. While not all sailings will see significant price cuts, you can count on most major cruise lines to promote their version of value-adds well into shoulder season.
By late August and September, cruise lines will be looking to offload what's left of their current inventory (prior to January) with price reductions or incentives like discounted airfare. Meanwhile, cruise lines are also looking to secure bookings for as much of the following season as possible, offering advance-booking promos that promise onboard credit, hotel stays or early-booking specials if you book a sailing months in advance.
Many cruise line value-add promotions -- like those of Norwegian, Celebrity and Holland America -- offer a choice of year-round perks like complimentary Wi-Fi, drinks packages and dining or shore excursion credit. Offers might change based on availability or seasonality, but you can expect to see more of the same summertime specials extending into the fall.
5. Wait Until Labor Day
Sure, plenty of cruise line promotions might be running throughout August, but some deals are held back to coincide with Labor Day. Much like furniture sales, any holiday or special occasion is an excuse to hold a new cruise savings campaign, and at times they aren't announced until the weekend or day of. Labor Day is always during the first week of September, and while kids aren't eager to return to school, it's a date to look forward to if you're planning last-minute, shoulder-season travel or looking to take advantage of savings for future cruises.