Updated January 8, 2020
The time of year known as "the holidays" brings a great many things -- seasonal cheer, goodwill toward humankind, scrumptious food to feast upon -- but one thing it typically doesn't bring is spectacular cruise deals. Unless you've been an extremely good cruiser this year and ended up on somebody's cruising gift list, chances are you're waiting for the next round of sales and promotions to see if you can afford a winter cruise getaway.
Whether you're looking to escape the frost in the air, make use of time off or spend some of your gift money, it is possible to save on sailings this winter. If you're hoping to book a cruise this year, the following tips are some things to watch for -- when you're not otherwise occupied singing carols or lighting candles. (Then head to Cruise Critic's Deals page to see what's available this year.)
1. Avoid the Holidays
You typically won't see cruise lines advertising super-low fares for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's cruises. The reason is primarily high demand. Even with full-price fares, ships will fill during this popular vacation season, when cruise lines offer added holiday-themed amenities like festive meals, celebrations and events onboard.
If you want to see savings and still want the magical onboard atmosphere that "the most wonderful time of year" brings, we suggest you scan booking dates just before Thanksgiving or between Thanksgiving and Christmas. These off-peak sail dates offer budget-friendly fares, if not downright deals, and many ships will already be showcasing seasonal decor and onboard events.
2. Cruise Someplace Cold
You can cruise the romantic capitals of Western Europe, sail the Mediterranean and even get a guarantee on your Northern Lights sighting, and all for less ... if you don't mind the cold. Cruising to Europe in the winter is considered off-season, and therefore many ships are looking to fill their cozy, warm cabins with passengers who don't mind stepping out into port with more than a few layers.
Balconies become a challenge, and pool decks are only for the brave, but if you're focused on the destination, the winter season can make charming itineraries available at a fraction of their spring or summer pricing. Northern Europe, including Norway, is particularly chilly to tour in the winter months but may also offer the best view of the Northern Lights in March, just before and after the spring equinox.
3. Book at the Last Minute
We're never sure which new promotions the cruise lines are dreaming up, but it's probably safe to say there will be some deals lined up in time for the dead of winter. Ring in the New Year, break all your resolutions and then sometime in late January or February, look for promotions pushing last-minute winter cruises. The heavy cruise booking period known as Wave Season falls between January and March, and you can often take advantage of these promotions for late-winter cruises or possibly even spring break getaways.
Some years, you might be surprised to find last-minute holiday availability; we've seen a Thanksgiving cruise selling a month before sailing for $40 per person, per night. Cruise packages are a trend among some cruise lines, too, so look for airfare and even land accommodations included in your cruise vacation options. Added bonuses continue to be a strong selling point; scoop up some onboard credit or specialty dinners to increase your savings.
4. Cruise Away from the Cold
Just because sun-seekers are drawn south around the winter solstice, don't think you can't find deals on popular warm-weather itineraries. Discounts can be found on cruises departing from ports such as New York or Boston because, in the wintertime, you have to wait a day or so for the fun and sun to begin.
Embarking on a Caribbean cruise in January in Manhattan means no sunbathing for your first full sea day (at least). Also, be prepared for choppy waters, as rougher seas set in this time of year and can mean an unpleasant beginning for the seasick-prone.
If you can hold out on wearing your new swim trunks for a vacation day or two, a cheap tropical cruise is fair game. Want to hit the sun right away? Look for deals on older ships sailing out of Florida homeports. With so many ships sailing the islands this time of year, the cruise lines are bound to lower fares on the ones that don't sell out as quickly.