Updated August 21, 2018
Is a cruise fare similar to a hotel room price or airfare?
In one very important way, cruise prices have more in common with airfares than hotel prices, as prices are quoted per person and not per room (as is the case with most hotels). Also akin to airlines, the least expensive fares get you the least desirable space on the vessel. A cheap fare will typically get you a cheap cabin -- inside and on a low deck. Want a sea view or a balcony? You'll have to pay more.
Another way cruise fares are like airline fares is that they can change daily, based on complicated algorithms of supply and demand, as well as time-sensitive sales, so you'll want to do some research or watch prices for a few weeks to know what's a good deal.
Does the price I've been quoted include all taxes and other fees?
Taxes, fees and miscellaneous charges are not included in U.S. cruise fares, but they are included in U.K. fares.
If I am taking a cruise by myself, does the price structure change?
Because cruise fares are based on double occupancy, if you wish to book a room with only one person in it, you will need to pay a surcharge to take the place of the second cruise fare the cruise line won't get. This is called a single supplement, and it's usually 100 percent of the second person's fare. There are exceptions. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has waived single supplements entirely, some lines have sales that remove the supplements on specific sailings, and many new big cruise ships have dedicated solo cabins. The best known are Norwegian Cruise Line's studio cabins. P&O Cruises' Britannia has single balcony cabins, a first for the line. Other lines with a small number of solo cabins on select ships include Royal Caribbean, Cunard and Holland America Line. Check out our Solo Cruise Basics for more on cruising alone.
What's included in my fare (and what's not)?
Cruise fares on mainstream lines -- Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess, among others -- include your accommodations, plus most food and onboard entertainment. Kids clubs also are mostly free, but nursery time for babies and toddlers, and late-night group baby-sitting often carry extra fees.
Everything else is additional, and this is where costs can add up. Probably the biggest onboard expense is drinks, both alcoholic and soft. All lines offer a drink packages, which are often worth purchasing if you consume a lot, rather than paying as you go.
Tipping also is additional.
It's a different story on luxury lines, which include drinks, gratuities, sometimes Internet and -- in one case (Regent Seven Seas) -- shore excursions as a general rule. River cruise lines often include drinks at meals, as well as select shore excursions.
Is there a best time to book my cruise in order to get the best price?
Cruise pricing is a confusing business. Just like airlines, the best fares are usually available either a long way out or at the last minute (and also at specific times of year, as detailed below).
Fares also change based on timing and availability. Unlike airlines, cruise lines release fares as far out as 18 months before the cruise, in a bid to encourage people to book early. Lines may also tempt you with extras like onboard credit, which is credit placed directly into your cruise account that can be used for onboard purchases.
A last-minute deal also can get you a good price, but your cabin choice will be limited.
Book just out of the peak holiday periods (July, August, school holidays) in what's known as shoulder season, and you are likely to get a good deal. Book way out of season (Caribbean in hurricane season, Mediterranean in the winter), and you might get a real steal.
Another good time to book is Wave Season, which takes place January through the end of February, when cruise lines offer discounts on selected sailings. Most of these specials must be booked through travel agents.
Twice a year, cruise lines reposition many of their ships to warmer climes. As an example, many ships depart the Mediterranean for the Caribbean and Brazil in the fall and return in March and April. These are known as repositioning cruises, and they often sell for significantly less than a regular sailing. For U.K. cruisers, fares often include return airfare. Keep in mind that repositioning cruises include mostly sea days, and you might have reduced services since the ships often travel half full.
Are there any cruise fares that are sold specifically at less expensive prices?
Yes, they're called guarantee fares. With a guarantee, you pay to reserve a cabin within a particular cruise category, but you do not get to select your specific cabin. Because you're allowing the cruise line to pick your cabin, you're charged less. But you might have to wait a long time for a room assignment (on occasion up to just days ahead of sailing). You also run the risk of being allotted the worst cabin within the category, and you have no recourse if you don't like it.
On the other hand, with a guarantee fare, there's always a chance that the category you've booked will be sold out, and you'll actually be upgraded at no additional cost to you.
If the cruise fare drops, can I get the lower price?
With most cruise lines, if a price drops, you can get the lower price right up until final payment is due. Some travel agents will monitor prices for you and alert you to drops. (An extra fee for this service may be levied.) Alternatively, check out Cruise Critic's own Price Drop tool, which alerts you when prices are lowered.
Another way to monitor price drops is to join a Cruise Critic Roll Call after you've booked your cruise. Members will often share when prices fall; if you learn of a price drop, contact your travel agent right away to get the new lower rate. If the final payment due date has already passed when you see a price drop, still contact the cruise line; you might get an upgrade or onboard credit.
Most cruise lines reward large groups with discounts and incentives, such as a free cabin for a certain number of rooms booked (which, as the leader of the group, you can bag yourself or share the savings with your group).
Are there reduced fares for seniors or kids?
The short answer is yes, but this varies by line -- and by country. In the U.K. and Europe, many family-friendly cruise lines will offer discounted or kids-go-free fares. Lines to check out for these offers (which are usually limited-time offers) include P&O Cruises and MSC Cruises. MSC also allows kids younger than 2 to cruise completely free. (They have to be younger than 2 for the duration of the cruise.)
In all countries, Costa offers children 17 years and younger (who share a cabin with two paying adults) a low flat rate per child with the Costa Loves Kids promotion. The offer is valid on all ships, apart from the neo collection. Costa also offers a Friends and Family Fare, which means families traveling together can save an additional $100 per stateroom. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line occasionally offer kids staying in the same stateroom with two full-fare-paying adults a discounted third and/or fourth passenger rate, which also applies to infants.
On a small number of select sailings (usually during the off-season), Disney lets kids sail free on cruises in Alaska and The Bahamas.
At the other end of the spectrum, cruise lines regularly offer senior citizen (generally defined as older than 55 years) discounts on select sailings, though not typically during high season.
Additionally, military personnel are entitled to occasional discounts on a number of cruise lines, including Cunard, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney, Princess and many others.
How can I find out more about cruise pricing?
You may like the following articles:
- Onboard Credit: How to Get It, Where to Spend It
- The Guarantee Gamble -- The Odds of an Upgrade When the Cruise Line Picks Your Cabin
- How to Save Money on Your Next Cruise
The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.