It might be tempting to book a cruise around special occasions, tax refunds and other events, or when an attractive deal pops up on your radar. However, with a little strategizing, you not only can save but also get the most value for your money.
If you're wondering when is the best time to book a cruise, the answer is during a period known as Wave Season. From January through March, cruise lines offer fare discounts while sweetening the deals with perks such as free cabin upgrades and onboard credit (free money to spend onboard).
(As for why cruise lines choose these three months to incentivize travelers, it's a way to boost sales during a time when the industry historically has seen the most reservations.)
One of the greatest benefits of using cruise agents, or travel agents, when booking a cruise is the invaluable knowledge, personalized service and support they provide. This is especially important for first-time cruisers who are unsure which cruise line or style is best for them.
Travel agents handle the logistics and fine details, managing everything from pre- and post-cruise hotels to dietary restrictions on the ship. They also serve as your contact if an issue arises during your trip. This has become ever-more valuable in the era of COVID-19 and continuously evolving protocols and requirements.
Convenience is one of the many reasons why using cruise booking sites is a popular option. You can conduct your own research and go deal-hunting, and book on the cruise line's website or through third-party, cruise booking sites whenever you wish.
When searching, make sure to compare fares and discounts to ensure you get the most bang for your buck, whether that's the lowest possible price or a juicy offer that includes extras to your liking (this might include free Wi-Fi, gratuities, speciality restaurants or beverages).
Cruise Critic's Find a Cruise tool is an excellent way to begin your search, with the ability to narrow down your results by specific destinations and even interests such as romance and family. You can also compare prices on multiple sites and sign up for Price Drop alerts.
Set on one particular cruise line or ship? You might find that booking through the cruise line, by calling and speaking with one of their sales representatives, is the best method for you.
An advantage of calling the cruise line directly is there is no middleman involved; you can contact them anytime you need assistance with your booking. Furthermore, your reservation will be assigned to a specific representative or consultant, which can provide peace of mind knowing you'll work with someone who is familiar with your interests and needs.
Cruise lines generally unveil new itineraries for booking between one and a half to two years in advance. How early should you book a cruise, though? The sweet spot seems to be six to 12 months before the departure date.
Booking this far out gives you enough time to plan ahead and prepare, while also taking advantage of early-booking benefits. You'll have access to early bird rates as well as first dibs on the most desirable itineraries and cabins.
Many cruise lines also offer price protection policies. If there is a price drop, and you have not yet made your final payment, in most cases the cruise line will adjust your fare. Some cruise lines compensate the difference in the form of onboard credit or a cabin upgrade.
Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises all offer similar price protection policies on their cruise fares.
Nothing beats cruise advice from other cruisers themselves, especially those with a few (or 100) sailings under their belts. Cruise Critic's Message Boards encompass a passionate community of cruise lovers that has been around for more than 25 years.
You don’t have to be booked on a cruise to join or participate in Cruise Critic's Message Boards. For millions in the research stage, the boards have become a vital resource for questions, recommendations and advice -- there's no joining fee, just share your email and you are good to go explore.
Since members love to share photos, you can count on getting a real, behind-the-scenes look at ships and ports that pique your interest. Reviews and live blogging are other ways cruisers share the ins and outs of their experiences, in an effort to help others make the best decision possible.
Once booked, members are encouraged to sign up for Roll Calls -- message boards dedicated to specific, future sailings -- to make friends before they embark. Members on select lines also get to enjoy Cruise Critic-hosted Meet & Mingle parties (note: many are currently temporarily suspended due to social distancing), complete with drinks and light bites on the house, as well as occasional prizes and giveaways -- and often a visit by senior officers.
Updated September 29, 2021