There's a lot of debate among cruisers about how far in advance to book a cruise. Last-minute cruise deals or bang-for-your-buck promotions mean that you can score a great cruise vacation by waiting. However, certain cruises demand a bit more foresight. Whether you’re considering a Christmas Disney cruise, a bucket-list Antarctica cruise or a once-in-a-lifetime sailing aboard the world’s best luxury cruise lines, planning ahead is a must.
Current events can also influence cruise availability. Cruise lines are implementing capacity limits to control crowds in light of COVID-19, meaning that cabins sell out even faster.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up nine cruise types that you’ll definitely want to book at least a year in advance.
Some cruises that require booking ahead have less to do with the ship than with the destination. Short-season itineraries compress demand into a shorter period of time, making it more difficult to book your spot. A cruise to Antarctica is high on that list, as are cruises in New England and Canada, Alaska and Baltic cruises.
Note: Sailings at the very beginning or end of these destinations’ seasons tend to have more availability. For example, fewer people want to cruise to Alaska in late May and early September as the wildlife sightings are rarer and the weather can be unpredictable. Similarly, an Antarctica cruise in February or March can bring harsh winter conditions. Nevertheless, you’ll still want to book these cruises in advance.
Additionally, be aware that cruising to a specific destination or port is not guaranteed in today’s COVID world. With variants continuing to spark,new travel guidelines and restrictions, cruise cancellations and itinerary changes are always a possibility.
Some of the most popular cruises happen during the holiday season, from late November through the New Year. After all, what's better than spending Hanukkah or Christmas with your loved ones, while someone else does the cooking and cleaning?
But if you want to open your presents at sea, countdown to the New Year or enjoy Thanksgiving dinner cooked by professional onboard chefs, you'll need to book your cruise ahead of time. Some of the most sought-after holiday cruises –- like Disney or Carnival Christmas cruises with unique itineraries –- can book up pretty fast. That’s particularly true if you want your choice of cabin, as holiday cruises are popular with families, couples and groups of friends.
Luxury cruise lines tend to have fairly small ships, which makes snagging a spot on a sailing more difficult – especially if you aren’t flexible with your schedule. With that in mind, you’ll want to plan ahead for sailings with Crystal, Regent, Silversea and Azamara.
Since you’re traveling in luxury, you’ll also want to make sure you book one of the best cabins on your ship or for special one-off and high-season sailings. Crystal's first Northwest Passage sailing, for instance, sold out within three weeks of going on sale, while the 4,000-plus-square-foot Regent Suite on Regent Seven Seas’ Splendor and Explorer is always booked out one to two years in advance.
Dreaming of an Wonder of the Seas balcony room when it sets sail? You’ll want to book your cabin well in advance. And while there are pros and cons to being the first aboard a brand-new ship, fresh cabins, cool new amenities, and an ever more impressive lineup of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues puts these at the top of many travelers’ wish lists.
In addition to Royal Caribbean, new ships from popular cruise lines Carnival, Norwegian, Disney, Princess and Holland America Line can all sell out quickly. Additionally, don’t assume that the rule only applies to the world’s biggest new cruise offerings. Smaller new ships often sell out faster and should also be booked a year in advance.
Take note of Cruise Critic’s list of the most popular cruise ships in the world, because the best cabins aboard them can sell out fast. That includes perennial favorites like Celebrity Edge and Carnival Vista, as well as ships from Royal Caribbean and Norwegian as well.
While you can probably get and interior cabin or a room with an obstructed view less than a year before sailing, the best cabins require advanced planning. That’s especially true of suites on all ships, or those with limited availability, such as the Family Harbor rooms on Carnival's Vista or Horizon ships as well as studios on Norwegian Cruise Line.
If you're interested in an expedition cruise to some exotic locale such as the Galapagos, Amazon River or Greenland, you'd better get your hands on next year's cruise calendar. And yes, the list of expedition ships also includes a cruise to Antarctica.
These cruises sell out well in advance of sailing, primarily because space is severely limited. That’s because expedition ships are small (typically fewer than 30 cabins) and destinations place capacity limits on travelers (as is the case with a Galapagos cruise). With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, more travelers also continue to seek these off-the-beaten-path itineraries as they make social distancing easier.
As with short-season destinations, you might be able to book an early- or late-season sailing in places like the Galapagos or Baja California within less than a year, but you're likely to see less and have hit-or-miss weather.
Looking to cross the pond with your pet? You've only got one cruise ship -- Cunard's Queen Mary 2 -- and the QM2 kennels book up quickly. With just 22 kennels onboard, and lots of doggie-loving cruisers on both sides of the, you need to get your reservation more than a year ahead of sailing. If you have some flexibility with your schedule, you might be able to shave off a little time, but it's almost unheard of to be able to book Queen Mary 2 dog kennels less than a year out.
Themed cruises are some of the fastest sellers in the world. That’s especially true for fans of a particular band, TV show or hobby, who can be quite zealous for the themed cruise that speaks to them. The recurring Star Trek Cruise, TCM Classic Cruise and KISS Kruise, for instance, have historically sold out just months after they go on sale.
Far too often, by the time you hear about a cruise that tugs at your fan heartstrings, it's too late to get a cabin. In those cases, you'll want to get on the email list of the company running the show so you can find out about the next year's sailing as soon as possible. Then, as soon as bookings open, get on the phone and put down a deposit.
If you're hoping to combine a cruise with a visit to one of the world's most popular events, say the British Open or Monaco's Grand Prix, you'd better call your travel agent at least a year in advance. These are annual events, after all. In addition to booking the cruise, you’ll want to make sure you reserve any perks -- such as local excursions or tickets to the event -- that aren't included in the fare.
Other major events that can mean higher-demand itineraries include Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Rio's Carnival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Cannes Film Festival, the Australian Open and the Melbourne Cup.
As with booking ahead for specific itineraries, however, it’s important to know that special events across the globe are at the mercy of that country’s COVID-19 situation. Not only are events more controlled through crowd limits and other safety measures, but they also can be canceled at a moment’s notice.