Whether you’re an experienced globe-trotter or venturing onto the open seas for the first time, a cruise promises an unmatched blend of luxury, convenience and boundless adventures.
And in the world of cruise lines, there are a few standouts, each with its own unique features. For example, Carnival is known for its fun atmosphere at affordable prices. Norwegian Cruise Line’s “freestyle cruising” concept offers dining and entertainment flexibility. Princess Cruises features destination-focused itineraries. The Disney Cruise Line speaks for itself with family-friendly cruises and Disney-themed entertainment and activities. Royal Caribbean is known for its innovative ships with features like rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks and surfing simulators.
So, with a plethora of choices, booking the right one is pretty darn important. But no matter which one you pick, there are numerous universal ways to save.
20 Travel Hacks for Booking Your Next Cruise
Here are some savvy strategies to help you save before, during and after your next voyage:
1. Book Early or Last Minute
Cruise lines often offer discounts for booking well in advance or at the last minute to fill up remaining cabins, which is really the best time to save the most on your cruise. But that doesn’t always work for families or busier folks. If you’re relatively flexible, your travel dates and destinations can help you find better deals.
2. Travel During Wave Season
According to Celebrity Cruise, wave season is like “Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Presidents Day all rolled into one” in the cruise industry. Wave season starts during the first few months of the year — from January to March. This doesn’t mean you have to sail during these months; you just have to book your cruise early. Typical savings include a reduced fare, a lower deposit or even onboard credit.
3. Consider a Repositioning Cruise
A repositioning cruise happens when ships move from one region to another for a new season or they need to relocate their ships from one region to another when the seasons change or itinerary schedules are updated. These cruises usually happen twice a year during the “shoulder seasons” — the spring and fall — as cruise lines move ships between regions like the Caribbean and Europe or Alaska and Hawaii. These types of cruises often offer lower prices because they may have fewer ports of call. In fact, Celebrity Cruises has a dedicated section for repositioning cruise options.
4. Bundle Travel Expenses With Your Cruise
Look for cruise packages that include airfare, hotel stays or transportation to and from the port. When you bundle these expenses together, you’ll often see significant savings compared to booking them separately.
5. Consider Alternative Ports
Explore cruises departing from alternative ports near your location. Sometimes, driving a bit farther to depart from a different port can lead to lower cruise fares or reduced parking costs.
6. Opt for an Inside Cabin
While ocean views and balcony staterooms have stunning views, inside cabins are typically more budget-friendly. And if you don’t plan to spend all your cruising time in your room, who needs a view? Interior cabins have almost all the same amenities as those rooms with a view. So, you’re paying more for a view you can see for free on the top deck.
7. Choose Shorter or Longer Itineraries
Certain cruise lines offer quick getaway-type itineraries, ideal for those with limited time and budget, ranging from single-day excursions to five-day voyages. However, opting for longer cruise itineraries may provide superior value per night compared to shorter trips. Extended cruises often incorporate a greater number of ports of call and onboard activities, contributing to your overall vacation.
8. Check for Military Discounts
Military personnel and veterans are often earmarked for reduced rates when you verify your status. Princess Cruises offers up to $250 free onboard spending money for veterans as well as active, retired or disabled military personnel. And Norwegian offers a military appreciation discount of 10% on staterooms.
9. Monitor Special Promos and Limited-Time Offers
Before you book your trip, head straight to the special promos page online for your cruise line. That’s where you’ll find current savings opportunities. A lot of cruise lines offer flash sales and limited-time promos with deeply discounted fares. Sign up for newsletters, follow cruise lines on social media, and regularly check their websites to stay updated on these offers.
10. Sign Up for Loyalty Reward Programs
Like every loyalty program, you get rewarded the more times you interact with that brand. Plus, it can also increase your chances for complimentary upgrades or discounts on excursions and activities.
These are some of the best cruise line reward programs:
- Celebrity Captain’s Club
- Disney Cruise Line Castaway Club
- Princess Captain Circle
- Royal Caribbean Crown and Anchor Society
11. Look for Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals
Yes, even cruise lines get into the hoopla surrounding the biggest shopping days of the year. In fact, Royal Caribbean has a dedicated page you can check when the time comes.
13. Always Dine Onboard
Since food on the ship is almost always included and unlimited, you should eat lots of it. Sure, it might be fun to sample some of the local eateries when the ship is docked. Instead, grab a few of the more convenient nibbles from the ship that you can easily stash away and take with you when you disembark, like bagels, rolls or sandwiches.
In fact, if you want to eat at one of the specialty restaurants your cruise line offers, book it before you get onboard and save anywhere from 20% to 40%. For example, some of Royal Caribbean’s dining packages can save you up to 40%, and on kids’ meals, too.
14. Get Wi-Fi Through Your Mobile Carrier
You might be on vacation, but that doesn’t mean you want to be without Wi-Fi, right? Skip the cruise ship’s Wi-Fi because it can be expensive, up to $1 a minute. Either use onshore Internet cafes or your mobile phone carrier, which probably offers substantially cheaper prices for unlimited usage, like AT&T, for example.
15. Skip Port Excursions
While shore excursions can totally enhance your experience, they can also add up quickly. Research alternatives, like exploring ports on your own or booking tours independently to save money. If you do want to book an excursion through the cruise line, do it before you board. You can save as much as 30% if you do.
16. Bid to Upgrade Your Cabin
Bidding to upgrade your cruise cabin can potentially save money, but it’s not always guaranteed. First, make sure your cruise line offers the option of bidding for an upgrade because not all offer this option. If it does, you’ll likely need to register for the bid upgrade program and then look through the stateroom options. You can usually make bids on multiple rooms, which also might increase your chances of getting upgraded. Pick the amount you’re willing to pay for each upgrade, but you’ll only be charged for one. The cruise line will let you know by email if your bid is accepted.
Cruise lines that currently offer a bid upgrade option include:
17. Bring Your Own Beverages
If you can think of something you might need, take it with you. That includes things like soda and bottled water because the cruise will charge you for pretty much everything unless you’ve purchased a beverage add-on package. Check the cruise line’s policy for bringing your own beverages onboard. Most offer drink packages, which, on the surface, is super convenient, but you likely won’t drink the amount you’ll have to pay.
Once aboard, alcohol comes at a premium, but in many cases, you can bring your own. If you bring a bottle of wine to the dining room, you can expect to pay a corking fee, but that’s still probably less expensive than buying the bottle there. If you want to bring liquor with you, check the line’s policy first.
18. Be Mindful of Onboard Spending
Cruise lines make it so easy to sign and go with your key card. While cruises may appear to be all-inclusive, additional onboard expenses for gratuities, specialty dining, drinks, spa services, and shore excursions can add up quickly. Set a budget for onboard spending and prioritize your expenses to avoid overspending and shock by the final total at the end.
19. Earn Points When You Gamble
If you like to gamble, turn in your room key to the table host or the slot machine. You’ll earn points. And like major casinos, they track the amount of time/money you are spending/losing. You may be rewarded at the end of your stay with a comeback cruise offer.
20. Book a Follow-Up Trip Before You Disembark
Cruise lines like to nail you down for a repeat trip before you get off the ship. If you already know you want to do it all over again next year, then you can land bigger savings on your follow-up cruise when you book onboard.
Perks of doing this include more no-risk bookings, flexible deposits and onboard credit. For example, Princess offers the Future Cruise Deposits program, where you can get as much as $300 off onboard spending money for later use depending on the duration and stateroom you book for your next cruise.
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