Cruises are a one-stop shop for all your vacation needs: Your food and beverage is provided, entertainment is on board and your travel itinerary is all mapped out. All that’s required from you: Have a great time. The best part is that many cruise lines featuredeals and specials on everything from beverages to group packages. Below, five tips for saving money on your next cruise.
1. Sail During Slow Seasons
You may be able to snag an amazing price on your trip if you wait until the last minute. Although this may mean settling for a smaller cabin, the savings will be well worth it. Experts also advise looking for cruises during the slow season (i.e. not holiday vacation or summer). Another ideal time to book is during the Caribbean’s hurricane season. Wave season (January through March) tends to see sales from agencies and cruise lines alike. If you’re curious about which specific line to look for, experts say because of the size of the ships, both Caribbean and Med offer great last-minute deals.
2. Use Agents and Apps Wisely
A great idea: Sign up for cruise lines’ email newsletters and text alerts. The great deals and packages will arrive right to your inbox. Several lines, such as Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, feature one-day discounts. If your main goal is to score the lowest price, experts advise working with a travel agency. Because agencies block space on ships, they’re able to provide their clients with cheaper rates. They’re watching all the deals, and will be aware of great new sales, add-on perks or other discounts. If you prefer to use technology, there are also plenty of apps available (TripIt, Cruise Critic forums) that offer advice, show prices and help you find the best fit and fare.
3. Check Out Hot Spots and Leave From Local Ports
Booking early for in-demand spots (experts say the Caribbean and Alaska continue to be super hot destinations this year) will help consumers get the best rates. Because these cruises are in such high demand, rates continue to increase. Talk with your travel agent or do a little research into your destination of choice. Experts also advise sailing away from your hometown. If you live in a big city (Seattle, New Orleans, Los Angeles or San Francisco, for example), you can easily drive to the port, eliminating the need to book a pricey flight.
4. Go in a Group
Take advantage of group rates (applied to parties of 16 or more) and you could even score yourself a free trip. Experts say the most affordable months to book a group cruise are May, June, September, October and early November.
5. DIY Your Fun
Unless you’re going to be drinking heavily (five or so drinks per day), the beverage packages aren’t always the best bet. Take advantage of happy hours — on and off the ship. You can also seek out spa deals and adventures on your own. Although the cruise may offer off-board activities, experts suggest relying on online travel blogs and guidebooks to plan experiences on your own. You can also investigate spas off-board instead of splurging for pricier services offered on the ship.
Andrea Kasprzak is a writer. She's fascinated by the imagination, folklore and fantasy, the healing power of art, and finding magic in the mundane. Her playbook, Imagination Transforms Everything, is forthcoming this spring from Seal Press/Hachette Book Group.