6 Tips to Help You Score an Awesome Cruise BargainIn the midst of planning a winter vacation, I plugged a few parameters into an online search engine, and out spooled a truly breathtaking array of cruise bargains. Nearly 300!
In the midst of planning a winter vacation, I plugged a few parameters into an online search engine, and out spooled a truly breathtaking array of cruise bargains. Nearly 300! Aside from the investment in time just wading through so many choices, the results most likely make even the most experienced cruise traveler wonder: What is a good deal, exactly?
It depends. And here’s the thing: The best deal in the world is not a great bargain if you wind up in a destination that doesn’t intrigue, on a ship that doesn’t match your travel style or requires unanticipated outsized expenditures — such as long-haul flights — to get to your cruise. Here are six tips that will help you find that fabulous cruise for a price you can afford.
- What Is a Cruise Deal?
It’s not uncommon to find fares labeled “deals that really aren’t. It’s just clever marketing. For basic parameters, a serious bargain on a big ship is paying under $50 per person per day for a cabin (so the cost is $100 per day for a pair of travelers). On a luxury cruise, where you likely travel on smaller ships with larger cabins and lots of inclusive extras, anything in the $300 per person per day range is snatch-worthy. Heading out on a river cruise? If you can snare a $250 fare, grab it.
- Value vs. Bargains
Still, a really cheap deal is not the same as a great value. Cruise lines are increasingly incorporating extras into base fares that really can translate into an excellent value for your money. Look for bundles that include pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, airfare and gratuities. Plan to splurge on cocktails, dine at alternative restaurants or book a lot of spa treatments or shore excursions? All-inclusive packages that allow all-you-can-drink beverages (from soda packages to specialty coffees to alcohol), combine eatery service charges or offer discounts on multiple purchases of spa treatments or shore excursions can be a budgetary boon.
- Where Do You Want to Go?
If you’re thinking about cruising in a region that’s well-served by lines, such as the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska, they’ll have more cabins to fill -- and you’ll have more choice. On the other hand, equally cruise-worthy places like South America, French Polynesia, Japan, Antarctica and South Africa aren’t as well-represented, so there’s less competition.
- Measure the Meaning of Seasonality
There’s a trade-off — and it’s evident in cruise pricing -- when you’re traveling at the peak of a region’s season and when you’re not. Most popular cruise regions have high and low seasons. High season typically occurs during school vacation periods (the winter holidays, spring break and summer) and when good weather potential is at its best. Low season is the opposite. Families aren’t traveling and you may well run into adverse climates. Beyond that, most cruise regions have their own seasonalities. In the Caribbean, for instance, seriously good deals can be hard to come by during Christmas and New Year’s and again during the almost six-week period that schools break for spring. You can nab a super-good deal, though, if you travel during the Caribbean’s low season, which includes the peak period of potential hurricane formation between August and October, and pre-holiday periods in December. Alaska is a different story; its high season, good weather period typically runs from early June to late August. Since cruises operate from late April to mid-September, those early- and late-season offerings may be subject to dicier weather but you’re compensated with a lower fare.
- Sign Up for Deals Delivered to Your Inbox
Get the latest developments on deals delivered straight to your email inbox. Cruise Critic, for instance, publishes a weekly deals e-letter with the best offers, hand-picked by our team. It’s free and easy to sign up.
- Do Your Homework and Then Hire a Professional
We can’t think of a more fun “homework” assignment than researching our next cruise vacation. But at some point, we’ll turn over our ideas and inspirations to a good travel agent. Knowing full well our preferences and also knowing perhaps a bit more about how the system works, a qualified travel agent will provide expert counsel and do the heavy lifting that comes with actually booking the trip. Best of all? Most offer their services on a complimentary basis.
By: Carolyn Spencer Brown, Chief Content Strategist, Cruise Critic
About Carolyn Spencer Brown
Carolyn Spencer Brown is chief content strategist for Cruise Critic. A former staff writer with The Washington Post, Spencer Brown has followed the cruise industry for the past 20 years and has taken more than 350 cruises, sailing with all of the world’s top cruise lines and many lesser-known lines as well. Regularly quoted by media as an expert on all aspects of cruising — including CNN, The New York Times, Time Magazine and the Associated Press — Spencer Brown has also been named one of the “25 Most Influential Women in Travel” by ForbesLife Magazine.