Cruises are a great way to see the world and have a fun, relaxing vacation, but they can also be expensive and confusing to book.
Thankfully, there are ways to cut costs — and tons of tips that can help you choose the best room and make the most out of every port — you just need to know what you’re doing before you set sail. If you’re considering a cruise in the near future, make sure you keep these things in mind so you can save money and have the best time on your cruise.
1. The earlier you book, the better.
To get the best deal — and the best rooms — you’ll want to book your cruise well in advance. As in, more than a year ahead of schedule. Cruise expert Stewart Chiron told CBS News that the best rooms are generally booked up to two years in advance. Chiron also explained that you can save money booking ahead of time because, if the price of your cruise drops before you’ve made your last payment, you’ll get your room at the lower price.
2. Join email lists for cruise lines and travel agencies.
According to Traveller, joining email newsletters for travel agencies or the cruise lines you’re interested in can be helpful for scoring a deal, especially if your travel dates are flexible. You’ll get access to daily, weekly, and last-minute booking deals, sent straight to your inbox — meaning you can book based on whatever bargains are available to you.
3. Book your flight separately.
It might seem easier to book your travel arrangements to your departure port in combination with your cruise, but according to Chiron, it’s actually usually more cost effective to book your flight separately. So, book your flight separately from your cruise package — or at the very least, make sure you compare prices first.
The only downside, Chiron explained, is that if you book your flight separately and there’s a delay, the cruise won’t wait for you. When you book through the cruise line, they’re required to wait for you.
4. Plan to get to your port extra early.
Speaking of delays, if you do book your flight separately to get a better deal, make sure you plan to get to your departure port early. And not just a few hours early — Cruise Maven suggests flying in the day before to account for any potential issues or delays.
5. Plan excursions separately (or at least ahead of time).
Some people choose not to do excursions when they go on a cruise, but if you do plan to get off the ship at different ports and do some exploring, Chiron noted that it’s often better to plan your excursions yourself rather than to book the ones the cruise has set up. According to Chiron, you can save money this way and generally see more of the area or do more interesting things. But much like with booking a separate flight, if you do this, make sure you get back to port with plenty of time to spare.
6. Look into repositioning cruises.
Repositioning cruises happen when a cruise ship that typically stays in one region for a particular season moves and then moves to another — for example, a ship that usually sails in Alaska would move to a warmer weather region when summer’s over. Repositioning cruises offer a great value, Chiron explained, because they tend to have extended itineraries (that combine multiple different cruise itineraries) at the regular rates — meaning, you get more for your money.
7. Book during the shoulder season.
If you want to save money and go on a cruise that’s a little less crowded, try booking during your desired cruise line’s off season, known as the shoulder season. This is generally when you can find better rates, as opposed to a cruise’s peak season when more people are planning to set sail. The shoulder season varies depending on the region in which you plan to take your cruise, but according to Cruise Maven, shoulder seasons generally include spring and fall, along with the very end of summer, the first week of December, and right after New Year’s Day.
8. Pick your room based on the deck plan.
Before you book your stateroom on your cruise, make sure you spend some time going over the ship’s deck plan. For peak relaxation and enjoyment, Cruise Maven suggests booking a room that isn’t directly above or below any of the ship’s entertainment areas. It’s also important to consider your needs — if you have concerns about getting seasick, for example, avoid the front of the ship and instead stick to the middle of the ship on a lower deck.
9. “All expenses paid” isn’t always accurate, so budget for more.
According to Chiron, “all expenses paid” generally means that all of your basics are covered, but the term is a little misleading — there are plenty of things on your cruise that could cost you extra depending on your plans, especially in the food, drinks, and entertainment departments (and expect a few upsells, like servers pushing “all you can drink” packages). All that is to say, make sure you give yourself room in your budget to enjoy things that might not be included in “all expenses paid.”
10. Double check visa and immunization requirements.
As with all international travel, you’ll want to be aware of any and all visa and immunization requirements you might have to take care of before you leave. Chiron suggested checking the travel.state.gov page for all the information you might need on visas and passports, and checking out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for information on immunizations, outbreaks, and cruise ship inspection results.
11. Invest in travel insurance.
Last but not least, if you do plan to book a cruise, you should definitely look into travel insurance….
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