Which fees to watch for, when to book and more tips for saving on a cruise.
If the idea of floating around on a ship in the ocean sounds appealing to you, stopping at ports without having to pack and unpack your suitcase, then cruising might be just your style.
But, with the vast number of cruise lines and choices, how do you get the most for your money?
I asked the managing editor for Cruise Critic website, Colleen McDaniel, to give us some insider tips. Her comprehensive CruiseCritic.com website offers ship reviews, deals and tips.
Here are her suggestions:
Look beyond the base price
While cruise vacations can be incredibly affordable — with accommodations, dining and entertainment included in the cost — there are generally a number of add-on fees not included in the base fare. Those fees can include options like drinks (non-alcoholic and alcoholic), gratuities (generally around $12 per person per day), alternative or upscale restaurants, internet access and shore excursions.
What might seem like a great deal to start could actually add up to hundreds of dollars more per person after factoring in those extra costs. Familiarize yourself with the added fees to expect so you’re not caught off-guard at the end of the cruise, and when shopping for a more apples-to-apples price comparison.
Look for deals that waive extra fees
Many times, cruise lines will offer deals that help to offset extra fees by waiving costs for certain amenities. Look for deals that offer perks like free beverage packages, included gratuities, complimentary internet or money to spend onboard — called “onboard credit.” Such deals could save hundreds on the final cost of your cruise.
Consider cruising during a destination’s shoulder season
The perk of cruising during a destination’s high season is that it’s often the prime time to be there. But high season generally comes with bigger costs and larger crowds. To save money, consider visiting during a destination’s shoulder season — Alaska in May or September, the Caribbean in late spring or fall/early winter (holiday weeks excluded), and the Mediterranean October through April. Think about when schools are out; if it’s spring break or over the holidays or the summer, chances are you’ll pay more for your cruise — and you’ll be cruising with a greater number of families or college students.
Book early — or late
By booking your cruise when a sailing first goes on sale (generally more than a year in advance), you can take advantage of cruise lines’ introductory specials — often including perks that help to waive added fees like beverages, excursions and gratuities. You’ll also have a better chance of choosing your top choice of cabin, ship or itinerary. Keep an eye on your cruise’s price and included specials; you might be able to rebook your cruise for the better price, up to around 90 days before your sail.
On the other hand, by waiting until around three months ahead of a sailing, you can take advantage of cruise fares that often drop significantly as cruise lines try to fill any remaining cabins. While you might not have your top choice of available cabins, you can save hundreds if your schedule is flexible enough to allow late booking.
Sign up for deal emails
By signing up for cruise line or travel agent emails, you can be alerted when special deals and pricing are available. Cruise Critic also has a free deals e-letter, as well as a collection of cruise deals at cruisecritic.com/bargains/.