What makes a fun vacation on the high seas and the best way to book a cruise both depend on what type of travel experiences you enjoy. Knowing the answer to each of these will help you navigate the process.
Let’s start with a bit of planning; investigate what affects the price of a cruise; then, dive into the strategies for making your next dream cruise vacation a reality!
In This Article…
Regardless of which of the following ways you decide is best for booking your next cruise, start with a bit of planning. Make a list of where and when you would like to sail.
Then, utilize some helpful digital tools – travel apps. While they all offer some similar selections, the most useful apps let you select cruise regions, ports of call, cruise lines, ships, deck plans, cabin types, prices and even the particulars of weather and document requirements (passports). You make your preferred choices in these categories and the software generates lists of cruise lines and ships with arrival/departure schedules for ports of calls.
Or, hop online to see which cruise lines go to your destinations at the time you are planning your vacation. Once on the various company sites, you can find a whole host of helpful information on ships, cabins, destinations, activities and more. So, to keep from getting lost “down a rabbit hole,” make that (preliminary) list of places and times for sailing before looking through apps and websites.
This step will help you later during the “how to book” process below.
Before delving into the strategies for the best way to book a cruise, let’s briefly visit the overarching topic – money. Here is one point to keep in mind as you are shopping:
The price of a cruise is much like popular hotel destinations: It is all about the occupancy rate. So, when a cruise line “drops” a new itinerary (publishes a cruise schedule), these are often good rates.
As time passes, the prices fluctuate depending on how quickly (or slowly) vacationers commit to booking. If reservations are slow, the cruise line would rather offer a cheaper price than sail with empty cabins. So, they drop the price closer to departure dates. As we shall see below (When to Book), waiting for this to happen can have a downside.
On the topic of price, consider the following strategies for the best way to book a cruise:
Two factors that can decrease the cost of your next cruise vacation are the “shoulder season” and “repositioning cruise.” The first term refers to the times of year that fall outside peak seasons. For example, October in the Caribbean and March in the Mediterranean, along with April and the end of September for Alaska, are all shoulder seasons.
The second term, “repositioning cruise,” is the one-way travel that ships make to follow ideal weather conditions. These can have deeply discounted prices since they are often longer sailing times at sea and, of course, you would have to arrange return transportation to your home port.
Another strategy is to check with your employer to see if discounts are available through the company. Many large corporations have standing arrangements with all manner of businesses, including cruise lines. You need only get the information from your place of employment to participate.
Additionally, remember to use other qualifying deals if you are a senior, teacher, first responder, past or present member of the military and even a resident of certain states.
Also, be sure to join the loyalty program of your favorite cruise line and use this membership for each and every booking. Then, when you have friends who are planning on taking a cruise (on your favorite cruise line), they can list you as the person who referred them. This can add up to some significant savings and credits for your next cruise.
How to Book
Local travel agents rank high on the list of best ways to book a cruise. Why? Because they handle everything for you, and it costs you nothing to use their services. And, they may have access to special discounts that are not available to the general public.
Prior to contacting one, however, you should do a bit of research on your own: What cruise line? When to travel? Where do you want to go (itineraries)? What type of cabin do you want/need during your vacation? This will speed up the process.
Keep in mind that any changes or questions you have after booking must go through the travel agent. They are the point of contact with the cruise line and the only ones who can adjust your plans. For these reasons, this is a recommended option for first time cruisers as well.
Discover some great price discounts by shopping the many competitive online travel sites. They often have lots of options from which to choose, including cruise lines, cabin types, destinations and extra perks.
These companies can offer some of the best travel rates because they pre-reserve large blocks of cabins and pass the savings along to you. The downside to this approach is that you should not expect the personalized services that often come with our other suggestions on the best way to book a cruise.
Directly with the Cruise Line
If you have your favorite cruise line, then booking directly with them might be the way to go. When you directly contact a cruise line to make a reservation, you will be placed with a Personal Cruise Consultant or some variation of this job title, such as Personal Vacation Planner (PVP). This person, while likely very busy, offers the best volume of knowledge about the ship, cabins, ports of call, amenities and other aspects.
They are also particularly helpful if you are planning group travel or want to arrange special events while on the ship. A bit of price shopping ahead of time will give you a base cost to compare to the price quoted by your consultant.
Or, use this option via the Internet. One of the best ways to book a cruise directly with the cruise line is on their website. This hybrid approach (online and direct) is easy to navigate; and, you might discover some fun activities, extras and benefits not previously thought of by using this approach.
A nice side benefit offered by some cruise lines is the option to also book an airline flight, hotels and/or ground transportation at the same time. This often comes with scheduling flexibility options, no penalties and a lowest fare guarantee.
Talk on the Phone
While it is a good idea to scout around online to see what types of cruises are sailing to your bucket list destinations, making the reservation the good ‘ole fashioned way, on the phone, is still an option. One of the reasons that this is on our list of the best way to book a cruise is because of the personal interaction.
If you have a question, you have a live person to answer it. If you want to hear about specific types of cruises/ships/activities, you have a real person on the line. If you need to make future or last-minute changes, you have a person to handle that for you.
This option can be used to talk directly with the cruise lines, speak to an online booking company representative or discuss your vacation with a travel agent. While on the phone, be sure to ask for a list of what is included in the price of your fare.
For most cruise lines, you should expect the following: meals, activities, entertainment and programs onboard, as well as your cabin. These items, however, may not be included: drinks of all kinds, gratuities, shore excursions, Internet access, laundry, classes, certain restaurants and possibly the taxes and fees. Avoid surprises and get that information when you book.
Worth Reading: Here Is How to Get the Best Deal on a Cruise
One other terrific benefit to using the phone is the option of getting “quiet offers.” These unpublished or advance price reductions are part of what you can get when you book via an online agent call, cruise consultant call or a travel agent call.
Once you get your price quote, do a little math and make sure that the cheap fare is actually going to stay cheap. For example, more desirable cabins cost more but may come with extras like a drink package or paid gratuities. This can save you money over the course of your vacation.
When to Book a Cruise
A quick search online will uncover all manner of “tips” about the timing of booking a cruise. Unfortunately, most of these suggestions are only thinly based on data.
For example, one of the most popular ideas is that Thursdays are the top choice for booking the cheapest cruises. If that were true in every scenario, then everyone would wait to make their reservations on that day.
In the alternative, if there is some merit to this claim, then it would likely only apply in certain circumstances. For example, a cruise is not fully booked and departs in the following couple days. Perfect for a quick decision to take an unplanned or day cruise – not so perfect for scheduling family vacations.
Generally speaking, the further away from your departure date that you can make a reservation the better the rate. Fall is usually a popular time to book for the coming Wave Season – January through March. And, if sales were slow, you might pick up some deals for that season after the first of the year. Keep in mind that waiting for better prices can limit your options – particularly a choice of cabins and itineraries to heavily traveled destinations.
Insider tip: If you book months in advance and there happens to be a significant price drop later, you might be able to upgrade your cabin, get onboard credit or other perks at that time. And, another option is to inquire upfront about a standing price adjustment with the cruise line for the same purpose. It certainly would not hurt to ask!
For those who have a favorite line and know they will be traveling again, one of the best times to book a cruise is… while you are on a cruise! There are many benefits to deciding to schedule your next vacation on the ship – onboard credits, reduced deposit amounts and the option of changing your plans (dates and ships) later, to name a few.
Upon making your reservation is also the time to go ahead and reserve your spot for shore excursions. These activities at ports of call are often limited to a certain number of people; and, the popular ones can sell out before the ship departs its home port.
What to Do Next
At the conclusion of booking your next cruise, return to your travel apps. They are immensely helpful now and even during your cruise. Get familiar with the ship, restaurants, activities and even enjoy a “countdown clock” for your departure date! Some apps have virtual tours and others offer live webcams.
Read Also: Top Mistakes to Avoid When Planning a Cruise
Then, while onboard, use the GPS-type apps to find your way around the mega-ships. And, other apps can keep track of your spending – all those items you buy during the cruise that will show up on your credit card at the end of your vacation. This is a great way to avoid delayed sticker shock.
A list about the best way to book a cruise would be incomplete without mentioning cruise travel insurance. This should be the final step you take to protect your money and your plans. However, it can be a bit confusing to know what is and what is NOT covered in the policy. We have several articles to help with this final step before your next cruise vacation.