So I’ve been planning to write this post for, oh, several months. I’m ashamed that I haven’t been posting. BUT…today is a new day! (And it’s Easter, so it’s an especially new day!)
I think I do a pretty darn good job of finding excellent deals on cruises. And no, I don’t have any tips for finding a roommate to share costs–I really prefer to have my own cabin unless I’m with someone I love (as in a spouse or child or parent) and even then sometimes I wish I had my own cabin! 😉
So, what do I do to get good deals?
- There is no one easy way to do it.
- You have to spend a little time each day on it when you’re in the market for a cruise–because if you don’t you might miss flash sales or the cabins on sale might sell out.
- Get on the emailing list for ads from all the cruise lines you might want to sail on. Open all the emails they send and at least skim them–sometimes solo deals, especially, are not in the subject line but will be inside the email. Why, I don’t know, because solo deals are the most important things to me! 🙂
- I religiously look at the “daily deals” on http://www.vacationstogo.com and also look at their 90-Day Ticker, at least to scan through it for ones that say “New Offer” or “Reduced Again”. Those prices are not solo prices but you can click on the offer and they’ll give you a solo rate option a lot of the time–though beware, they are often more than twice the price of a per-person shared cabin. They do have a link for “best solo deals” but I don’t think they usually have the best solo deals there–they are picking them based on how much more than a double-occupancy rate the solo rate is, and I’m not interested in that percentage but rather in how much the cruise will cost me in total.
- I have never actually purchased a cruise through http://www.vacationstogo.com. (I’m not saying you shouldn’t–they may be a great travel agency–I just already have found my preferred travel agent.) When I find a good deal there I check the cruise line’s website and then I email my travel agent who can generally get me at least as good a deal as these websites advertise and always throws in a little on-board credit. I like my travel agent because she is very responsive and often can also find me great airfares that I can’t find elsewhere. Find a travel agent you like–what I like in a travel agent may not be what you like. If you didn’t like the one you used for the last cruise, try another one for the next cruise.
- Often cruise lines have weekend sales and/or mark down cruises on Tuesdays so those are especially important times to check cruise line websites, even if they didn’t send you an email telling you they have a sale.
- It’s annoying, but all the websites including the cruise lines’ own sites can make it difficult to find solo fares. You may have to walk all the way through a booking–just don’t push the final “book it” button!–to see the price for a solo cabin. The fares you see listed first are usually per-person double occupancy fares. Some of them even make you call them or call your travel agent to get solo fares (I’m talking about YOU, Uniworld! You make me crazy!) Norwegian (NCL) actually has the best cruise line website for finding solo fares in my experience.
- Look for cruises after final payment date–that used to be 75 days before the cruise date but most cruise lines have moved to a final payment date 90 days prior to the cruise. If a cruise is not selling well the line may continue to cut prices until the last week before the cruise–if you aren’t fussy about cabins and you can travel on short notice you may get extremely good prices then.
- Cruise lines are trying (though so far not often succeeding because they keep increasing capacity with new ships) to get people to book early by offering what they think will be their best prices when they first open the cruises for booking. Though most have also gone to non-refundable deposits now, if you have your heart set on a certain cruise you might still want to book early and then if a great deal comes up later (but before final payment) you can cancel and rebook at the better price. That doesn’t happen often, because cruise lines don’t like it when people do that, so they generally save their price cuts for after final payment date.
- Be somewhat flexible in what you’re looking for and exactly when if you can. I generally decide, for example, that I am looking for a fall transatlantic in a balcony cabin. I have certain dates when work commitments keep me from going on a cruise, but I know the dates I could probably make work. I look for cruises from multiple cruise lines on multiple dates. I want a good deal, also good airfare, also dates I can make work, also new ports or ports I really want to revisit, and also I am always interested in new ships.
- There are, for me, a few cruise lines I am not interested in, and a few I’ve decided cost too much for my budget. But I try to be really open to trying new lines. For instance, I had heard that Norwegian (NCL) was really crowded and low quality, and I had heard that Holland America (HAL) was full of very elderly people using walkers. There was only a small grain of truth in those rumors in my experience, and I have really enjoyed cruises on both lines even though I’m not elderly and not a fan of crowds. I tried the lines because I found a great deal on a cruise to places I wanted to go…so it pays to be open.
- It does pay to become a “frequent flyer” on one cruise line – or corporation, as they often have reciprocal “frequent flyer” benefits for other cruise lines within that corporation. For example, Azamara/Celebrity/Royal Caribbean have reciprocal benefits; though you collect the status on just one of the lines you can use it on the others. (I’m simplifying a bit there <== just mentioning that in case any RCCL fans noticed it!) You also get extra credits toward the status on most lines by sailing solo, as well as by booking a higher level cabin. My “elite plus” status on Celebrity was earned in not too many cruises by sailing solo and often booking one of their higher level balcony cabins, and entitles me to some free drinks daily, free laundry, free internet minutes, etc. Even if you have only been on one cruise on a line, join their “frequent flyer” club and you will be entitled to some small perks on your next cruise with them.
- Some cruise lines offer airfare and the rates can be very good. I check their airfare, check Kayak.com, and also check with my travel agent to see what she can get before deciding where to book the airfare. Just make sure the amount of luggage you want to bring is included in the rate (or add it in yourself) and that you will arrive in plenty of time to still get to the ship before it sails even if the flights are a bit late. Coming in a day early is best if you can.
- Check how far the airport is from the cruise port, what transfer options are available, whether the cruise line offers free transfers and if they do what restrictions they place on when you can arrive etc. if you intend to take a free transfer. It is best to find all this out before you book your air.
- Definitely go to cruisecritic.com and join the “roll call” for your cruise. You can find others to share transport to/from the airport, can join a shore excursion organized by someone on the roll call (often less expensive and, because it’s with a much smaller group, in my opinion much better than the cruise line’s shore excursions,) and can get to know folks on your cruise a bit before you go so you have a start on finding folks to socialize with. People on the roll calls often organize “cabin crawls” and slot machine tournaments and other events that you might be interested in. And there will always be people on the roll call who have been to the ports before and can give you advice and answer questions you may have about them. Just keep in mind that you can’t really judge the quality of that advice–so also research things yourself on sites like tripadvisor.com.
- Viator.com is another good option for shore excursions, though often there is a minimum number you have to sign up for (often it’s 2 people, again a pain in the neck for solos!) on the tours on that site. I booked most of the shore excursions for my New Zealand/Australia cruise through Viator and they were all very good.
- If you are considering buying a drink package, often the cruiseline will offer a sale on them–but not always! I would not book one in advance unless they were on sale–I’d wait until a week before the cruise to book it just in case a sale came up. If you book it onboard, and it’s before the ship is in international waters, they may have to charge sales tax–so best to book in advance if you want to start using it as soon as you get onboard.
- For solos, those “all inclusive” fares with multiple perks like drink packages, onboard credit, etc. are not usually worth the money because of the way the cruise lines charge for solos. So do the math carefully if you are considering them–see what a solo fare without the perks would cost and then decide if they are worth it. For drink packages especially, consider how much time you will be on shore at the ports and not using the package. I have never found them worth purchasing–then again, I don’t drink much and if I’m on Celebrity or Royal Caribbean I get some free drinks each evening because of my “frequent flyer” status with the company. There are multiple websites where people have posted drink menus from various cruise lines if you want to find out how much your preferred drinks will cost if you buy them without a package–check that out before deciding as well. I don’t know of a site that shows all menus for all cruise lines, so you’ll have to Google it! 🙂
- Most cruise lines will let you bring at least a couple of bottles of wine onboard with you–they may charge a fee per bottle or not, depending on the line. And often for cruises in Europe or New Zealand/Australia, they will let you bring on additional wine in the ports (it seems to be a don’t ask, don’t tell situation!) even though their policy says you can’t. The worst thing that can happen is that they confiscate the bottles and give them back to you the last night of the cruise–and then you will need to bring them home with you. Of course none of this helps if you prefer beer or hard liquor, unless you are on a high-end cruise line where you are free to bring any kind of alcohol on board – but on those lines all your drinks are included in the cruise fare so why would you?
- Don’t be afraid to sail solo. Cruisers are very friendly people in general – and not only the ones who have been taking full advantage of their drinks packages! You can be as sociable or as introverted as you like and it will be fine. I think it’s the easiest way to travel solo because you don’t have to find your way around strange cities, don’t have to lug your bags to a new place each day, have a limited amount of decisions to make each day (and when you’re making them, for example deciding where to eat dinner and what to order, any choice is going to be a good one!)
Those are all the tips I can think of at the moment. I’m a little obsessive about getting the best possible deal on cruises–okay, a LOT obsessive! You don’t have to be this obsessive–even one or two of the tips above will save you some money and/or help make your cruise go more smoothly. And smooth sailing is what we all want for our vacations!