6 Easy Ways to Save on a Cruise
1. BOOK EARLY
By reserving six to 12 months ahead of your cruise, you can lock in an early-bird rate that's 25 to 50 percent lower than the published "brochure" rate most lines advertise. You'll also have a wider selection of itineraries, dates, and cabins, and possibly get better deals on airfare and hotels. If prices go down after you book, a good travel agent—or the cruise line itself—should help you get the new lower rate.
2. OR BOOK LATE
Yes, it runs completely counter to what we just said about booking early, but if you wait 60 to 90 days before you want to sail, cruise lines often drop prices significantly to fill any remaining spaces on their ships. If you're willing and able to white-knuckle it, this is when you can nab a weeklong Caribbean cruise for under $500. But of course, you won't have as much choice of itinerary or cabin, it may be tricky to find a low airfare to your port, and last-minute fares are typically nonrefundable.
3. REQUEST A DISCOUNT
Asking the right questions can work magic. If you're a return customer, mention it when booking and politely inquire whether you're eligible for a discount—it can shave 5 to 15 percent off your fare. Since cruise prices are based on double occupancy, a third or fourth person in your cabin should get a 30 to 60 percent discount. If you're 55 or older, don't be shy about asking for a 5 percent discount; likewise, active and retired servicemen and women should always ask if the line offers them savings.
4. USE A TRAVEL AGENT
Sites like Kayak and Expedia have put you in the driver's seat—sometimes literally—but don't underestimate the role a good agent can play in finding you the right deal. Many have reserved spaces they can sell you at a discount, and they can explain whether an advertised "free" upgrade or all-inclusive package is for real or just a ploy. They can also advocate for you if rates drop after you've booked your cruise.
5. GO BIG
Large groups—like family reunions at sea—can be complicated to pull together, but they can also knock big bucks off the price of cabins. A group of 16 people in eight cabins, for instance, can sometimes get a steep discount on the 16th fare, or in some cases a free berth. For large groups, booking a year in advance is advised to ensure you get the block of cabins you want.
6. TRY SHOULDER SEASON
You won't save a ton, but sailing when most folks stay home can nab you a modest bargain—maybe 10 percent off typical high-season rates. Here are the best times to find deals in four highly popular cruise regions:
Caribbean. September and October, the non-holiday weeks in December, and early January to Presidents' Day.
Europe. Mid-March and April, September to December
Alaska. May and September
Bermuda. April and October
How Safe Was Your Last Cruise?
For anyone concerned with cruise ship safety, the capsized hulk of the 1,000-foot-long Costa Concordia stands as a grim sentinel in the waters off the Tuscan island of Giglio, where the vessel ran aground in January. In Italy on Monday, pre-trial hearings began in a lawsuit brought by the families of the 32 people presumed killed in the accident (to date, 30 bodies have been recovered). The court prepared to hear data recorded on the ship's "black box," and the goal was to determine whether Captain Francesco Schettino should stand trial next year. While Schettino himself has acknowledged his own blame in the accident—he brought the ship close to shore in a maneuver known as a "salute," and left the ship before all passengers were evacuated—both he and a board of court-appointed experts maintain (in a 270-page report) that some responsibility may lie with the cruise line, Costa Corciere, a division of Carnival Corp. In a finding that should resonate with anyone booking passage on a cruise line, the board noted that some members of the Costa Concordia's crew did not speak Italian, lacked current certification for safety and evacuation, and that some passengers had not been given the chance to participate in evacuation drills. The ship struck a rock off Giglio on January 13, tearing a hole in its hull and rapidly capsizing; in the attempt to evacuate more than 4,000 passengers and crew members at night, more than 30 people died. Schettino was dismissed from Costa Corciere earlier this year, but he has sued the company, claiming his firing was unfair. As more details from this terrible accident come to light, we'd like to hear about your own experiences with cruise safety. When you've sailed, what kind of opportunities did you have to participate in evacuation drills?
Even the most experienced cruises would benefit from downloading these three apps that give you the inside scoop on all the boats before you board and the ports you'll be visiting along the way. PortPal Make the most of your shore excursion with weather updates, ship itineraries, and guides to over 800 ports. Available for iPhone, free Cruise Finder Search deckplans, photos, and schedules for 220 ships across 20 cruise lines. Available for iPhone and Android, free Cruise Cam Take a peek through the webcams of nearly 100 ships and 150 ports worldwide. Available for iPhone, $1.99 Rather spend your vacation on dry land? Download our Ultimate Road Trips app today! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 10 Common Cruise Myths—Debunked 12 Top Tips from the World's Best Cruisers Your Top 5 Money-Saving Cruise Questions—Answered
Looks like Carnival's anti-chair-hogging policy has gone fleet-wide. We told you about the program last month, which was limited to the new Carnival Breeze. It was so successful (and scored so much goodwill with passengers) that the line expanded it to all of their ships. And other cruise lines are jumping on the bandwagon. According to Travel Weekly, Norwegian Cruise Line is testing the waters with on the Norwegian Star—with a 45-minute grace period before your belongings are removed. Unofficial policies are also in place on Holland American and Royal Caribbean, which limit saving to 30-minutes. Don't dilly-dally on some Princess sailings, though—staff is reportedly allowed to remove belongings after just 15 minutes. So three cheers for not having to get up at the crack of dawn to get a good seat by the pool. Now that that's taken care of, where else would you like to see policies like these put in place? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 10 Common Cruise Myths—Debunked 12 Top Tips from the World's Best Cruisers Your Top 5 Money-Saving Cruise Questions—Answered
The Next Wave In Cruise Ships
What will be new in cruise ships for 2013? Here's a sneak preview of Norwegian Breakaway and Royal Princess, plus an update on little known Azamara Club Cruises. Norwegian Breakaway In May, Norwegian Cruise Line launches its twelfth ship, a 4,000-passenger beauty. The Breakway's home port will be New York City. The vessel will sail 44 trips a year, visiting ports in Bermuda, the Bahamas and Orlando [CLARIFCATION: Aug. 19. meaning nearby Port Canaveral, Fla.]. One of the ship's specialties is entertainment. Expect Broadway-style shows, such as the 80’s-inspired rock musical "Rock of Ages," and a Cirque du Soleil type extravaganza. The ship will be unique in offering open-air seating for eight of its optional restaurants, such as one created by celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian. These restaurants will be part of an oceanfront, three-story boardwalk. Royal Princess With 3,600 berths, the ship is Princess' largest ship to date and arrives June 2013. Some perks include an upper-deck pool exclusively for adults, a glamorous piazza-style atrium that's 50 percent larger than on other Princess ships, and the largest-ever Movies Under the Stars screen. Most eye-catching of all is the glass-bottomed enclosed walkway that cantilevers over the side of the ship's upper decks. Passengers can look straight down to the ocean 28 feet beneath them. The new cruise line many people don't know about Azamara Club Cruises This brand, launched in 2010 by Royal Caribbean Cruises, stands out from competitors in a critical way: It stays overnight in port much more often than the average ship, giving guests more of a chance to explore destinations. This matters because Azamara travels to unusual ports, from the Isle of Skye to Israel's coastline. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Viator's New Website Offers Cheaper Shore Excursions Than Cruise Lines Offer A Sailable Feast: What's New in Cruise Food Cruises: New Site Predicts When You Should Book