Step 5: Research prices

It can be a good idea to use the Web or a travel agent to get a ballpark estimate of what your cruise will cost and then hunt for savings. A good place to start is your preferred cruise line's website or brochure, where you can find "brochure rates," which are the highest rates you can pay, as well as current early-booking specials or deals on select departures.

You can almost always find a price lower than the brochure rate. Begin your research by checking SmarterTravel.com's cruise deals to see if any relevant specials are available. Certain cruise lines, such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, also list specials on their websites. Or, ask your favorite travel agents if they know of any current promotions.

You can also turn to major online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity to get information about prices. These agencies will offer their own cruise specials, including limited-time seasonal sales. Another way to research cruise prices is through cruise discounter sites. For low online rates, you might try cruise.com, CruiseDirect, icruise, Cruise411, Cruise Value Center, and Vacation Outlet. But beware of super-low fares on these sites; if a cruise deal seems to good to be true, it's often because hundreds of dollars in taxes and port charges are not included in the base rate.

If you're doing a lot of pricing research online and are tired of entering your travel dates and destinations over and over again, you can use our price-comparison tool to compare prices on several sites at once.

Once you have a good idea of how much you should pay for your cruise, you might want to submit a query on CruiseCompete, where you can ask travel agents who are affiliated with the site to beat your lowest offer. These agents will return bids, allowing you to pick and choose the lowest price.

(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)

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