Booking a cruise isn’t always simple. It can be a complicated, time-consuming process that involves dozens of open tabs and maybe a spreadsheet or two. But knowing the best site to book a cruise can help a lot.
And while would-be travelers are accustomed to clicking around on travel search engines to find the best deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars, many people don’t realize that they can use these same types of sites to book cruises, too.
But is there one best site to book a cruise? That depends on what you’re looking for. Sometimes the best cruise website is actually a cruise line’s own site—since technically, cruise booking websites aren’t allowed to undercut the prices that the cruise lines set.
Often, though, the best cruise search engines are indispensable for locating incredible deals, including ones that throw in booking incentives worth hundreds of dollars—in Amazon gift cards, complimentary shore excursions, onboard freebies, and so on.
To save you the hassle, SmarterTravel investigated the glutted space of cheap cruise sites to determine which are worthy of listing as the best cruise websites; below are a few that come highly recommended.
The Best Sites to Book a Cruise
- Expedia (including Travelocity and Orbitz)
- TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company)
- Avoya Travel
- Cruise Critic (SmarterTravel’s sister site)
- Costco Travel
Expedia is an obvious first mention in a list of the best cruise booking sites, in part because it’s an absolute juggernaut (Expedia also owns Travelocity and Orbitz). Its cruise-booking interface is simple and straightforward, only requiring you to enter your preferred sailing destination and date range, as well as how many passengers you’ll be bringing along. Then Expedia does the heavy lifting for you, with comprehensive results that make it one of the best cruise search engines.
On Expedia, it’s common to find bookable cruises for 70 percent off face value, with the best cruise deals coming up at the top of the list, saving you the scrolling. A sample search for a mid-June cruise to Alaska, for example, quickly came up with a seven-night itinerary starting at $454 per person—that’s less than $65 per person, per night for a mostly inclusive weeklong vacation.
Expedia’s cruise deals tend to come paired with other enticing offers, including steep discounts on pre-departure hotels when you book both your cruise and hotel through Expedia. There’s also a dedicated 800 number that lets you speak to Expedia’s cruise experts and, often but not always, a generous amount of onboard credit thrown in for good measure.
Best feature: Sheer search power. Expedia’s easy-to-use cruise search engine generates a useful and well-ordered list of the best cruise deals, without much effort required from the user. Also, Expedia’s prices frequently match what the cruise lines themselves offer.
Priceline is another powerhouse among cheap cruise websites. The initial interface comes off a bit clunkier than, say, Expedia’s or Kayak’s, but the tradeoff is that you can quickly search by cruise line, both standard and luxury, as well as by balcony and suite deals, last-minute cruises, and even themed cruises.
Using the seven-night Alaska example, Priceline brought up an itinerary aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel that starts at just $299 for the full week—$43 per night. Hard-to-believe cruise deals like this show up on Priceline with regularity, which is part of what solidifies it as one of the best cruise websites.
Also adding to the appeal: deals exclusive to Priceline, plenty of bonus amenities (examples include up to $1,000 in onboard credit, third and fourth guests sailing free, and $50 off shore excursions), no money down to book certain sailings, frequent onboard credit sales, an 800 number to call should you need assistance while booking, and a loyalty club that’s combinable with every cruise line’s loyalty program. Priceline also lets you click a “senior discount” box if that applies to you.
Keep in mind that although Priceline is famous for an in-your-face William Shatner (“The Negotiator”) informing you that you can name your own price, that unique feature applies only to hotels—not cruises.
Best feature: Priceline’s “110% Best Price Guarantee” promises that if you find your cruise listed at a lower price on another website within 48 hours of booking, then Priceline will refund you 110 percent of the cost difference, including port charges.
Check out SmarterTravel’s roundup of the best in booking sites for 2020. Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!
Kayak is a perennial favorite for booking flights, hotels, cars, and travel packages, but one of its lesser-known features is its powerful meta-search function for cruise deals. Kayak’s tagline invites you to “search hundreds of travel sites at once,” and that’s exactly what it helps you to do when you’re looking for the best cruise deals.
Kayak lets you find cruises by departure port, destination, cruise line, desired departure date, duration, and stateroom type. You can also filter by price, via a sliding bar that lets you indicate the most that you’re willing to pay for your sailing.
Already the go-to for many travelers who consider it the best cruise search engine, Kayak offers an excellent phone app, too (iOS | Android). Although you can’t book cruises through the app, you can connect your email inbox and automatically import existing bookings, share trips with friends, and link your Google and Facebook accounts.
Kayak isn’t flawless, though. It’s a bit ad-heavy, and its search results are initially sorted with “recommended” cruises at the top, which are almost never the most affordable—you have to actively click “Sorted by Price” to see Kayak’s actual best deals. (That same Norwegian Jewel seven-night cruise to Alaska starts at $349 on Kayak.) Also, Kayak’s Cruises homepage features “recommended” travel products that aren’t even cruises, although those do go away after you click the search button.
Best feature: Kayak lets you quickly compare the lowest cruise prices it finds to those listed on Expedia, Priceline, and Avoya, so that if any of those sites stocks a better deal on a cruise itinerary that you’re considering, you won’t end up paying more than necessary.
Many people think of TripAdvisor mainly as a travel review site, where you go to get real talk on hotels and attractions, and to see non-glamorized photos of places as seen through actual travelers’ eyes. But TripAdvisor is also an excellent site for travel deals, including on cruises.
TripAdvisor Cruise, which launched in April, is already among the best websites for cruise deals—it lets you nab the lowest price by comparing more than 70,000 ocean and river cruises from some 60 of the best cruise websites. It’s got an attractive, inspiring landing page, and its newest function, “Explore Ship-tinerary pages,” lets you browse full ship profiles, details, photos, and itineraries.
Though TripAdvisor is technically a meta-search site for cruises, which means that it will send you elsewhere to actually book, its search engine lets users sort by destination, length, cabin type, and month of travel. The default search results are ordered by date (earliest to latest within the month that you searched), unless you specifically click that you’d rather see the results organized by price, cruise length, or cruise ship. Even when you click on “price,” the lowest-priced offering doesn’t always come up first, though it only takes a few seconds of scanning to determine which itinerary has the lowest price—that seven-night Norwegian Jewel trip to Alaska came up on TripAdvisor starting at $349.
Best feature: What makes TripAdvisor one of the best sites to book a cruise? In addition to having one of the best cruise search engines, TripAdvisor lets you read other cruisers’ candid reviews of the cruise that you’re considering, so that you get the non-sugarcoated truth about each sailing.
A rarity on the internet, Avoya Travel is a family-owned company that has been dealing in travel for more than 55 years. Avoya is one of the best sites to book a cruise in part because of its patented technology that lets travelers search cruises by destination, date range, cruise line, and last-minute status—and then get matched up, in real time, with one of Avoya’s expert vacation planners, who use that algorithm to customize a cruise booking to your specific preferences. (From Avoya’s website: “We believe the very best vacation experiences promise more than any online booking engine alone can deliver. Technology will take you part of the way, but there are limits only real human interaction can overcome.”)
Avoya’s 170 staffers and network of 1,250 independent agencies make for a cruise booking website that’s a bit different from the rest. Its front page shows the lowest price for the most popular cruise destinations without having to search (“Caribbean Cruises: 3 nights from $259”), as well as “Today’s Top Offers,” which might include half-off cruise fares, onboard credit, prepaid gratuities, and free or reduced airfare.
Like several of the other best cruise websites, Avoya offers a low-price guarantee; if you book a cruise with Avoya and then find a lower rate on another website within 24 hours of booking, Avoya will refund the difference.
Best feature: Avoya offers free membership, and members get exclusive deals and discounts, access to unpublished fares, first dibs on promotions, the ability to save favorite searches, and the right to book, change, or cancel travel without incurring any Avoya fees.
When looking for the best site to book a cruise, don’t be put off by CheapCaribbean.com’s overly specific moniker. Despite the site’s name, it offers cruises all over the world. The site’s vibe is beach-oriented and a bit cheeky, with a front page that can overwhelm—but click on the “Cruises” tab, and a cleaner interface appears. There you can search by cruise line, ship, destination, departure date, and cruise theme, including family-friendly cruises and cruises from ports near you.
CheapCaribbean.com offers refunds on 24-hour cancellations (within certain parameters), $100 off your first trip if you sign up for its email list, and a “110 percent best price guarantee,” a promise that if you find a lower price on the same cruise within 48 hours of booking, the company will refund you 110 percent of the difference. That seven-night Norwegian sailing to Alaska comes up on CheapCaribbean at $299, with your choice of bonus amenities.
CheapCaribbean.com also offers a loyalty club that’s combinable with any cruise line’s loyalty program, as well as attractive perks like no money down to book, onboard credit, free cocktails for the duration of your cruise, spa credit, and cash back on your booking; these vary per cruise, but you’ll usually get at least one satisfying goodie. The site also lists traveler reviews about each cruise ship (as supplied by Cruiseline), though the reviews often include comments about the ship’s destinations other than the one you’re considering, which isn’t entirely helpful. There’s also a live chat widget if questions come up while booking.
Best feature: Helping to make CheapCaribbean.com one of the best cruise search engines is the fact that it lets you check boxes for additional discounts, including a senior discount, discounts by state (just enter your ZIP code), and past guest discounts if you’ve previously sailed with, say, Princess, Norwegian, or Disney.
Its front page is clunky and sort of in your face, but CruiseDirect is still one of the best cruise sites for a variety of reasons. Over its 18 years of existence, CruiseDirect has served more than 500,000 global travelers out of its New Jersey headquarters, and it boasts an A+ BBB rating.
As a cruise-only company, CruiseDirect doesn’t deal in flights, hotels, or rental cars, allowing it to focus its full capacity on helping you find the best cruise deal possible. On the site, you can search by keyword, destination, departure port, month, length of cruise, cruise line, and last-minute cruises. There’s real-time online chat and an 800 number for support. If you aren’t quite ready to buy, you can “heart” cruises to save them as favorites to refer back to later.
CruiseDirect offers perks on most sailings, like onboard credit, free drinks, free Wi-Fi, free gratuities, free travel insurance, or a free specialty dining experience—check the “Bonus” icon on the cruise you’re considering to see what extras it comes with.
Best feature: Like some of the other cruise websites on this list, CruiseDirect offers a “best price guarantee,” which means that if you find a lower price on another cruise booking website within 24 hours of your initial booking, you’ll get refunded the difference. But one key difference between CruiseDirect and the other cruise sites is that you don’t have to pay the cost of your cruise up front, just a deposit—and then if your cruise fare drops before you’ve made your final payment, CruiseDirect will readjust your rate accordingly.
A subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Cruise Critic has similar search results to that site, but it offers a bit more comprehensive information for seasoned cruisers who want more details before they book. Cruise Critic has tons of filters and sort options to help you find what you want, including everything from cabin type to cruise style (family cruises, luxury cruises, cruises for the disabled). Each itinerary clearly lists what is and isn’t included in the fare; Wi-Fi, alcoholic drinks, gratuities, and port taxes and fees are among the common exclusions.
Certain itineraries are marked with graphics declaring that the ship has won one of the site’s “Cruisers’ Choice” awards, denoting vessels that Cruise Critic members declare to be the among the best in categories such as cabins, entertainment, and family-friendly features.
You can sign up for price alerts, which will notify you by email when the fare on your selected itinerary drops.
Once you’re ready to book, Cruise Critic shows you a variety of offers from some of the best cruise booking sites, including bonuses such as onboard credit and prepaid gratuities. Then you click off to the site of your choice to make your purchase. Prices generally match what’s advertised on Cruise Critic.
Best feature: Under each search result is a tab for “reviews” where you can click over to a full-length write-up of the ship by one of the experts on the Cruise Critic editorial team, including detailed information on dining options, cabins, entertainment, dress code, and more. You can also read reviews from Cruise Critic members who’ve previously traveled on the ship.
When you think of Costco, you probably think of bulk food and toilet paper. But the next time you’re booking a cruise, it’ll be worthwhile to pull up Costco Travel, which is, unexpectedly, one of the best cruise websites.
Melissa Lagerquist, who runs Cruise Advice 101, says that Costco Travel is by far her favorite website for booking cruises. “Most major cruise lines may be booked from Costco’s website,” she points out, “including some luxury lines and even river cruises. While other cruise sites may be able to provide quotes, it might require a phone call to complete the booking. On Costco, the entire process can be completed online.”
The site doesn’t look fancy—it’s pretty bare-bones, visually—but the upside of going with a no-frills cruise-booking website is that Costco Travel offers extremely competitive prices, as well as some of the most attractive incentives, usually in the form of Costco Cash delivered to you after you get home from your cruise.
Though there’s no single point of contact if you need to call and discuss your cruise booking, “you won’t have a single point of failure either,” as Lagerquist puts it. Costco Travel’s call center is staffed with helpful agents from early morning until evening, seven days a week, and passengers can rest assured that Costco won’t go out of business before they set sail. Note that a Costco membership (starting at $60 per year) is required to book with Costco Travel, and that Costco doesn’t accept American Express.
Best feature: Rock-bottom prices—plus lots of cash back if you play your cards right: Costco Citi cardholders earn 3 percent cash back on cruise purchases, which can combine with the 2 percent Costco Reward for Costco Executive Members for a total of 5 percent back on Costco Travel’s already super low cruise rates.
Pondering which is the best site to book a cruise? Keep Cruisewatch in strong consideration—more than a typical cruise booking website, Cruisewatch bills itself as a “digital cruise advisor” that couples data power with personalization.
As an artificial intelligence cruise advisor, Crusewatch created technology that makes searching and booking a cruise more efficient—the first, it calls “Cruise Price Prediction.” In short, Cruisewatch collected and stored the daily price for each ship and cabin over a span of five years, resulting in more than 100 million data points—and a massive database that informs exactly when cruise prices are lowest, and when the greatest saving potential exists.
Thanks to this comprehensive price history, Cruisewatch can predict cruise prices and drops with an accuracy rate of around 80 percent. Using the site’s cruise price prediction alerts, travelers can save up to 70 percent just by booking at the right time.
In addition to being able to predict prices, Cruisewatch also features a tool to match every traveler with a sailing based on their specific preferences—you “heart” or “X” images and sentences that match or don’t match your perfect vacation image (“a bit like Tinder for cruises,” the site points out), and then Cruisewatch fires up its algorithm to automatically translate your responses into concrete search criteria, resulting in suggestions for cruise itineraries that are highly specific to you.
Best feature: Cruisewatch’s easy-to-set price alerts, based on tons of data, allow users to be notified in real time of the best new cruise deals the minute they come online.
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Editor’s note: Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.
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