The best time to cruise and the cheapest time to cruise are not always the same. The best time to be on the water is often when the weather is nicest or when you have time off. These sailings are often the most popular, but “best” can quickly turn to “worst” when you face high prices and large crowds. The cheapest time to cruise is often when most travelers don’t want to go. You may find less ideal weather or some seasonal closures, but the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise.
As you plan your next cruise, you’ll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here’s a when-to-cruise guide for some popular destinations.
Alaska has a very short cruising season; ships traverse its chilly waters only between late April and September. The months of June through August offer the warmest weather and are therefore the best time to cruise Alaska (and the most popular). In other months, you’ll find some closures and a bit more chill in the air, but you’ll also find the best prices. In addition, April and May are the driest months of the Alaska cruise season, so you’re less likely to be rained out of your flightseeing tour or glacier walk.
Bermuda cruises sail from April through mid-November, mostly during Bermuda’s high or “beach” season. Most people travel during the summer months, making those voyages pricier, but you’ll find deals on spring and fall departures (April through early June and September through November). Bermuda has temperate weather year-round, though it does see the occasional autumn hurricane. If it’s too chilly for the beach in the shoulder season, you can always try out the island’s many golf courses and spas.
You can sail to the region year-round, but the best time to cruise the Caribbean is when it’s coldest in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only is the warm Caribbean climate a welcome respite from bad weather, but December through April is also the driest part of the year in the islands. The cheapest times to cruise are typically in the late summer and fall because of hurricane season. (If you decide to travel then, purchasing cruise insurance is a good idea.) But you can often find other patches of bargain sailings, especially during the early weeks of December and in the spring. The timing of spring discounts isn’t always consistent, so it’s best to keep an eye out and book when you see a low rate.
Europe is so big that you can’t lump all its cruises together. The Mediterranean cruise season runs year-round on select cruise lines, though you’ll have the most options between April and November. Northern Europe and Baltic cruises have a shorter season running from May to early November, while the warmer Greek Islands and Canary Islands see cruise ships between March and December. Small-ship river cruises usually run from spring through fall, with a few sailings in December to see the local Christmas markets.
Most tourists come to Europe in the summer, but the late spring and early fall have more pleasant temperatures and not as many crowds. You’ll find the lowest cruise prices at the beginning and end of each season; prices rise dramatically for the summer months.
With two Norwegian Cruise Line ships dedicated to Hawaii cruising, you can explore the islands year-round. The best time to cruise Hawaii for good weather is during the summer and early fall when the islands get the least amount of rain. Summer tends to be the most popular because of school vacation and honeymoon season. Hawaii cruises are often cheapest from November through February, with the exception of holiday cruises.
You can cruise to Mexico year-round, either as part of a western Caribbean itinerary or as a dedicated Mexican Riviera voyage. The best time to visit Mexico is during its dry season, November through May. However, it’s a popular destination even during the rainier summer months. You’ll find the best deals in the fall, during hurricane season.
New England and Canada
New England and Canada sailings depart from May through October. You’ve got a better chance for warm weather if you travel from late June through early September. However, if you’re interested in foliage viewing, you’ll need to go in early to mid-October. May and late October sailings will offer the lowest rates, but don’t expect to be using the onboard swimming pool much.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The Ultimate Cruise Packing List: What to Pack for a Cruise
- The 9 Best Sites to Book a Cruise
- The Best Times to Book for Cruise Savings, by Destination
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.