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When Should I Book a Cruise for the Best Value?

SmarterTravel

Question:

I have booked a Carnival cruise to the Eastern Caribbean for a March sail date&#8212about nine months away. Do you think better deals will come out between now and then, or was I right to book early?

Answer:

In your case, since the [[ Cruises | cruise ]] takes place during high season in the [[ Caribbean_cruises | Caribbean ]], you were smart to [[ Booking_a_cruise | book ]] early. Many schools and colleges have their spring breaks in March, so it’s typically a crowded time in warm-weather vacation spots&#8212and cruises, hotels, and airlines book up early. As well, if you are particular about your cabin type, room location, and dining time, you don’t want to take a chance on waiting at this time of year. You might get a low price at a later date, but for a less desirable stateroom.

If you’re not so choosy, it can’t hurt to keep an eye out for a better deal&#8212especially since Easter is in April this year and many families will wait to take a vacation until then. Definitely hang on to your cabin until you have to cough up the final payment, though, so you don’t get stuck without any cruise at all. But if I were you, I’d probably lock this one in.

For future reference, the best times to take a chance in the Caribbean&#8212to get the best possible value, which is a balance of cheap fares and good accommodations, without booking so far ahead&#8212is to cruise during prime hurricane season (mid-August to mid-November) and during the slow weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A general rule of thumb for any destination is to book early for peak season itineraries and take a chance on shoulder season departures. Don’t know when those sailing seasons start and end? Check out At Your Service: Best Time to Cruise by our sister site, Cruise Critic.

Question:

We would like to try booking a cruise at the last-minute to get a better price. My question is how long before a November or December cruise does one wait to get the best price? We’re retired and flexible.

Answer:

The era in which you could simply show up at the cruise pier on the day of departure and haggle for a cabin is pretty much over (in North America, cruise lines must provide full passenger manifests to the government no later than 48 hours before sailing; however, the U.K.’s Island Cruises is able to and does offer the option on its Spain-based cruises).

These days, the best time to find a last-minute deal is generally within 60 days of the cruise’s departure date&#8212because that is when final payment is due and the cruise line can see just how many cabins remain empty. November and early December are the low season for Caribbean cruises, so you can often find availability and low rates with just a month to go. Because there aren’t as many 10- to 14-night cruises as seven-night cruises, my guess is you’ll find better deals on the shorter sailings, but prices should certainly be reasonable all around.

My recommendation: Come up with a price range you think represents a good deal and start checking rates every few days, starting 60 days out. You may also want to observe prices for October cruises just to see when the prices drop or when availability disappears, to give you a better idea of how November might play out. I’d say if you see something great between 60 and 30 days out, book it, but you have time to be choosy. At the one month mark, you may want to reevaluate your price range based on the past month’s prices. Don’t forget&#8212if you have to fly to your departure port, you may want to book slightly earlier so you have time to find decent airfare for your trip.

We’re already seeing deals for fall Caribbean cruises this summer&#8212check Cruise Critic’s deals page if you’re willing to book more than 60 days out. Also, you may want to read Cruise Critic’s article on last-minute cruising for additional tips.

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