Cruisers usually know it's wave season when their mailboxes — both email and snail mail — start filling up with promotions for last-minute sailings and plan-ahead voyages. During this savings frenzy, which happens annually from January to March, cruise lines tempt passengers to book sailings with a wide array of perks (think: second-guest discounts, two-for-one fares, free open bars, and specialty dining credits).
To help you nab the best deals, we've compiled our top ten tips for wave season.
Be a Snoop
Most wave season deals are listed on the cruise line's website (either splashed across the homepage or tucked away under the deals or special offers tabs). Some promotions remain the same for weeks, while others may be added as cruise lines attempt to fill cabins on specific ships or sailings.
The best way to keep tabs on the latest deals is by browsing your favorite cruise lines' websites as often as you can (we recommend checking multiple times a week). If and when you come across a sailing that sounds appealing, be sure to note the "book by" date. That way, you can keep snooping around without losing out.
Sign Up for Deal Alerts
Cruise lines love to send out promotions to past and potential passengers, so being in the know is as easy as enrolling in email alerts. You can also sign up for deal newsletters from travel websites that spotlight discounts from individual cruise lines and online booking partners, such as ShermansTravel.
Consider Your Stateroom Options
If rock-bottom pricing is your bottom line, then you're going to find some pretty incredible deals — but they are likely to be for interior (no windows) or oceanview (porthole) staterooms. These categories are perfectly comfortable and, in most cases, only a bit smaller than balcony staterooms. While most cruise lines list interior or oceanview stateroom pricing in their deals, you can spring for a balcony cabin for as little as $75 to $200 more per person.
Also, keep in mind that fares may vary depending on the sail date — so it pays to look at all options before you book.
Compare Offers Across Cruise Lines
Even if you're loyal to a particular cruise line, wave season offers a great excuse to check out what comparable companies are offering. (Snag a deal and embark on a new experience? A win-win in our book.)
And, if you still prefer your favorite cruise line after your latest voyage, you likely won't have any regrets: After all, you did score a terrific deal.
Consider Trading Up
Not everyone can afford to cruise on premium or luxury ships, but if you have a special occasion on the horizon — such as a milestone birthday or anniversary celebration — wave season can help take some of the financial sting out of an upgraded experience thanks to limited-time offers like two-for-one fares and/or all-inclusive packages.
Book a Cruise From a Port You Can Drive To
The cruise savings you're so happy about can be quickly gobbled up by the cost of flights — especially if you're traveling as a family. If you want to grab a great deal without worrying about airfare expenses or additional hassles, check for promotions on cruises sailing roundtrip from one of the many cruise ports in the Lower 48. Unless you live in an Upper Midwest or Rocky Mountain state, an American cruise port is likely within one day's drive.
Call a Cruise Line Directly or Check With Your Travel Agent
Dialing any automated customer service number may seem like a hassle nowadays, but it's a quick, easy, and convenient way to get your questions answered. Also, someone from the cruise line's dedicated customer care team can help you narrow down your options by searching for embarkation dates with the lowest fares in your preferred destination. Lastly, don't hang up before asking if any other special deals or promotions (such as onboard credits or upgrades if you are a member of the line's loyalty program) can be applied to your booking.
Another option: If you've used a travel agent in the past, ask if they have an in-house agent specializing in cruises. A significant portion of cruise bookings are still made via travel agents, many of whom can access insider discounts and great rates for pre- or post-cruise hotel stays and tours.
Don't Forget About River Cruises
If you've dreamed of visiting historic Eastern European cities on the Danube, admiring historic castles along the Rhine, sipping Portuguese wines while cruising the Douro, or exploring the ancient wonders of Egypt on the Nile, then you're in luck. Wave season offers you the chance to enjoy special savings — plus free or discounted airfare — on select river cruises. Solo travelers may also take advantage of reduced (or waived!) single supplements.
Do Your Research
If you see a great deal on a cruise line you've never sailed with before (or perhaps you've never heard of altogether), it pays to do your research before booking — and fortunately, our team of cruise experts is here to help.
Keep in mind that these cruise lines may be relatively small or new, or perhaps they mainly cater to an international clientele. If you're up for cultural immersion like, say, cruising the Mediterranean with mostly French or German passengers, then booking a bargain cruise on a foreign-owned ship can be an enjoyable experience. However, some folks may find the language barriers (such as announcements in multiple languages and/or no English entertainment offerings) frustrating.
Use Wave Season Savings to Finally See Your Bucket List Destinations
Bucket-list cruises — such as Antarctica, French Polynesia, the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon, and Africa sailings — often come with a high price tag. However, wave season is the perfect time to save on splurge-worthy sailings. The key is to research and compare offers from cruise lines that offer itineraries to your dream destination. From there, you're likely to find a reduced fare that, while not an outright bargain, is still a great deal for checking off that must-see spot on your bucket list.
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