How to Find Last-Minute Cruises

by  Donna Heiderstadt | Nov 28, 2016
Cruise in San Francisco
Cruise in San Francisco / bluejayphoto/iStock

Looking to book a last-minute sailing? Sure, some options are long gone by the time spontaneous cruisers start to search, such as New Year’s Eve sailings in the Caribbean and balcony cabins in the Mediterranean in July and August. But the good news is deals on itineraries for cruises sailing next month — and even next week — are out there, especially if you’re willing to be flexible about where you go and on which ship you travel, as well as what cabin you end up sleeping in. Read on for some advice on how to find last-minute cruises.

1. Look at drive-to ports.
Last-minute cruise fares can be a steal, but last-minute airfares can potentially break the bank. The good news? There are more cruise ports in the continental United States than you might think: Boston, New York, and Baltimore in the northeast; Charleston, Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, and Galveston in the south; and San Diego, Long Beach, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver on the west coast. Depending on the time of year, itinerary options can range from quick three-night cruises to the Bahamas to seven-night sailings to Bermuda, the Caribbean, Alaska, or even Hawaii.

2. Time your search right.
The two weeks that follow major holidays — such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter — are generally slow times when leftover cabin inventory is ripe for the picking. About a month before the holiday, search for last-minute deals. In late October, for example, look for offers on sailings that depart the weekend after Thanksgiving through the first two weeks of December.

3. Look to lines with lots of volume.
The bigger the ships and the bigger the fleet, the better the chance you’ll find a last-minute offer. That means you should focus on cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises, and MSC Cruises. Each has a large number of ships, most of which accommodate 2,000 or more passengers.

4. Check out all available cabin options.
That bargain last-minute deal will likely get you the lowest category on the ship: an inside cabin. Don’t give up on getting ocean view or balcony cabins, or even a suite. If any staterooms in these categories are available, they’ll also be more within reach.

5. Take a chance on hurricane season.
While the Atlantic hurricane season — which can affect cruises in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the entire east coast of the U.S. — runs from late June to late November, the majority of storms form between August and October. This decreases advance bookings, leaving quite a bit of inventory available as the embarkation date nears. By booking a week or two out, you will generally know if storms are forming in the Atlantic. If the forecast looks clear, start searching for a deal.

6. Extend a land vacation with a cruise.
Book a vacation in a city with a large cruise port — such as New York, Miami, San Diego, or Los Angeles — and then search for cruises departing at the end of your stay. It will be two vacations in one, with very little additional planning involved.

7. If at first you don’t succeed, search again.
There’s no reason to lose hope for snagging a last-minute cruise deal. If you didn’t find anything that fit your destination wish list or budget when you searched on a Saturday or Sunday, check back again on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Cruise lines constantly update their last-minute inventory, and something great might have just opened up.

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