6 Easy Ways to Save on a Cruise

By Fran Golden
December 14, 2012
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The high cost of a dream cruise vacation can leave you feeling a little queasy before you even set sail. (And let's not mention the add-ons!) Here, our Trip Coach's sage advice about how to save big before boarding.


By reserving six to 12 months ahead of your cruise, you can lock in an early-bird rate that's 25 to 50 percent lower than the published "brochure" rate most lines advertise. You'll also have a wider selection of itineraries, dates, and cabins, and possibly get better deals on airfare and hotels. If prices go down after you book, a good travel agent—or the cruise line itself—should help you get the new lower rate.

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Yes, it runs completely counter to what we just said about booking early, but if you wait 60 to 90 days before you want to sail, cruise lines often drop prices significantly to fill any remaining spaces on their ships. If you're willing and able to white-knuckle it, this is when you can nab a weeklong Caribbean cruise for under $500. But of course, you won't have as much choice of itinerary or cabin, it may be tricky to find a low airfare to your port, and last-minute fares are typically nonrefundable.


Asking the right questions can work magic. If you're a return customer, mention it when booking and politely inquire whether you're eligible for a discount—it can shave 5 to 15 percent off your fare. Since cruise prices are based on double occupancy, a third or fourth person in your cabin should get a 30 to 60 percent discount. If you're 55 or older, don't be shy about asking for a 5 percent discount; likewise, active and retired servicemen and women should always ask if the line offers them savings.


Sites like Kayak and Expedia have put you in the driver's seat—sometimes literally—but don't underestimate the role a good agent can play in finding you the right deal. Many have reserved spaces they can sell you at a discount, and they can explain whether an advertised "free" upgrade or all-inclusive package is for real or just a ploy. They can also advocate for you if rates drop after you've booked your cruise.


Large groups—like family reunions at sea—can be complicated to pull together, but they can also knock big bucks off the price of cabins. A group of 16 people in eight cabins, for instance, can sometimes get a steep discount on the 16th fare, or in some cases a free berth. For large groups, booking a year in advance is advised to ensure you get the block of cabins you want.


You won't save a ton, but sailing when most folks stay home can nab you a modest bargain—maybe 10 percent off typical high-season rates. Here are the best times to find deals in four highly popular cruise regions:

Caribbean. September and October, the non-holiday weeks in December, and early January to Presidents' Day.
Europe. Mid-March and April, September to December
Alaska. May and September
Bermuda. April and October 

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How Safe Was Your Last Cruise?

For anyone concerned with cruise ship safety, the capsized hulk of the 1,000-foot-long Costa Concordia stands as a grim sentinel in the waters off the Tuscan island of Giglio, where the vessel ran aground in January.   In Italy on Monday, pre-trial hearings began in a lawsuit brought by the families of the 32 people presumed killed in the accident (to date, 30 bodies have been recovered). The court prepared to hear data recorded on the ship's "black box," and the goal was to determine whether Captain Francesco Schettino should stand trial next year.   While Schettino himself has acknowledged his own blame in the accident—he brought the ship close to shore in a maneuver known as a "salute," and left the ship before all passengers were evacuated—both he and a board of court-appointed experts maintain (in a 270-page report) that some responsibility may lie with the cruise line, Costa Corciere, a division of Carnival Corp. In a finding that should resonate with anyone booking passage on a cruise line, the board noted that some members of the Costa Concordia's crew did not speak Italian, lacked current certification for safety and evacuation, and that some passengers had not been given the chance to participate in evacuation drills.  The ship struck a rock off Giglio on January 13, tearing a hole in its hull and rapidly capsizing; in the attempt to evacuate more than 4,000 passengers and crew members at night, more than 30 people died. Schettino was dismissed from Costa Corciere earlier this year, but he has sued the company, claiming his firing was unfair.  As more details from this terrible accident come to light, we'd like to hear about your own experiences with cruise safety. When you've sailed, what kind of opportunities did you have to participate in evacuation drills?

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