Cruise reservations may be confirmed over a year in advance or at the very last moment. Most vacations are planned months in advance in order to coordinate different transportation, accommodation, and entertainment details. Cruises, however, can be reserved at different times, depending on your specific needs and the type of cruise you want. When to reserve your cruise is a crucial decision based on your ship, the itinerary, your flexibility, and more.
Reasons to Make your Cruise Reservations Early
In many cases, reserving your cruise earlier gives you greater flexibility and a wider choice of options, including cabin choice, itinerary options, and specific dates. Reasons for passengers to consider early bookings include:
- Honeymoons: Because a specific departure date is necessary for a honeymoon, early reservations guarantee an exact match and the opportunity to choose a more luxurious cabin.
- Special Events: Like a honeymoon, if any celebration depends on a specific date - an anniversary or birthday, for example - earlier bookings have a better chance of matching up.
- Maiden Voyage: Another type of special event that fills up quickly is a ship's maiden voyage, particularly if the ship is a new class offering different features than other ships currently at sea. Reserving a maiden voyage cruise early guarantees passengers a place in the ship's history.
- Group Reservations: If the cruise is a venue for a family reunion, corporate getaway, or other group event, booking earlier allows group members to coordinate their cabin choices to consolidate in one part of the ship, as well as insuring that everyone has a space onboard.
- Specific Cabin Choice: If you are interested in one specific type of cabin such as a luxury suite, forward or aft cabin, or even a sentimental stateroom number, reserving your cruise early has a better chance of securing that choice.
- Disabilities: Most cruise ships offer a limited number of cabins that are handicap-accessible, with wider showers and fewer interior barriers. If you require such a cabin, it is best to book early and inform your travel agent of that need to insure you are not granted unexpected upgrades or reassignments.
- Potential Upgrades: In order to fill the entire ship, cruise lines often offer free upgrades to passengers in particular cabin categories. These deals are limited, however, and if you reserve your cruise earlier you have a better chance of such a bargain.
- Limited Itineraries: Some cruise itineraries, such as Bermuda Cruises and Alaskan Cruises are more limited than others and tend to sell out faster, making early bookings the best choice.
- Payment Plans: If budgeting for a cruise is a concern, early reservations often offer a better payment plan - possibly three or four payments rather than one lump sum. If you unexpectedly need to cancel your cruise, there is also the possibility of partial refunds with early bookings.
How Early is Early?
When to reserve your cruise is very different from when to reserve a hotel room or airline ticket. Most land-based vacations consider three months fairly far in advance: not so with a cruise. Cruise reservations can be made over a year in advance, but unless the circumstances are very particular usually six to eight months is a good time frame that still allows passengers a multitude of options and early reservation deals.
Reasons to Make your Cruise Reservations Later
Despite the multitude of reasons to reserve your cruise early, there are a number of tempting reasons to reserve it late as well, including:
- Deep Discounts: As departure dates near and cabins remain empty, many cruise lines offer generous fare discounts to entice passengers to reserve their cruise.
- Non-Fare Discounts: If fare discounts are not available, many cruise lines will offer alternative discounts such as limited upgrades or onboard credit as further incentives for non-committed passengers.
- Identical Service: Even last-minute cruisers enjoy the same exemplary service, world class entertainment, and exquisite dining as early bookings, so potential passengers need not fear discriminatory service based on when they booked their cruise.
- Unexpected Opportunities: Many people may suddenly have an opportunity to take a quick vacation when they didn't expect to - a cruise is a perfect way to fill that getaway gap without sacrificing quality because of a lack of planning time.
How Late is Late?
If you are booking late, when to reserve your cruise depends on what additional arrangements need to be made in order to actually take the vacation. If you require airfare, a late booking may be just a few weeks before the cruise (in order to arrange the air transportation as well), but if you can drive to the port you can often secure one of the very last cabins only a week before sailing. Last-minute cruisers should note, however, that with very late reservations the ticket is not able to be mailed: it will need to be picked up at the port on the day of sailing. With a twist of irony, the later you book your cruise the earlier you should arrive at the port to sort out paperwork before boarding.
A carefully coordinated vacation can typically be planned in just a few days if travel arrangements can be made. When to reserve your cruise depends on many factors, including your itinerary and cabin flexibility, special needs, and financial concerns. There are benefits to both early and late reservations, but passengers will discover one thing no matter when they reserved their cruise: it's a vacation they can't wait to take again.