Last-minute cruises can offer significant savings to those people able to take a vacation with little notice. Most people plan vacations far in advance, carefully ironing out transportation arrangements, itinerary details, attraction visits, and other events. For cruisers, however, last-minute cruises can be a perfect spur-of-the-moment adventure without sacrificing the stellar service and experiences of a more elaborately planned vacation.
Finding Last-Minute Cruises
Begin by obtaining an overview of what's available. For many cruise lines, the pressure to sell cabins really begins at the 60 or 90-day window (depending on the line's deadline for final payment). An excellent website for scouting the entire range of sailings and prices is Vacations To Go, which breaks down cruises into geographic regions such as Caribbean, Transatlantic or Asia. Ignore the "brochure price," which is similar to the sticker price on a car, and focus on the bottom line cost. Another useful resource is Cruise Critic, the Trip Advisor of the seagoing world. The site contains detailed profiles of ships and cruise lines, as well as hundreds of consumer reviews.
Once you have your choices narrowed down, shop the cruises at these discount booking sites:
- Avoya Travel is good for finding deep discounts, but do note that registration is required.
- Cheap Cruises is one of the largest discount cruise sites, with an advanced search filter that lets you choose date and port of departure, along with desired price.
- Cruises Only is a large site with good pricing and a sophisticated search filter. Search by either cruise line, destintation or special deals.
- Direct Line Cruises has a large selection of cabins and bonuses.
- Cruise.com is a comprehensive resource with a wealth of information as well as aggressive pricing.
Don't overlook traditional discount sites such as Expedia or Priceline, if you've used them successfully in the past. If you belong to a frequent flier program or similar hotel program, check those sites as well; they may be offering special bonuses. For example, Cruises Only has a separate site for members of the Hilton Honors program which allows members to earn Hilton points based on the length of their cruise.
In addition, pay a visit to the cruise line's official website. Rather than a cash discount, the line is likely to offer incentives such as on-board credits or free perks like spa treatments or specialty dining.
Online Booking vs. Travel Agents
If you've cruised before and are aware of the differences between the major lines, booking online might be your best bet. Passengers new to cruising may benefit from the services of a travel agent, particularly if the agent knows you and can steer you toward a cruise line that will be a good fit for your lifestyle. In addition, agents frequently have access to inside information, and know where the best cabins are on any given ship. If you don't have a travel agent, make sure the person you use is knowledgeable about the ins and outs of cruising. The website of the Cruise Lines International Association can help you locate a qualified agent in your area. Remember that using a professional travel agent costs you nothing - their commissions are paid by the cruise line.
An Affordable Way to Cruise
Cruise lines would prefer that every cabin be filled when a ship sails, even if it means deeply discounting cabin prices in order to secure occupants. Cruises make ideal last-minute trips because no matter when you book your vacation, the same superb service, range of activities, dining options, entertainment venues, and unique destinations are offered to every passenger. Of course the major drawback is that not everyone has a flexible enough schedule to take a cruise at the drop of a hat. In addition, if you need to fly to the port, last-minute airfare can quickly negate any discounts of the cruise package, unless you book a cruise package that includes airfare.