Why You Should Check The Cruise Ship Calendar Before Booking A Cruise

Some argue that you should never take a cruise, but there are just as many reasons why you might want to embark on one. Just know that many other travelers could have the same bucket-list cruises in mind. The cruise industry has bounced back in a major way in 2023 and is now set to break pre-pandemic records with a reported 31.5 million passengers this year. That's more passengers than the previous three years combined.

On the one hand, this keeps cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean International in business, which is good for the overall health of the industry and your variety of travel options. On the other hand, the more passengers that set sail, the more crowded certain stop-offs on your cruise are likely to be. Overtourism is such a problem now, in fact, that some ports have begun to actively discourage the influx of passengers and pollution brought on by cruise ships. In July 2023, Amsterdam even went so far as to ban ships from its main cruise terminal after mounting a "stay away" campaign aimed at unruly visitors.

Needless to say, a gaggle of tourists photobombing each other and fighting for space in the swimming pool or on a famous island is probably not the vacation dream anyone has in mind when booking a cruise. Fortunately, there's a way to stay ahead of the curve and the crowds when booking your voyage: consult a cruise ship calendar.

A cruise calendar can help you avoid the biggest crowds

In the same way you might check a crowd calendar before visiting a busy theme park, consulting a free cruise ship calendar online can help you plan around the crowds so that you're not arriving in ports on their busiest days. Some of the most popular cruise ship destinations, like Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Venice, Italy — the latter of which has even proposed an entry fee for day-trippers to combat overcrowding — will always be busy to some extent. But with a cruise ship calendar, you can still try to find the days when those destinations are a bit less crowded than usual.

While some old calendars, such as CruiseCal and CruiseTT, are now defunct, sites like Cruise Timetables and CruiseDig still allow you to check port schedules ahead of time. With the first one, you can browse a list of port schedules for inspiration before choosing your destination and day. With the second one, you can use the search function to target a specific port and then fine-tune your search by arrival or departure month.

From there, you should be able to see how many other ships and passengers are scheduled to be at each place on a given day. This will make your own trip planning better informed and give you an edge in avoiding the worst crowds from place to place. Having one ship in a port versus three can make a big difference in the overall atmosphere.

Know the off-peak season

Since the cruise industry shut down in early 2020, its passenger numbers have taken three years to return to normal and are now fielding a lot of pent-up demand from tourists worldwide. These free online cruise ship calendars allow you to strategically plan your voyage to minimize the overcrowding you might encounter. However, consider also combining a cruise calendar with research on your desired destination's peak and off-peak seasons. This will help narrow the focus of your calendar search.

Using the Bahamas as an example destination, you might first look up its general region, the Caribbean, on Cruisewatch, which indicates that the peak season for that region is December to April, while the off-peak season is May to November. If September fits your schedule the best, you can use that window of time as your starting point. Just bear in mind that with cruises, even in the same month, one day isn't necessarily as good as another.

On the aforementioned CruiseDig calendar, five cruise ships are expected in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, on Sunday, September 17, 2023. Each of these five ships is carrying thousands of passengers. Two days before that, though, on Friday, September 15, there's only one ship in port. It still has thousands of passengers, but if you're one of them, you at least won't have people from four other ships converging on Nassau the same day as you.