Travel Agent Shares With Us The Best Hacks To Try When Booking A Cruise

Booking a cruise is a bit of an art form. With so many deals out there, it can be difficult to know which ones are worth your time. To help cruise enthusiasts navigate the process, we asked Victoria Fricke, a travel agent with Vic's Vacations, for her best hacks. Her first tip is always to book with the cruise line directly. While prices can fluctuate between different cruise booking sites, making it tempting to save a few bucks, it may not be worth it, she says. "Similar to a flight, you want to have full control over your cruise if something goes wrong and you have to cancel or make a change."

Any discounts from a third-party website may be nominal when you consider the headache if things don't go as planned. Instead, focus your efforts on booking your cruise at the right time. "The goal is to book a cruise when there is a promotion that helps save money or gives you bonuses like onboard credits, drink packages, and more! Don't worry, your travel agent can help identify these for you!" Fricke explains.

Cabin values

Once you've figured out what time to book, you'll need to think about cabin choices. The best value on a cruise ship is always an interior room without windows. Another option is a guaranteed stateroom, which means you won't get to select your room, but you will be assured a cabin within a specific category, says Fricke. "Both are cheaper ways to sail, but both come with some warnings. If you opt for the cheapest room on board, expect the least enjoyable experience."

While inside cabins may be half the price, they tend to be on the smaller side, which can be tricky if there's more than one person. They may also be located in noisy areas, interrupting your sleep or quiet time. The cabin guarantees come with their own challenges. "If you pick a room like a veranda guarantee (Guaranteed to have a balcony, just no say in what that looks like), you might envision a large space to lay on your chair and sun, but end up in a room that has just a slight opening out to see the water with the rest being a steel beam from the side of the ship," says Fricke. The travel agent emphasizes, "If you want a luxury experience on a ship, you'll ultimately need to pay for it."

Timing and bundles

One of the best times to get a deal is immediately when the itinerary opens. As soon as the rooms begin to sell out, particularly on cruises that sail during school breaks and holidays, the prices increase significantly. However, even if you miss the initial booking period, you can still find last-minute deals on the remaining schedule. Additionally, if you're willing to drive to a nearby port city, you may be able to save a considerable amount of money.

Then, of course, there are sales and promotions, many of which you can find with an app like Shipmate. Just be sure to rope in your travel agent, as cruises sometimes inflate prices before rooms go on sale. Fricke adds that you should "ideally, have a baseline for how much that cruise costs without a promotion to ensure you're getting the deal you think you are!" 

While it may be tempting to bundle your flight and cruise, proceed cautiously. A cruise is typically expected to offer a serene experience, yet you could find yourself flying to the port city on the same day and dealing with airport hassle. "One missed connection or cancelled flight, and you've missed your cruise." To curb this, Fricke advises that you should "Fly in the day prior, stay at a nearby hotel, go to dinner, and enjoy the first sunset of your vacation, then board the ship the next morning refreshed and ready to relax!" You don't have to tell us twice.