After the holidays, cruise lines lure travelers with enticing deals and attractive perks, from onboard spending credits to free shore excursions. This time of year, which begins in January and lasts through March, is known as "wave season." Wave season is an excellent time to score a bargain, regardless of whether you're a veteran cruiser or you're sailing for the first time, says Sandy Haberman, general manager of airline and cruise divisions at Sojern, a performance marketing platform for travel brands. "To make the deals even more enticing, cruise lines might offer perks including shore excursions, cabin upgrades, onboard credits, drink packages, specialty dining experiences and possibly better choice of cabins," he adds. With that in mind, here are nine tricks for taking advantage of the industry-wide phenomenon and landing a deal.
Research, Research, Research
Prior to booking a wave season cruise deal, Haberman advises conducting plenty of legwork. "Get an idea of what the exact cruise itinerary might normally cost on the same cruise line or another cruise line (of similar 'class') to make sure the deal is just that -- a deal," Haberman says. And when comparing costs, account for extra perks like cabin upgrades that might be included as part of the deal and make sure your cost comparison not only includes these benefits, but also any other expenses you might incur on the cruise. "You may also want to include airline costs to get a true look at overall trip expenses," Haberman adds.
Sail at Off-Peak Times to Optimize Savings
If you have some flexibility in your travel dates, you'll increase your odds of snagging a deal. "It is all about passenger loads, so one week's sailing may be a less than another so you want to grab the less expensive [itinerary] although your onboard service is no different," says Margie Lieb, owner of PW Travel Consulting near Denver. "There are fewer crowds on board but no compromise with the onboard amenities like the shows, food, etc. Also, [during off-peak times] a traveler is more likely to get reservations at the specialty restaurants and other specialty venues that can be booked way ahead of sailing," Lieb says.
Plan a Winter Escape
With hurricane season behind us, now is a prime time to secure a deal without having to worry about the weather-related interruptions. "The weather is great in the Caribbean to enjoy without having to pay the high season prices," Lieb says. Now is also a great time to escape icy conditions and plan a trip to the Southern hemisphere, she adds.
Consider a Home Port Cruise
If you sail from a close-to-home port, you can maximize savings. For example, if you live near New York City, consider sailing with Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise Line. Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas is offering a five-night sailing from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, to Bermuda, starting from $646. This deal includes 30 percent off a standard cruise fare for all guests in a stateroom, reduced deposits and cruisers can get up to instant savings per stateroom. And through Feb. 6, if you book a cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Breakaway or Norwegian Gem departing from New York City, you can enjoy additional amenities with a Norwegian Selects promotion, including unlimited phone calls, a Wi-Fi package, a 10-photo package and an onboard spending credit.
Become a Loyalist
If you frequently cruise on a particular cruise line, you can reap rich rewards and nab discounts on select sailings by staying attune to the latest promotions and deals. Carnival, for example, has a promotional event with special savings, discounts and onboard perks throughout January. Beyond this month, check Carnival's website for more offers. Another popular line, Princess Cruises, offers several "Drop and Go" deals this winter, including a 10-day Caribbean cruise special on one of their newest and largest ships, Royal Princess. Cruisers can take advantage of deals on two different 10-day Eastern Caribbean itineraries. Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises is offering a myriad of wave season promotions for a variety of sailings across the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Asia. For example, the line's Sail Beyond Event (from Feb. 1, 2017, to April 30, 2018) allows you to enjoy discounts on a variety of Celebrity's itineraries.
Take Advantage of Senior Discounts
AARP offers enticing wave season discounts for senior cruisers. Their website, AARPAdvantages.com, is available to AARP members and offers a range of customized travel deals. Want to take your adventure abroad? AARP has great deals on river cruises too. Currently, AARP Members can receive 20 percent off of featured 2017 European river cruises. Savings are also available on Holland America Line, Uniworld, Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises to AARP members.
Book a Honeymoon Cruise
Norwegian Cruise Line is offering those looking to soak up the sun among the exotic islands of Hawaii a one-of-a-kind cruise vacation aboard the recently renovated Pride of America, with an exclusive Free at Sea offer. Guests who book a seven-day inter-island Hawaii cruise now through Feb. 6 aboard Pride of America have the freedom to select one of five offers to enrich their cruising experience. Take your pick from a complimentary one-night pre-cruise hotel stay with an option to select reduced airfare, a free specialty dining package, free pre-paid gratuities, shore excursion credits and the Norwegian's Kids Sail Free program, which allows the third and fourth guests in each stateroom to sail for free on select dates.
During wave season, Holland America Line invites travelers to take advantage of its "View & Verandah" promotion, available on select 2017 and 2018 cruises and Alaska Land+Sea Journeys. If you book the "View & Verandah" deal by Feb. 28, you can enjoy a stateroom upgrade, onboard spending credits and up to 10 percent off select shore excursions, among other perks. The offer is available on select cruises from Mar. 30 to April 28, 2018. Featured destinations include Alaska, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Hawaii, among other itineraries.
Meanwhile, Oceania Cruises is offering an exciting wave of offers on all 2017 and 2018 sailings. Through Mar. 31, travelers can take advantage of free and value-laden perks, including airfare, onboard spending credits and complimentary shore excursions.
[See: The Best Cruise Lines of 2017.]
Consider All Vacation Costs
Snagging a last-minute cruise may be a good deal, but factor in other costs like airfare, says Sally Black, author of "Fearless Family Vacations: Make Everyone Happy Without Losing Your Mind." When you add in extras like airfare, make sure you're getting a good value. "If people need to fly to get to port, there will be higher last minute flight prices that will need to be factored in," Black says.
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