How to find a good deal on a cruise
But the problem with any addition is dealing with the expense. Here, we talk to serial cruisers and independent experts about how to book the perfect cruise - and get the best price.
When to book
There is a trick to getting a good deal on cruises, says Brenda, 74, from West Yorkshire. It is to book as soon as cruise dates are announced. “The cheapest deals are mostly when the cruise is first made available. As time goes on and cabins get booked, prices only go one way – up.”
Experts agree that generally the earlier you book, the better the cruise deal you will get. Cruise lines offer everything from special early-bird prices to huge on-board credits to pay for drinks and excursions. However, these are rarely on offer at the last minute. Booking early also means you will also get the widest range of dates and cabin choices available.
Brenda and Derek, 80 (pictured below), now only cruise with over- 50s specialist Saga, which doesn’t offer late deals. Yet plenty of other cruise companies discount trips around six weeks before the departure date if the ship isn’t full. This is another good time to check for a bargain.
How to book
Travel agents are often able to give a better range of discounts or deals than would be on offer by going direct to cruise lines. Which? Travel found that you could save more than £200 a couple on a cruise if you buy via an agent.
Bob Atkinson, MoneySuperMarket.com’s travel spokesperson, says: “Compare cruise prices online and then take your findings to an agent. See if it will match or even beat the best price. The worst it can do is say is no.”
What it costs
A survey from Cruise Critic found that 93% of cruisers look for deals. Almost half spend between £1,000 and £2,000 on their cruise, while a quarter splash out more than £2,000. he more research you do, the better idea you will have of average fares on a preferred sailing, which helps cruisers know when a good deal is released.
Brenda and Derek on Easter Island
Cruising during a destination’s low season can be a great way to secure a much cheaper deal. The Mediterranean’s low season, which runs between October and April, can offer a good opportunity to save money, for example.
Cruise Critic, which includes cruise reviews, deals and an online community, also offers a cruise-finder tool that can be used to help establish which cruise lines and itineraries are available, as well as the price.
Major cruise lines, such as Celebrity, Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, offer deals by email with ongoing promotions as well as last-minute deals and sales. You may get a cheaper deal if you accept an ‘allocation on arrival’ cabin. Just make sure you would be happy to have the lowest grade cabin.
“We’ve stayed in Norway’s Ice Hotel”
Shirley and Gordon Muggeridge (pictured above) are counting the days until their next cruise in November. The pair, who live in Folkestone, Kent, describe cruising as a “home from home” after more than 17 years of holidaying at sea.
Shirley, 80, who was a school teacher before retiring, and husband Gordon, 85, who worked as an engineer, are going away for three weeks – but they don’t know where. It’s a ‘mystery cruise’ booked with Saga.
“The mystery cruises are lots of fun and you only find out where you’re going when you arrive,” says Shirley. “We have been all over the world including Canada for our 60th wedding anniversary, lots of destinations in the Mediterranean, as well as Greenland and Norway. We have seen the Northern Lights, stayed in Norway’s Ice Hotel and have wonderful memories.”
The trip in November will be the couple’s third mystery cruise. “We have ended up in Russia and Denmark on previous trips. They’re not cheap but, as with anything in life, you get what you pay for. For every day you’re in port, you have half a day out. It’s such fun finding more off-the-beaten track things to do.”
Shirley and Gordon say they pay around £7,000 altogether for their two-week trips and the four months to Canada set them back £13,000 in total.
“There were no hidden costs and we got picked up in a car from our front door and taken directly to the ship. We don’t want to worry about airports and logistics these days.”
Choosing a cabin
Cruise ships are often described as floating hotels. As such, there are different classes of cabin. The higher up the ship you go, the more expensive the cabins become.
Shirley and Gordon Muggeridge have been cruising for more than 17 years. The couple always book a mid-range cabin. Shirley says: “We don’t go on a cruise to sit in our cabin. We only really use it to sleep in. We have stayed in some of the top cabins available, but it was wasted on us as we were hardly there.
“The higher cabins may be more expensive, but the more you pay, the more you sway. The lower down cabins are far less prone to movement when the ship is sailing.”
Getting an upgrade is, of course, a huge bonus when you go anywhere, although on a cruise ship that is booked up, getting an upgrade is unlikely.
Early bookings often come with a cabin upgrade guaranteed. Look into loyalty schemes that offer upgrades. Saga offers free upgrades for those who have been on board one of its ships for more than 1,000 nights in total.
Shirley says: “Inside cabins won’t have a window or a balcony, so you need to decide if you need your own private outdoor area. In colder seasons or on northerly routes, ask yourself if you really want it.
“Upgrading to a suite could give you lots more space inside and out. But you need to weigh up if it’s going to be somewhere you’ll spend lots of time.”
You can check brochures or go online to compare floor plans of ships and the different style cabins available.
What to watch out for
Always check what’s included in a price. For cruises departing outside the UK, which exclude flights and additional costs such as a last-minute air fare, could end up being less of a bargain Mr Atkinson warns: “If the flight isn’t included, an expensive, last-minute flight could offset any savings, especially for far-flung cruises to the Caribbean, USA and Canada.”
You also need to be aware of tipping staff. Adam Coulter, UK editor of CruiseCritic.co.uk, says: “Tips can mount up over the course of the holiday. Some cruise lines don’t include gratuities and you have to pay these on board at the end of a cruise, while others make sure all gratuities are included in the cost.”
On average, you should allow £6 to £7 per person a day as part of your budget. Your cruise line will advise on how this works on board if you’re not all-inclusive.
Mr Coulter adds: “You should also consider if the add- ons are of personal value. Drinks packages won’t matter much for cruisers who don’t drink and internet packages won’t benefit everyone.”
Brenda highlights that you need to book early to get the excursions you want. “If you’re not fussy, you can wait until you’re on board to see if there are any late deals,” she says. Trips can be pricey, but you can cut costs by arranging your own excursions. Be cautious with timings and allow time for delays, so the ship doesn’t sail without you.
River cruising, where you can see the shoreline or riverbank most of the time, offers a more immediate and intimate travel experience with no at-sea days as you’ll dock somewhere every day.
Cruises are on smaller ships and allow you to discover cities from the close proximity of a river running through it. The average number of passengers on a river ship is around 150.
River cruises from companies including Saga, Scenic, AMA Waterways and APT, can be close to home in Europe sailing down the Rhine, Douro, Seine, Danube or Elbe. Or you can venture further afield to Asia, for example, cruising down the Mekong – Asia’s second largest river – beginning in the Tibetan Plateau before travelling 4,350 kilometres across the colourful landscapes of South East Asia.
Like ocean cruises, it’s best to book river cruises early. Not only are choice itineraries likely to sell out as the sail date draws closer, but the price is also likely to jump, not drop.
Don’t forget insurance
Travel insurance for a cruise is essential. Ensure you do your homework on anyexistingcoverto make sure it will include a cruise. Since trips are often longer than a typical fortnight’s holiday and you could be at sea for months at a time, you may need specialist cover. Most single-trip travel insurance policies come with time limits for the duration of each holiday, typically between 30 and 60 days.
Bob Atkinson, travel spokesperson at MoneySuperMarket, says: “It is common for insurers to add an exclusion around countries in a state of political unrest, so do your research before travelling to make sure you will be covered for the destinations on your cruise itinerary.”
Since cruises often include off-the-beaten- track activities such as jungle trekking, scuba diving and kayaking, make sure all of these are covered under a your holiday insurance deal. You might have to pay extra for some.
Remember to take your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). It gives you access to free or reduced cost emergency medical treatment in the EU.
Travel insurers may also insist your have your EHIC and it may invalidate your policy if you don’t have one.
A 10-step guide to getting a good deal on your cruise
1. Shop around for the best price when cruises are first announced to see if there’s an early bird discount, or if freebies are thrown in.
2. Negotiate with your travel agent to get a price match if you have spotted a bargain elsewhere.
3. Be flexible on timings to ensure the best price. Avoiding school holidays and other busy periods helps keep prices down.
4. Sign up for newsletters from cruise firms to get early notice of voyages.
5. Check that what’s on offer caters for your tastes, needs and interests. Don’t pay for services or entertainment you won’t use.
6. All-inclusive might seem budget- blowing, but weigh up the cost of extras before dismissing it.
7. Factor in paying tips to the crew.
8. Save money by booking excursions through local tour operators.
9. Stay in a smaller, cheaper cabin with no balcony and utilise the facilities on the rest of the ship.
10. Ask for an upgrade when you arrive. You never know your luck.
Exclusion is a potential loss or specific risk that an insurance policy does not cover and they occur in all types of insurance policies. Common exclusions include: natural hazards (exploding volcanoes, earthquakes) war, nuclear fallout, wear and tear (anticipated through the use of a product, especially motor insurance), UFO damage to vehicles, vehicles “stolen” by vengeful spouses, travelling any pre-existing health problems and travelling to countries the Foreign & Commonwealth Office deems too dangerous.