Now or later? Making reservations for your next cruise
Anyone who's ever set a price alert on an airfare website knows how important timing is when booking a trip. Cruise ships tend to open their reservations to clients from a year to a year and a half ahead of departure time, which gives travelers the opportunity to book their travel far in advance and maximize savings. Generally speaking, it's wise to book your cruise no later than six months prior to departure to ensure that you get the best deal. During the so-called “wave season,” between January and March, prices are typically at the highest, because travel between June and September is desirable for reasons obvious to anyone who has or has ever been a child. However, the burgeoning popularity of cruises to Europe and to Alaska has expanded the old cruise calendar and lengthened the booking period, giving you more opportunities to plan the perfect getaway.
Best time for the price
Regardless of your destination, booking a cruise earlier is almost always cheaper than booking close to the departure date. You will likely have a greater choice of rooms, and cruise lines tend to offer excellent incentive packages to travelers who book early, such as food or drinks packages to use on board. Another rule to keep in mind is that the farther away the destination, the more quickly a cruise is likely to be booked. If you plan to cruise from the United States to somewhere remote, such as Europe, the Galapagos Islands or Alaska, booking earlier is better to ensure not only a good price, but to ensure you get on board at all.
Best time for the weather
Weather is another significant determining factor when you book your cruise. Traveling to a place like Hawaii or the Caribbean in the off-season may mean lower prices, but it will most likely also mean travel during a rainy season, which could put a real damper on the trip. June, July, August and September are the most popular times to cruise to warm destinations because the weather is great, but it can be very hot during that period ‒ plan accordingly. Cruises to Alaska do not sail in the wintertime, so if you are hoping to book a cruise to that destination, you may be forced to book during the prime travel months. The Alaskan cruise lines only run from May through September, so the earlier you book, the better your chance is of getting a good deal on your package. If traveling to places like Hawaii or the Bahamas, it's typically warm year-round, but the dry season ‒ between April and October ‒ is ideal for taking advantage of beautiful weather. The rainy season can be temperate as well, but you risk the possibility of storms that could rain out your plans.
Best time for the crowds
Avoiding crowds on cruises can be difficult, particularly during high travel season. If the idea of crowded dining rooms and ship decks makes you recoil, consult with the tours you're interested in booking to ask about the size of the cruise. For cruises to island destinations, cruises get crowded between December and March, when the whether is unpleasant in most parts of the United States. Summertime, when kids are off from school and families take trips together, also tend to be high times for crowds. Bookings in April and May are slightly less crowded, as are cruises in September, when many people are returning to work and school. Early spring and late summer, generally speaking, are great times to book to avoid crowds; your savings increase the further out you book.
Best time for the activities
Flexibility is key when planning any trip, but on a journey as weather-dependent as a cruise, it's even more important. An Alaskan cruise, in particular, requires a willingness to roll with the punches, since activities such as float-plane tours and helicopter excursions are at the mercy of the weather and could get cancelled. It's less true of island vacations, although traveling during the rainy season can put planned activities like snorkeling, scuba diving or windsurfing at risk. If you are cruising to Alaska, you should prepare for unpredictable weather conditions, no matter what the time of year. However, since the majesty of the surrounding areas is such a large part of the experience, Alaskan cruises offer opportunities for activities that are sure to please regardless of the weather.
Cruises can get pricey, so travelers should seriously consider what they'd like to get out of their cruise experience before they pull the trigger on paying for a trip. For travelers most interested in good weather, it may be well worth the extra cash to book during high season to be guaranteed the best possible weather on their journey. For folks more interested in saving money and simply enjoying the experience of relaxing, sleeping, eating and swimming on board a huge ship, booking well in advance for a less-populated time of year might be the perfect strategy.