5 Ways to Save on Your Next Cruise
Look for last-minute discounts, appreciation rates and free perks
By Elizabeth Armstrong
Many of the larger ships are outfitted with water parks, sports courts and adults-only sanctuaries, and most lines offer structured children's programs. All come at no extra charge.
There are a few ways to make your seagoing escape even more affordable. Below are five tips for cutting costs, from looking for short-notice savings to finding freebies like complimentary dinners in a specialty restaurant or shipboard credits -- the equivalent of cash that you can spend on board.
Book within 90 days of departure. The best cruise deals are last-minute discounts that can shave as much as 80 percent or more off the brochure rate. And "last-minute" may not be as late as you think -- these bargain sailings can be booked within three months of the embarkation date.
Vacations To Go has specialized in deep cruise markdowns since 1984, and it highlights the best discounts on its 90-Day Ticker (click the green button at the top left corner of the home page). Sailings are divided among a few dozen regions, from the Caribbean and Bahamas to Africa, French Polynesia and the Baltic Sea. You'll occasionally find specials on itineraries that combine popular sailing grounds: Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, for example, or the Panama Canal and South America.
The 90-Day Ticker recently showed a weeklong voyage aboard a Royal Caribbean International ship for $795 -- 81 percent less than the original fare. The Oasis of the Seas departs April 30 from Port Canaveral, FL, and heads to Labadee, the cruise line's private beach retreat in Haiti, as well Falmouth, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico.
The Norwegian Sky, part of the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, provided a three-night Bahamas getaway on May 5 for just $329 for an inside cabin at this writing, with an upgrade to an ocean vista for $379. Both prices reflected discounts of more than 75 percent.
Even cruises with six-star lines sport discounts that can help ease sticker shock. The newest Seabourn vessel, Seabourn Encore, boasts all-suite accommodations, an onboard marina with kayaks and windsurfers, a restaurant by star chef Thomas Keller and The Retreat, a top-deck refuge with private cabanas. Travelers could board the May 27 seven-night Mediterranean journey -- to the French isle of Corsica, Palma de Mallorca in Spain and other alluring gems -- for around $3,000, which is more than $11,000 cheaper than the originally published brochure rate.
You can narrow your search to a specific ship, destination or sailing date by using the site's Find a Bargain tool. Go to the custom search page to pick ports, a certain price range or your desired ship rating.
Seek specialty discounts. Are you a firefighter, police officer or an emergency medical technician? A teacher or member of the military? If so, there are many cruise lines that will reward you with additional savings -- called appreciation rates -- on select departures as long as you provide proof of eligibility at booking. The discounts are extended to the second traveler in the cabin as well.
Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Windstar Cruises and Spanish line Pullmantur Cruises offer appreciation rates to current or retired teachers. All of these lines -- plus Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean -- also honor firefighters, EMTs and those who work in law enforcement with extra markdowns.
For example, Costa knocks an additional $36 per person, or $72 per cabin, off the already reduced rate of its June 3 sailing in Scandinavia for all of the above. The extra savings climb to $118 per cabin when you book balcony accommodations; that's just about enough to cover a spa treatment as your ship, the Costa Favolosa, skims the scenic Norwegian coast.
Several cruise companies offer military discounts, and the eligibility requirements vary. Depending on the line, the savings can apply to active, reserve or retired members of the U.S. military. Spouses of actively deployed or deceased personnel also may be eligible to book a cabin at the military rate.
In all cases, you must provide proper documentation at the time of booking.
Star Clippers, which operates a fleet of masted sailing ships based on historic vessels, offers special pricing to active and retired personnel. Examples include a June 3 voyage aboard the Star Clipper through Indonesia; it deducts an extra $136 off the already reduced price, for a military rate of $1,224. Book a suite and enjoy more than $300 in extra savings.
Take advantage of age-related discounts. Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are three major lines that recognize 55-plus travelers with additional price cuts. The discount applies to select sailings and extends to the second passenger in the cabin -- only one occupant must meet the age requirement. Proof of age is necessary.
On a May 22 meandering amid the British Isles, Royal Caribbean offers a 55-plus rate for accommodations above the inside cabin category. For example, pay $1,645 to occupy an ocean-facing room on the Vision of the Seas (a savings of $133). The liner spends one night each in the Scottish and Irish capitals, Edinburgh and Dublin, and it also stops at Dover, a gateway to London, and St. Peter Port in the Channel Islands.
Find the free perks. Fare reductions aren't the only savings available. Limited-time promotions that provide complimentary cabin upgrades, beverage packages and Wi-Fi access sweeten the deal. Cruise lines often entice passengers with free gratuities or free shipboard credits, which are as good as cash on the ship. The credits are posted to your onboard account, and you can redeem them for spa treatments, shore excursions and purchases in the photo gallery and boutiques. They also can be applied to bar tabs and specialty restaurant bills.
Celebrity has been known to run promotions that allow buyers to choose one -- sometimes two -- free perks when they book certain types of cabins (typically ocean-view staterooms or above). The options usually include shipboard credits, prepaid gratuities, a free drinks package or unlimited Internet.
Departures at www.VacationsToGo.com show every available perk where applicable. The company's weekly e-newsletter also outlines the latest offers.
Flaunt your past-passenger status. Cruise lines thank loyal guests by offering them exclusive discounts or upgrades, reduced deposits and shipboard credits. Be sure to advise your travel agent if you're a repeat customer of certain companies so that he or she can ferret out any additional savings.
More perquisites await on the ship for those who are members of a cruise line's loyalty program. These tiered clubs are based on a point system, with points earned for the number of nights you sail with the company and sometimes the type of cabin you book. Enrollment usually is automatic after your first voyage.
The worthwhile benefits don't kick in until you've invested a significant number of vacation days with a line, but for guests who are die-hard fans, fidelity can pay off. Cruisers who make it to the platinum level of Carnival's VIFP program (that's Very Important Fun Person) after accumulating 75 days with the company get priority check-in and boarding, an invitation to a private cocktail party, complimentary laundry service (two to five bags, depending on the length of the cruise), two-for-one entry in casino tournaments, chocolate-dipped strawberries delivered to the cabin, a gift with the Carnival logo and priority status for spa appointments, dinner reservations and tenders ashore.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Spring 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.