Nobody likes paying retail for anything, least of all a cruise vacation. It is safe to say that, with a few exceptions, you should rarely have to pay the rate shown in the brochure for your next cruise. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. But, before we get into price, let's define "Best Deal" in broader terms.
It is possible that you could get the cheapest cruise and save lots of money, but end up with a lousy cabin on an old, dirty ship with terrible food. Would you consider that a "Good Deal"? I don't think so. Hopefully, what you are looking for is the best "Value". In other words, find the best cruise available within a budget that you feel comfortable with.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CRUISE LINE
This can be a difficult task unless you are a knowledgeable cruise enthusiast. This is where a qualified travel agent can offer a lot of assistance. Some cruise lines tend to target specific demographic groups, such as senior citizens, young couples, families, adventure seekers, etc. Most of the large "mainstream" cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, NCL, Princess) have a very broad appeal to a larger number of passengers. In other words, there's something for everyone.
The larger mainstream cruise lines tend to sail the largest ships and, consequently, tend to offer the lowest cruise fares. It is simple economics: a ship carrying 3,000+ guests can offer a lot of services for less cost than a ship that only carries, say, 300 guests. If you are on a strict budget, you may want to stick with the major mainstream cruise lines to get the best price.
However, even within the larger cruise lines, there are subtle differences. Carnival and Royal Caribbean have excellent reputations for their Broadway-style entertainment while NCL's ships have nine or more restaurants. Celebrity tends to appeal to a slightly more mature audience with less emphasis on children's programs than Carnival, NCL or Royal Caribbean. This is where you simply have to do some research by reading cruise reviews from other consumers who have actually "been there and done that."
The larger the cruise line/ship, the lower the cost.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT STATEROOM
We have an entire article dedicated to this one subject. Your best value will be on a lower deck toward the front or aft end of the ship. The cheapest staterooms are usually at the far front or far aft section of the deck. However, you can often find a stateroom that is 1/3 of the way from the front or aft section and get close to the same rate as someone at the very front of aft. If a balcony is not an absolute necessity for you, consider an oceanview stateroom with a window. You will save a fair amount of money. You can save even more if you get an inside stateroom with no window!
The lower the cabin is on the ship, the better the price
ARE YOU TRAVELING ALONE?
If you are a single traveler, you should be aware that most cruise lines charge what is referred to as a "single supplement". Cruise lines base their rates on two people staying in each cabin. If you are going to travel by yourself, they will charge you a supplement fee. Some cruise lines will charge as much as 200%, so you are basically paying for the other person. The single supplement rates will vary from one cruise line to another, and from one sailing date to another. A good travel agent can be an invaluable resource, especially if your travel dates are flexible. If your travel dates are rigid, then ask your travel agent to compare the single supplement for three different cruise lines on the same date. One cruise line may have a slightly higher fare, but if they are offering a 125% supplement instead of a 150%, that could end up being a better deal. Some cruise lines will even waive the supplement fee altogether on some sailings.
CONSIDER A REPOSITIONING CRUISE
A "repositioning" cruise takes place when a ship is moved from one part of the world to another, generally on a seasonal basis. For example, many cruise lines will position ships in Alaska in the summer months when the days are longer. In September or October, they will move those ships back to the Caribbean. You can often find some pretty nice rates on these repositioning cruises, so make sure to ask your travel agent about them.
CHOOSING THE TIME OF YEAR
If you have some flexibility as to when you are able to travel, it can make a big difference in your cruise fare. Holidays are always more expensive. Spring break can be very expensive, also. If you are planning a Caribbean cruise, consider a September/October time frame as kids are back in school and it is hurricane season. Don't be too concerned about hurricanes. Let everyone else's fear get you a better deal.
USE A TRAVEL AGENT
The best way to insure that you are getting the best deal is to use the services of a good cruise professional. It may be tempting to go online and simply book your cruise directly with the cruise line, but you may not get the best deal by doing so. You may also think that by booking your cruise directly with the cruise line you will get a better price. However, this is not necessarily the case. Cruise lines, for the most part, will not undercut the price at which a travel agent can sell the same cruise. If they were to do so, travel agents would simply stop selling that cruise line's product.
Using a travel agent also gives you an advantage in the event that a problem may arise. The travel agent can act on your behalf as your advocate to resolve any issues. Your travel agent my do hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in business each year with a cruise line, so they will have more leverage than you will on your own.
You are almost always better off using a good travel agent to book your cruise
Another common myth is thinking that you will get a better deal by booking a "last minute" cruise. However, cruise lines offer the best rates to customers who book a year or more ahead of time. Even if the cruise line drops their price 60 or 90 days before the sailing, most will honor the new rate on your purchase. However, the biggest benefit to booking in advance is you get a better choice of cabins. If you wait until the last minute, you are basically running the risk of getting a cabin that nobody else wanted. When you book your cruise six months or a year in advance, you are only required to put up a deposit to hold the cabin. Note: you should always put your cruise deposit on a credit card. Never pay by check or cash.
You get the best deal by booking in advance
USE YOUR CREDIT CARD BENEFITS
Some credit card companies have special offers tied to specific cruise lines. You should check with your credit card company to see what they offer in the way of shipboard credits by using their card to make your cruise purchase.
ASK ABOUT SHIPBOARD CREDIT
Cruise lines will sometimes offer $100 or $200 per person/cabin in shipboard credits on certain sailings. You should ask your travel agent about these offers. You will be amazed at how quickly you can rack up $100 to $200 in spending on a cruise. Remember, on most cruises you will be paying for your drinks (sodas, cocktails, beer & wine), any shore excursions/tours, spa treatments and gratuities. Having the shipboard credit can help to offset those expenses.
BUY TRIP INSURANCE
An important part of getting a good deal is protecting your investment. We are big believers in trip insurance and we never go on a cruise without buying a policy. We have been using 3rd party insurance for the past 7 years and have always had a good experience. We prefer the 3rd party insurance plans as opposed to the insurance offered by the cruise lines. A typical cruise line insurance policy only protects you if the cruise is canceled or in some cases, if the cruise line goes into bankruptcy. The insurance we purchase covers that plus provides protection from airline delays, lost or damaged luggage, and medical services. On one of our cruises, I required the services of the doctor on board the ship. The bill from the cruise line was $750! (yes, they do charge for medical services on the ship) When we returned home, I sent my documentation to the insurance company and received a check for the entire amount within three weeks.
There are so many cruise lines and so many new ships being built that it is easier to get a good deal on a cruise now than ever before. The value of a cruise vacation is better than it has ever been. So why wait? Call your travel agent today and book that cruise!