Yet another subject that is the cause of much cruiser consternation is when to book a cruise. Well, it depends on whether you are driven purely by price or if you would rather have your choice of ship, cabin and sailing date.
If you decide to wait for the last minute bargain, it's true that you may find some great prices on certain cruises, but then again, you may find no space at all on the cruise of your dreams, or you might end up paying more than you want to because the early booking deals are all sold out.
Knowing when to book your cruise will vary greatly based on the destination you're looking to cruise to and is predicated by its popularity and the number and size of ships in that region. It will also vary from ship to ship and by cabin category. While $499 sounds great for an inside cabin, what if you want an oceanview or balcony and none are available?
OUR GOLDEN RULE FOR BOOKING: If you must have a specific ship, sailing date or accommodations, book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
Let's explore some of the latest booking trends in the most popular regions. Please bear in mind that booking trends are changing continually and that you should use these as a guideline only.
ALASKA While the Alaska season typically runs from May through September and there are new ships being added every year, you may be surprised to know that peak sailing dates in July and August typically sell out 8 to 9 months in advance.
What sells out first: balcony cabins on the newest ships typically sell out the quickest, with the Gulf Route between Vancouver and Anchorage being the most popular. These are usually combined with land tours to the interior of Alaska and space on the land tours is extremely limited. And the Southbound are usually more popular than the Northbound sailings. If you want your choice of ship, sailing date and cabin book these cruises/cruisetours by December at the latest. Some cruise lines are taking reservations for the 2001 season already. Good space and rates can be found on Celebrity's Infinity which is already starting to fill and once Celebrity and RCI finalize their new Cruise-Tour programs, space on these will no doubt go quickly. RCI will also introduce their new Radiance of the Seas in Alaska in 2001 -- be on the lookout for that announcement to get the best space and rates.
What can you wait around for: The Round Trip cruises from Vancouver. These usually fill up at a slower pace than the Gulf Route cruises. And "off peak" sailings in May and September often present great deals. And as of late, Celebrity, NCL and RCCL have been offering some unbelievable deals on Alaska sailings from as low as $599.00 for inside cabins, $699 for oceanview, and deluxe cabins with balcony for as low as $899 on select sailings in May.
BAHAMAS/CARIBBEAN: While there is no shortage of berths here, booking trends tend to be very predictable yet volatile at the same time.
What sells out first: Christmas/New Years, Presidents Week in February, Spring Break Week in March, Easter Week and July/August sailings when the children are out of school. To get the space you want on the cruise and necessary air arrangements, don't hesitate to book 9 to 11 months in advance if possible.
The remainder of February, March and April sailings usually start to fill up once the weather starts to turn cold in the Northeast and Midwest. You can usually find bargains both in advance and at the last minute. But if you want a specific type of cabin, you may consider booking as early as possible. If you're flexible, consider waiting for a "deal" to show up.
What you can wait for: Bargains abound on September, October, November, early December and post holiday sailings in January and good space can be found as close in as 60 days prior to sailing.
BERMUDA: Prime space in July/August usually sells out 6 to nine months in advance yet good space and pricing can be found close in on April/May and September/October sailings.
EUROPE: While Europe is yet another cruising region that is experiencing an explosive rate of growth as cruise lines add one ship after another and that experienced a soft year last year due to the Kosovo Conflict, Europe is hot hot hot this year. Many of the most desirable sailings and ships sold out very early this year.
What sells out first: Like Alaska, the balcony cabins on the newest ships sell out the quickest. And as cruising gains popularity amongst Europeans and Americans, the 7 night sailings in the Med and to the Baltic are particularly popular. However, longer cruises by Princess's Grand Princess and Celebrity's Millennium were the hottest trips going this year and much of their prime space sold out quickly. If you want a balcony on one of these ship for this year or next, start looking now. Looking forward to next year, the books will open shortly. Princess's Golden Princess; Celebrity's Millennium, Constellation and Galaxy; HAL's Rotterdam and Amsterdam; and RCI's Grandeur and Legend of the Seas. Prime space on these ships will sell out quickly so be prepared to act quickly.
What you can wait around for: Older ships; such as HAL's Noordam and NCL's Norwegian Dream typically offer some great deals close in and once again mirroring Alaska's booking trends, good space at good rates can be found for "off peak" sailings in May and October.
Other markets such As Hawaii, New England/Canada, South America the South Pacific and Australia have fairly limited capacity and your best bet is to go with the cruise line early booking discount.
If you do book early and see a promotion come along closer to sailing that offers a lower price, contact your travel agent to see if you are eligible for the lower price. In many instances, the cruise lines will honor the new, lower price and you still get the ship, sailing date and cabin you wanted.