Using a cruise discounter like CruiseDirect.com can save you big on booking a cruise.
How to save money on cruises
This page deals primarily with cruise deals and bargains. Other pages have information on cruise safety records and cancellation policies, how to avoid cruise "scams", and savings on shore excursions.
Cruise deals mentioned on CNN
How to find cruises
• Search engines & aggregators
• Competitive agencies
• Adventure & expedition cruises
• Other resourcesThe bargain cruises—all for under $500—I mentioned on the CNN appearence of Feb. 16, 2013.
Some of these may vanish within days—as sale prices often do—but these types of deals can still be found at any one of these cruise discounters (and it was like throwing darts to pick the specific examples; each discounter can find great cruise prices for all lines and all destinations).
- Bahamas (Miami, Nassau, Coco Cay), Royal Caribbean, 4 nights: from $179 (OnlineVacationCenter.com)
- Mexico (Miami, Key West, Cozumel), Celebrity, 4 nights: From $299 (CruiseBrothers.com)
- Caribbean (Miami, Bahamas, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Grand Turk), Carnival, 7 nights: from $429 (Cruisedirect.com)
- Alaska (Anchorage, Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, Vancouver), Norwegian, 7 nights: from $429 (CruisesOnly.com)
- Mediterranean (Rome, Sicily, Greece, Turkey), Royal Caribbean, 7 nights: from $499 (iCruise.com)
- Transatlantic (Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Azores, England), Royal Caribbean, 14 nights: from $449 (Cruise411.com)
- East Asia (Japan: Kobe, Nagasaki; South Korea: Pusan; China: Dalian, Beijing), Holland America, 7 nights: from $449 (WhiteTravel.com)
First of all, ther are many types of cruises, from low-priced Caribbean party ships to luxury ocean liners, historic European cruises to masted tall ships in New England, small ship adventure cruises to river cruises. Which is right for you depends entirely on your interests and temperment.
There are definite beenfits to cruising. Rather than make you pack and unpack and repack again to trudge from hotel to hotel in order to tour the great cities of Europe, or catch puddle-jumper planes to island-hop in the Caribbean, cruising allows you to unpack just once, settle in, and then it;s the hotel itself that scurries from port to port.
Plus: all-you-can-eat buffets.
What if what you want to see isn't located in or near a port? (Also, be careful when a cruise itinerary says "Rome" because it actually puts in at Civitavecchia, a 2 1/2 hour drive north of the city!)
Cruising is most definitely not the way to see a place like, say, Europe for the first time—not if you want to truly experience the culture and people. Cruising is an act of travel that appeals greatly to some, and defines one of the lesser circles of Hell to others. You know which kind you are.
If you've never cruised but the idea appeals, for heaven's sake don't spend thousands of dollars to find out whether you like it on a European trip. Take a $399 cruise in the Caribbean first—to sample the waters, as it were.
How to find the best inexpensive cruises
(And don't miss the more personal shopper–like service, CruiseCompete.com, described below.)
However, to find the best deals, you usually have to go to a specialist cruise discounter:
More cruising tips:
Avoid the money pits - A list of how cruise lines make their money off you—and how you can game the system for savings...
D.I.Y. Shore Excursions - I have a separate section devoted to helping you save money by booking your own shore excursions... These guys will sell you cruises literally for anywhere from 10% to 50% less than the cruise companies themselves. Please allow me to repeat that in simple terms since it is so hugely significant.
Same cruise. Same ship. Same cabin. Half price. No joke.
When Windstar line's own site was selling a week-long Mediterranean cruise around Italy and Croatia on the Wind Surf starting at $2,249, Vacationstogo.com was selling the exact same cabins for $1,299.
Too high-end for you? Well even when Carnival.com has a seemingly unbeatable price of $249 for a five-night cruise of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula out of Mobile aboard the Carnival Holiday, CruiseDirect.com was still underselling them at $199.
There are way too many fer-instances to point to—and deals come and go constantly—so here's just one more. In the summer of 2009, Cruisewizard.com was selling a classic, six-night Transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton, england on the Cunard Queen Mary 2 for just $509. (That's not a typo. There's no "1," missing from the front or anything. That's "five hundred and nine dollars.")
OK, sure, that $509 price was for an inside cabin... but an outside cabin cost just $609. You could even upgrade to one with a balcony at $699. Oh, and did I mention the $75 shipboard credit ($150 credit for balcony rooms) that brought the effective prices down to $434 inside, $534 outside, and $549 balcony?
These aren't scams. They're discounters. There are loads of legit one out there. Here are just a few faves:
Cruise Direct (www.cruisedirect.com)
One of the top cruise discounters in the business, consistently underselling the higher rack rates you'll see posted on the web sites of the cruise companies themselves. CruiseDirect.com even have a last-minute page with discounts on soon-to-leave ships.
Travel Themes and Dreams (Travelthemesanddreams.com)
Run by "Leisure Larry" Fishkin, and particularly good for packages: knitting together a discount cruise with reduced airfare to/from the port, and sometimes hotels stays before/after the cruise. A recent example: 7-night Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona for $1,399, including a night in a 4-star Barcelona hotel and the roundtrip transatlantic airfare.
Other great cruise discounters
Also great are Vacationstogo.com, Cruise411.com, Cruisebrothers.com, iCruise.com, Cruisesonly.com, Onlinevacationcenter.com, Bestpricecruises.com, and Cruisewizard.com (a.k.a. White Travel Service; cheesy, low-tech site, but consistently great bargains).
Let CruiseCompete.com do the shopping for you
You know the commercials for LendingTree.com? That whole "When banks compete, you win..." spiel? Well Cruise Compete (www.cruisecompete.com) is the same thing for cruises.
You put in the date and destination and ship (any or all of those), and it sends your cruise request to a whole bunch of cruise brokers and discounters. Each of them then contacts you with a quote on how little they can do that cruise for you. Basically, it does the shopping around for you, pretty cool, huh?
Not every cruise is all about party theme nights on a giant floating hotel. Some cruises are more adventurous, or venture to exotic locales that require a multi-night boat ride to reach, like the Arctic or Antarctica, or the Amazon River or Galapagos Islands.
These are the cruises that ply the Nile in a felucca, sail the Greek Islands in a sailboat, float down the Mekong in a raft, or take a three-day dragon boat ride through Vietnam's Halong Bay or along the coasts of Thailand or Turkey. Here's where to find them.
G Adventures (www.gadventures.com)
Whether sailing the Greek Islands or sailing Thailand, cruising the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands, or taking an expedition to Antarctica or Spitzbergen in the Arctic, G Adventures has some excellent ships and itineraries.
Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com)
Not quite as many offerings as the competition, but an excellent outfit that offers two types of cruises: aboard small boats (sleeping 8) around the Greek islands, Croatian Coast, and Thai Islands; and aboard classic ships on Antarctica cruises, Galapagos trips, felucca cruises on the Nile, and some other classic adventure cruises.
National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com)
Not cheap, but certainly top quality—especially since Lindblad teamed up with the venerable National Geographic to co-brand their adventurous cruises to Antarctica, the Galapagos, Alaska, Svalbard, the Amazon, Egypt, West Africa, Panama and Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, and the Mekong (as well as the Pacific Northwest Baja, the British Isles, Greek Islands, the Baltic, New Zealand, and a few other less exotic destinations).
TravlTips Freighter Cruises (www.travltips.com)
For a truly offbeat adventure, book a berth on an ocean freighter. Yes, container ships and cargo liners often have quite nice cabins available for paying passengers. They charge about $100 a day, including meals, and voyages tend to be long—most at least a month and change, some two or three months. There won't be a lido deck, or a stand-up comedian in a theater, or that many other passengers (most can accommodate just five to twelve people), but you will get a unique ocean-going experience of long days at sea, BBQs and movie nights with the crew, and a chance to experience the kind of genuine nautical life few cruisers will ever know.
Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com)
Independent website devoted to cruising in all its forms, with very active user forums and loads of intel on ships, cruise lines, ports of call, etc. Probably the #1 place to go online for cruise info. Now owned by TripAdvisor—though they apparently know you don't mess with success and their presence is largely unfelt. (Disclosure: the Editor-in-Chief of this site happens to be a friend of mine—though I've been recommending it since long before I met her.)
Similar to CruiseCritic—though rather smaller—with good message boards and some editorial content as well.
Small Ship Cruises (www.smallshipcruises.com)
Just what it sounds like: booking with dozens of outfits that offer cruises on small small ships in the Mediterranean, Russia, and Scandinavia as well as on the rivers of Europe (well, all over the world, technically, but those are the bits of Europe they cover).
Books groups of singles (ages 21 on up, but mostly 35–55) onto cruise ships, offering its own onboard program of events and mixers—and, most importantly, matching you with a same-gender cabin mate (of roughly the same age) so you don't have to pay the dreaded "single supplement."