The travel and cruise industry has officially launched “Wave Season,” which runs through March and is the year’s busiest booking season. It’s a time when cruise lines offer some of the year’s best rates, amenities and travel options, including cabin upgrades, onboard credits, pre-cruise hotel stays, pre-paid gratuities and secured bookings.
Keep in mind, however, that Wave Season is a little like Black Friday, which means that while there are great bargains to be had, not every cruise offered during that period will represent the best possible deal for you.
First calculate the regular cost of the cruise that interests you. Do some research on typical fares for the itinerary you have in mind. Remember that a 7-night cruise to Alaska will have a higher base price than a 7-night Caribbean itinerary, so compare apples to apples, not oranges. And if you’re interested in free upgrades, check the regular price differential between an outside cabin and a balcony cabin. If it’s an onboard credit you want, calculate what you might spend on excursions, drinks, souvenirs and such. (The Travel Budget Calculator at IndependentTraveler.com will help compute these costs.) If you’re looking for free airfare, check the regular cost between your hometown and the port from which you’d be sailing.
Evaluate the sales. Read the fine print. The discount or perk being advertised may or may not apply to the cruise or cabin category you want. Check expiration dates to see if they work for you.
Compare cruise line promotions with the same sailings sold through a travel agent — because agencies sometimes offer additional “extras.”
Some current promotions (more will continue to be announced throughout Wave Season):
- Norwegian Cruise Line. Through Feb. 28, you can book a balcony stateroom for the price of an ocean view stateroom or an ocean view stateroom for the price of an inside stateroom on any Norwegian ship in any destination. Every new reservation will also receive $300 worth of e-coupons to use on board toward spa treatments, personal training sessions, discounts in the casino and more, plus reduced deposits on all sailings of three days or longer.
- Disney Cruise Line. Kids under 17 sail free on select four-, five-. six- and eight-night cruises in early 2013 from Miami and Galveston, Texas. From Galveston, Texas, cruise on the Disney Magic to the Western Caribbean and the Bahamas. From Miami, cruise on the Disney Wonder on four- and five-night cruises to the same destinations. (Though kids sail free, you’ll still pay taxes, between $40 and $84 a day, depending on the cruise.)
- Carnival Cruise Line. Special rates on “Fun Select” specials; cabin guarantees where you pick the stateroom category; inside, oceanview (non-opening window), veranda or suite, and pay a minimum price. However, you will not be assigned a specific cabin until you check in.
And just to add another component into the mix, Priceline has its own promotions, offering hotel bonus cash coupons to customers who book select cruises on the site. For example, if you book an oceanview or higher stateroom on any 5- to 6-night cruise, you get a bonus cash coupon valid toward a one-night Name Your Own Price hotel stay. In addition, Priceline Cruises’ major cruise line partners are offering many other extras, including:
- Royal Caribbean International: 4 nights from $247 ($62/night); up to an extra $200 off.
- Celebrity Cruises: 4 nights from $209 ($52/night); up to $100 free onboard spending; reduced deposit.
If you’d rather not do all this research, a cruise specialist travel agent can describe all the current offers, as well as options that may not be generally known. (Find one on the CLIA website (Cruise Lines International Association.)
If you’re tempted by the sales but just aren’t ready to book, don’t feel as if “it’s now or never.” There will be cruise promotions all year long; they just won’t be announced in advance.
P.S. If you do decide to buy a Wave Season special, consider the protection travel insurance; find some comparisons on TopTenReviews.