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Planning a Cruise? When to Book and When to Sail

Alaska, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Europe offer amazing cruises, but at different times of year and different price points. We break down the best options for each region.
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With the cruise season in full swing and so many options available, booking a cruise can be daunting. All those flashing boxes screaming "Book Now" and "Fast Deal" add pressure to an already confusing task and can make you feel like giving up.

But fear not! We've put together a comprehensive set of guidelines to help you figure out how to get the best value for your cruise. You'll find advice on why to avoid dirt-cheap cruises to the Caribbean in September and how to time your vacation with whale-watching in Hawaii, as well as which cruise lines will probably offer last minute price drops.


Alaska

Alaska

Best Time to Go: May, September

Cruises to Alaska offer a refreshing relief from the stifling heat and humidity during the summer months. The biggest cruise operators in this region are Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises. Cruises typically include stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, and scenic cruising along the coastal route of the Inside Passage region. Most cruises also feature stunning cruising through the Glacier Bay National Reserve, offering cruisers the opportunity to see wildlife like bears, puffins, and Humpback whales.

The Alaska cruise season runs from May to September, with peak cruising in July and August. The best prices are usually found in early May or September, with prices for 7-night cruises starting at around $599 per person. If you are determined to go during the peak months, consider booking for the following year. Cruises will still be slightly more expensive than those at the start or end of the season, but only marginally so.

We'd expect to find cruises on dates in July and August 2017 starting from around $649, compared to similar 2016 cruises which start around $779.

If you're flexible and able to leave at the drop of a hat, it is also worth keeping an eye out for a last minute deal, especially in June. In 2015 we saw last minute cruises on Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises with prices starting from $329 per person.


Caribbean

The Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda

Best Time to Go: May

If you'd rather spend your time among palm trees and sandy beaches than glaciers and whales, a cruise to the Caribbean might be a more suitable choice for you. With stops in locations like Bermuda, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Antigua, Mexico, Haiti, and Jamaica, there's an island paradise to suit all tastes. The best thing about these cruises is that temperatures usually stay within a pleasant 70℉ to 80℉, and most of the major cruise lines operate cruises year round. Watch out for discounted cruises from August to October though, as this is hurricane season.

The second advantage to this cruise destination is that it's perfect for shorter cruises. 2-, 3-, and 4-night cruises are much easier to schedule and start from as little as $95 per person. Make sure to check Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, especially if you're booking a short cruise to the Bahamas, where we found the majority of discounts last year.

If you can spare the vacation time, a 7-night cruise is still pretty economical when compared to week-long cruises to Hawaii, Alaska, and Europe. However, we noticed that eastern Caribbean cruises (to destinations such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos) were usually more expensive than their western counterparts (which typically stop at ports in Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Haiti.)

If you don't mind a little hurricane with your cruise, the best discounts can be found in September with rates from as low as $389 per person for a 7-night cruise. But for the safer (saner) sailors, there are still rates from as little as $429 per person in peak months like May.


Hawaii

Hawaii

Best Time to Go: March, April, May

America's own island paradise, Hawaii remains one of the top vacation destinations for U.S. travelers thanks to it's pristine beaches, laid back beach vibe, and romantic sunsets. A cruise to Hawaii usually includes stops in Honolulu, as well as Kona, Hilo, Maui, and Kauai, making it an efficient way to see a lot of Hawaii in a short amount of time.

Thanks to some clever loophole-finding, Norwegian Cruise Line dominates the Hawaii cruise scene. It's Pride of America ship is the only major cruise line operating a year-round service to Hawaii. Princess Carnival, Celebrity, and Holland America lines offer more limited seasonal routes in April and May.

The most popular time to visit Hawaii is during the Fourth of July break and the Christmas holiday season, when (not surprisingly) we see rates for a 7-night cruise jump as high as $1,999 per person. Save yourself almost 70% (as well as the headache of crowded ships) and sail in the more civilized months of March, April, and May, when prices drop to an average of $899 per person.

And don't worry about missing the whales: Whale-watching season runs from November right through May. Last year we saw plenty of last minute deals for these months last year, so keep a close eye on Norwegian Cruise Line and check back frequently to find these fleeting (fleeting!) deals.


Mediterranean

The Mediterranean and Europe

Best Time to Go: May, November

Combine your cruise with a chance to experience the history, art, and culture of Europe's Mediterranean region. This area is usually divided into east and west. Cruises around the Eastern route usually include Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Turkey, while the western route usually includes Spain, France, and the Canary Islands.

The Mediterranean cruise season sees a major peak in the summer months from June though August, when temperatures sore and crowds abound. But the great thing about Europe is that there are plenty of art galleries, museums, cafes, and shops to entertain you regardless of the weather, so opt for a cruise in the spring or late fall instead.

Not only will off-peak cruises save you hassle, we see significant deals for these months too. A 7-night cruise in May or November last year started at around $389 per person, compared to a cruise in the summer months which started at about $100 more per person.

All the major cruise lines service the Mediterranean, but for a more European flavor to your cruise, opt for one of the European-based operators like MSC Cruises or Costa Cruises. If you're planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip, it's worth looking into luxury yacht cruises from operators like Windstar. You could also opt for a river cruise from Viking River Cruises, which operates cruises along rivers like the Rhine, Danube, Seine, and more.

When are your favorite times to book and to cruise? Let us know in the comments below.


Associate Travel Editor Emeritus

Paula Bradley has taught English in Japan and Italy, and she has written for several e-zines aimed at Westerners living abroad. She uses her experience across the six continents to inform her travel features at DealNews.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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1 comment
catski66
Good article, but what about Mexico? :)
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