Best time to book a cruise: early-bird or last minute

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So it’s time to book your next holiday and you’ve decided you want to go on a cruise! But when is the best time to book a cruise? Now, to get early-bird rates and good availability? Or is it better to wait and get last-minute bargain? The simple answer is that the best time to book a cruise depends on your particular preferences and requirements. The itinerary, the ship, booking windows and seasons, bank holidays and school breaks, and special considerations like family staterooms or accessible staterooms all play a role in when you should book.

We’ve made a list of tips to help you find the optimal time to book your next cruise.

The early bird gets the worm… and a cruise bargain

Generally speaking, if you book early, you can take advantage of special early-booking rates. These special rates start right when booking opens up – usually up to two years before departure – and are only available for a limited time. And once they’re gone they’re gone. You really don’t want to miss the boat here.

There are also other benefits to booking early besides just saving money. If you have a specific itinerary or a certain ship in mind, then it’s best to start thinking about your cabin selection early. The earlier you book, the more likely different staterooms are to be available. By booking early, you’ll be able to choose not just the category of stateroom you want but also the deck and location onboard. Even if there’s no early-bird discount for your particular cruise, you can be sure to secure the itinerary, ship, and stateroom that are perfect for you.

Cruise1st tip: Higher-level suite categories are popular and fill up early. If you’re determined to stay in an Owner’s Suite during your cruise, book early!

If you’re interested in special voyages like world cruises, maiden voyages, or event cruises will also want to make sure to book early. These popular cruise categories will sell out quickly!

School holidays – the best time to book for your family

Kids running by the beach/ Kids on the dance floor

If you’re planning a family cruise, booking early is the best choice – especially if you want to travel over the school holidays. By booking early, you’ll secure not only the best rates, but have the best selection of connecting and group staterooms – perfect for families travelling together.

Connecting staterooms are two neighbouring staterooms which are connected by a door. This is the perfect option for families if parents want to be close to their children but not sleep in the same room. The number of connecting staterooms on any given ship is limited, so be sure to ask about them early. If you require a crib, baby monitor, or any additional items, you should also request them early on. On holidays and school breaks, there are lots of children on board and as children’s services are first-come, first-serve, they might not be available anymore if you book too late.

Accessibility onboard

People with limited mobility, chronic illnesses, and even dialysis patients are all welcome on a cruise ship. Cruising can be a low-stress way for people with special needs to enjoy a relaxing vacation. It’s just important to make sure in advance that the cruise line can accommodate your needs.

Today, nearly every ship at sea has at least a few wheelchair-accessible staterooms. The number, however, will vary from ship to ship, and they often sell out quickly. So if you need an accessible stateroom or special care during your cruise, it’s also a good idea to book early.

Cruising in high season

Trees and chair covered in snow/ A lady coming out of a pool

Most people book their summer holiday in winter, when the thought of warm temperatures and sunbathing by the pool helps them get through the dark nights and cold temperatures. This of course means that the demand for cruising is highest in summer. If you want to cruise during this time, you’ll be competing with increased demand, and may have to make some compromises on your preferred itinerary, ship, or stateroom if you wait too long to book.

Cruise 1st always gives the following advice: “If you want to cruise during summer, book at least half a year in advance. Only then will you have the best chance at finding your dream cruise.”

Cruising during the festive period: Christmas and New Year’s at sea

A child sitting on a bench beside Santa Claus/ Firework on the sea

Similar to high season, cruises over the holidays are extremely popular. There is particularly high demand for cruises on Christmas and New Year’s. While cruises leading up to Christmas will have attractive prices and may be available last-minute, you can expect high prices and even higher demand for a Christmas cruise or a New Year’s cruise. School-age children are on winter break, so the demand for family cruises during this time is particularly high. It’s unlikely that you’ll find any last-minute availability on these in-demand cruises, so if you want to go on a holiday cruise, book early!

Another popular time for family cruises is over Easter and in the Spring. As the temperatures start to rise, people get more and more excited about travelling. Springtime can be a great time for a Caribbean, Mediterranean, or repositioning cruise. During this time, many cruise ships are shifting their routes from their winter to their summer destinations, which means good news for cruisers in North America and Europe: more cruises are departing from home ports.

Last-minute – Bargain prices but little flexibility

It’s always possible that you’ll find a great deal on your dream cruise departing soon. Some cruise lines even offer discounts on last-minute cruises, giving away their unsold cabins at rock-bottom prices.

During high season, demand is so high, you’ll rarely find a last-minute discount. Ships tend to be booked to capacity and you’ll be pressed to find an available cabin if you wait too long. However, it’s a much different story in the low season. There’s a much better chance you’ll be able to snag a last-minute deal. Bear in mind that your preferred travel dates, your favourite ship, or your dream cabin may not be available. You’ll also be traveling in the low season, so you may have to put up with cooler weather in the Mediterranean and there may even be hurricanes in the Caribbean. But if you’re a flexible cruiser and don’t mind compromising on some of these things, then it may just be worth it to hold out for a last-minute deal.

Want to secure a spot on your dream cruise? Browse through our cruise itinerary or call our helpful cruise experts under 0808 302 4414 today.

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About Author

Claire Wilde

Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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