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How to find the best cruise deals

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How to find the best cruise deals

In this guide our experts offer five ways to save on cruises.

 

Keeping the costs down on a cruise is never plain sailing. Which? Travel helps you navigate the best cruise deals and save money at sea

1. Book your cruise early

In recent years, many cruise companies have ditched last-minute discounts – even if this means ships are not full when they sail. 

To bag a bargain, grab an early-bird fare – usually released 12 to 18 months in advance. You’ll get a great price, have your pick of the cabins, choose the departure dates and flights you want, and be showered with complimentary extras. 

We checked Celebrity’s nine-night Adriatic Discoveries cruise in its first week on sale (over 12 months before the departure date). We found savings of up to £700 on the fare, plus a free all-inclusive drinks package, valet parking and $300 to spend on board.

2. Use an agent

Specialist travel agents are often able to give a better range of discounts or deals than would be on offer by going direct to cruise lines. Agents bulk-buy cabins at lower rates, which means they can pass that discount on to the customer. For example, we found an interior room on Celebrity's Norwegian Fjords cruise for £774pp on cruise.co.uk, rather than £819pp direct - a saving of £90 per couple.

But don't just stick to one cruise agent. There's always some wiggle room if you're happy to haggle. When we told Cruisedeals.co.uk that a balcony room on P&O's Western Med cruise was cheaper with Virgin Holidays Cruise, it came down from £1,219pp to £1,203pp.

Even if agents can't beat the cruise line's own rate, they can usually offer sweeteners such as on-board credit, or prepaid gratuities.

3. Buy your own flights

Flight-inclusive deals from cruise lines give peace of mind in case of flight delays or cancellations (in which case the ship will wait for you). Sometimes they offer great rates, too, as cruise lines are able to bulk-book seats. But in some cases, buying your own flights can be significantly cheaper.

We found a huge saving of £787 per person on P&O’s Sydney to Hong Kong cruise  by organising our own Etihad flights arriving at the same time as the BA/Etihad combination that P&O offered us.

To find the best airlines for your destination, see the results of our annual airlines survey.

If you do book your own flight, make sure you're aware of your cruise consumer rights. It may be that if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you won't be able to get a refund on the cruise (unless your insurance covers it). And if you choose to catch up with the cruise, it will be at your own expense.

4. Save on drinks on board

Cruising and boozing can be very bad for your wallet, especially if you travel with one of the big US-based cruise lines. A glass of wine on board  a Royal Caribbean ship, for example, will cost you  at least $10, plus a 15% service charge.

Think you can cut costs by bringing your own drinks on board? Think again. Very few cruise lines allow this (the exceptions are Regent Seven Seas, Saga and P&O). 

You can sometimes save with an all-inclusive drinks package, although the amount depends on how many drinks you plan to have. Our table shows you how much you would need to drink per day to make a package worthwhile at full price. Remember that some lines insist you buy the package for the entire cruise - not just on selected days.

However, drinks packages are often discounted, or even thrown in for free with early bird deals. Always buy the package in advance for the best prices. 

Company Price of cheapest package (per person, per day)¹ Approximate cost of drinks at the bar How much you'd need to drink each day to justify a package
Fred Olsen Cruises £15 soft drink £2
glass of wine £4.05
pint of beer £3.70
2x soft drinks
and
3x glass of wine or 3x pint of beer
Riviera Travel €15.57 soft drink €2.50
glass of wine €2.50
400ml draft beer €4
2x soft drinks
and
5x glass of wine or 3x draft beer
Cruise & Maritime Voyages £17 soft drink £2.05
glass of wine £3.20
bottle of beer £2.80
2x soft drinks
and
5x glass of wine or 5x bottle of beer
Thomson Cruises £28.50 soft drink £1.80
glass of wine £4
pint of beer £3.70
2x soft drinks
and
7x glass of wine or 7x pint of beer
Holland America $44.95 soft drink $1.95
glass of wine $5.50
bottle of beer $3.75
2x soft drinks
and
8x glass of wine or 11x bottle of beer
Celebrity Cruises $55 soft drink $2.50
glass of wine $5.50
bottle of beer $5.50
2x soft drinks
and
10x glass of wine or 10x bottle of beer
Princess Cruises $57.45 soft drink $1.95
glass of wine $6.75
bottle of beer $4.95
2x soft drinks
and
8x glass of wine or 11x bottle of beer
Norwegian Cruise Line $59 soft drink $2.10
glass of wine $6.25
bottle of beer $5.50
2x soft drinks
and
9x glass of wine or 10x bottle of beer
Royal Caribbean $65 soft drink $2.50
glass of wine $10
bottle of beer $5.50
2x soft drinks
and
7x glass of wine or 11x bottle of beer
¹Non-discounted rates
NB NHS guidelines advise no more than 14 units of alcohol per week

 

5. Save on shore excursions

Most cruise lines sell excursions at exorbitant prices, and you’ll save money if you go it alone or book with a third party.  We looked at the shore excursions offered by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) on its seven-day Western Mediterranean cruise, and found near-identical options at half the price. For example, NCL’s walking tour of Pisa and Florence is £204pp, whereas Cruisingexcursions.com’s alternative is just £78pp. In fact, if you were to choose a third-party excursion for all six ports on this cruise, you would save a staggering £534 per couple. 

Find alternatives by checking out passengers’ reviews on Cruisecritic.co.uk. Companies such as Cruisingexcursions.com guarantee they will get you back to your ship in plenty of time, but promise to get you to the next port of call if there’s an unavoidable delay.

How much could I save?

£953ppTotal saving

In August 2017, we found a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise with Celebrity, departing in August 2018, including drinks, flights and two shore excursions and departing in August 2018. By following  these steps, we secured a discount of 34% on the initial price of £2,788 per person.

  • Save £600pp. An early bird booking for August 2018 offered £600 off the cost of a sea-view balcony room. It also included a drinks package for two worth $770 (£600).
  • Save £310pp. The cost of the included flights (London to Miami return: Swissair/Austrian Airlines) was £1,083pp, but on Skyscanner we found similar times and a shorter flight duration (TAP Portugal) for £773pp.
  • Save £30pp. By shopping around with the agents, we wangled exactly the same room for £976pp (the room-only cost with Celebrity was £1,006pp).
  • Save £13pp. Two shore excursions with Celebrity cost £99, but we found similar tours on Cruisingexcursions.com and Shoretrips.com for £86.
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