Cruise booking tips

Tags: booking, ordering, tips

Booking Cruises online is growing in popularity thanks to many of the sites being extremely user-friendly, people are becoming more comfortable making online purchases, the convenience, and they are finding the best deals online.  Here are 8 tips to help you avoid some common errors when booking your cruise online without the assistance of a Travel Agent.  If you are ever confused about what you are booking, call the agency’s 800 number and talk to an agent.  Booking a Category 1A cabin on a Carnival Cruise and not realizing that a Category 1A is one twin bed on the floor and a twin bed that comes out of the wall.  Basically, it is bunk beds.  The least expensive inside cabin on a Carnival Cruise is a Category 1A and when you see “rates starting at $199 on a Carnival Ship” it is for 1A. Booking an Obstructed Ocean View Cabin thinking that they were getting a full view The least expensive Ocean View Cabin on most ships with all of the cruise lines are obstructed by life boats.  The cruise industry considers cabins on the outside of the ship to be Ocean View.  First time cruisers get very upset when they book an Ocean View cabin online and then they get to the cruise ship there is a life boat in front of their window.   The best way to prevent this from occurring is to printout a Deck Plan of the ship that you are booking onto and see where your cabin is located.  There is usually a pretty steep jump in price from Obstructed Ocean View to the full Ocean View.  Not understanding Cruise Line Cancellation Penalties If you book a cruise and the full payment is required at the time of booking, then you are already within the timeframe in which cancellations are penalized.  When you book online, you are fully responsible for knowing the cancellation policy of the cruise line and of the agency you are booking through. does not charge any admin fees for cancellations, but we required to follow the cruise lines policies.   Some other agencies charge booking and cancellation fees on top of the cruise lines policies, so you need to be aware of those as well.   Cruise line penalties usually start around 80 days prior to the sail date.  Adding Travel Insurance is the best way to reduce the risk of being penalized for last minute cancellations. Not Understanding what it means to book a Guarantee  When people book a cruise online and do not get a cabin assignment at the time of booking or they book an Inside or Ocean View Guarantee they sometimes do not understand what they are booking.  A Guarantee means that you are Guaranteed at least that category of cabin depending on availability.  So it leaves you opened to getting upgraded, but because you are giving the cruise line the ability to assign your cabin that once it is assigned the cruise line will not move it for you.  This is usually the way to get the best deal, but you give up control of location for the low price and the hopes for a “free” upgrade.  Not giving themselves enough time to get to the pier when they book their flights  Every port and airport is different so you need to find out what are the recommended arrival and departure times for flights for that sailing prior to arranging your flights.  You have to be to the pier 2.5 hours prior to the cruise ship departing.  Bonus Offers A growing online trend is great bonuses like Onboard Credits and Free Gratuities being offered by Online Travel Agencies.  These bonus offers set online agency’s deals apart from the cruise lines offers.  These offers can lower the total price of your cruise when booking online, but these bonus offers can also be confusing.   Many of these bonus offers only apply to certain cabin categories like only applying to balcony and suite.  When booking online, make sure that the cabin you are booking gets the bonus offer.  If it is confusing, call in to speak with an agent.  If you feel the site was misleading, then move on to another online cruise agency. Coupon Books Coupon Books vs. OnBoard Credits -  The Coupon Books are advertised as savings up to $400…  if you are choosing between coupon books and onboard credits which is actually cash to spend on board… then take the deal with On Board Credits.  Early Booking Savers If you are booking Carnival Cruises a few months prior to the cruise, the lowest rate offered is a rate that requires a non-refundable deposit.  The early saver rate is about 20% less than the other rates and gives the consumer the guarantee that if the rate drops.   I think the rate and guarantee is worth the non-refundable deposit.  As with any booking, I recommend buying travel insurance at time of deposit to protect your investment and yourself Before You Book Anyone looking to book a cruise for the first time should consider doing some research on their own. Many couples and families make the mistake of booking a particular cruise based solely on the recommendation of a travel agent and/or friends. While this is a good place to start, one should also read a few reviews from consumers who have recently cruised on the vessel you are considering for your upcoming vacation. Although much of what you read should be taken with a "grain of salt," both positive and negative input allows you to see a side of the cruise you wouldn't otherwise see prior to actually taking the cruise. Also, having an idea of what to expect before you embark is helpful. First off, lets dispel some myths. The idea that a cruise vacation will cost you less than a land based vacation is just not true anymore. I suppose sometimes it can be (and I'll address this issue later), but for the majority, it isn't, when you add up the cost for getting to the port (airfare for most or gas), gratuities, drinks, shore excursions and shopping. It's true, the price of a cruise includes your accommodations, entertainment and food. However, there's more to a vacation than eating, sleeping and nightlife. Many people are surprised to learn how expensive a cruise vacation can turn out to be, when you factor in the cost of airline tickets, pre or post hotel stays, alcoholic beverages, shore tours and souvenirs. When looking at the overall cost (and there are things you can do to save money), it's very comparable to a week at a moderate all inclusive resort, such as the ones you find in the Caribbean or Mexico.  Booking Your Cruise Vacation  There are deals on cruises out there, and you don't need to work all that hard to find them, if you are willing to sail in the Caribbean during hurricane season, or you can take time off for a vacation when schools are in session. I strongly recommend you shop around for a good price, keeping in mind that you will pay more for a cruise on a newer vessel than on an older one. If your goal is to save money, you're better off looking at older ships. However, keep in mind that older ships (which have NOT undergone a recent refurbishment) tend to generate more complaints from its passengers, including those dealing with physical maintenance, lack of ship amenities such as miniscule fitness centers and cramped kid's areas. Most cruise lines offer the same menus on all their ships; you won't notice much difference in shipboard activities or entertainment, but on an older ship, you can expect fewer choices, smaller public areas and decor that tends to be somewhat dated and worn. You may also see a marked difference in the quality of your accommodations, although Carnival does a great job in being consistent throughout the fleet in this area with larger than average low end cabins. Keep in mind a cruise on an older ship can cost you a third less money. However, you get what you pay for. Many people love older ships, saying they are more "intimate" but I can't in good conscience recommend them any longer. Many cruise lines use these older ships, relegated to short three and four night itineraries, as training vessels. Service can be hit or miss. There are some exceptions, such as Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas in Los Angeles which recently underwent a massive refurbishment. However, to get the most out of your cruise vacation, stick to ships that are less than five years old. You can really cut the cost of your cruise if you go in the "off season." I find the best prices, and the best weather January through May in the Caribbean. Christmas, New Years, spring break and summer tend to cost the most. As far as holidays go, Thanksgiving and Presidents week are more affordable as prices and crowds of kids tend to be lower and the weather in Mexico and in the Caribbean are great. I recommend talking to cruise only agencies, and either booking far in advance (up to a year) or within three months of the sail date to get the best price. You should ask your travel agent if he/she will keep track of the prices for you, in the event the price of your cruise drops later on. Even after final payment, some cruise lines will refund you the difference, while others will give shipboard credit or an upgrade. Just because an agency does not have the technology to keep track of the changes that occur with the cruise line's pricing structure (most don't) is no reason to go elsewhere. But you'd be smart to check back periodically with the cruise line to see if the cost of your cruise has gone down. Booking your own airfare will save you a considerable amount of money in most cases and allow you to reserve flights that work best for you. But there are advantages to letting the cruise line manage all of your travel plans. If you live west of the Rockies, the price for airfare will often include transportation to and from the pier, and a hotel nights accommodation the night before embarkation. The myth that if you allow the cruise line to oversee your airline reservations protects you in someway in the event of delays is just not true. It's true the cruise line will make every effort to hold the ship in port a few hours for large numbers of travelers experiencing cross country travel delays they are aware of. But if only a couple of people are delayed, the ship won't necessarily wait for you, regardless of who booked your airline reservations. If you make your own flight arrangements, I recommend booking flights departing the day before embarkation. Even when you factor in the cost of airport transportation and a hotel room, you could come out ahead.   ...

Read more »