Q&A: Expert tips on how to save on a cruise

I recently found an interesting website called CruiseFever.net, which contains loads of useful information about setting sail on the seas.

I asked the editor, Ben Souza, if he’d answer some questions that cheapos like me always want to ask. Here are his insights on how to save money booking cruises.

Q: What’s the best way to save money? Is it cheaper to book early or at the last minute?

A: Booking as early as possible will get you the best deal on a cruise because if the price goes down before a final payment, you can adjust your fare to the lower price.

Cruise lines have begun to cut back on last-minute deals, although you can still find them from time to time. The only downside to booking a last-minute deal is that your cabin could be in an undesirable location. If you don’t plan to spend much time in your cabin and don’t care about location, then a last-minute deal is the way to go.

Q: Should I book the cruise line’s shore excursions or make arrangements on my own?

A: Booking shore excursions through a third party will not only save you up to 50 percent from the cruise line’s prices, but you will likely receive a higher quality and more personalized excursion than by booking through the cruise line.

Just about all third-party shore excursion companies also offer a guarantee that you will be back to the ship in time before it sails away.

Q: What’s the most economical way to keep in touch with loved ones on the cruise? I heard getting online is expensive.

A: Over the past few years, cruise lines have begun to roll out faster and more affordable internet packages. The days of extremely slow internet at 75 cents per minute are all but gone. Carnival now offers a package that costs only $5 per day and allows you to connect to all social media apps on your phone or tablet. Royal Caribbean’s VOOM internet is the fastest at sea, with unlimited packages starting at $12 per day.

Q: When are the most economical times to cruise?

A: A good rule of thumb is that prices are likely to be higher around any holidays or when kids are out of school. The most economical times to cruise are mid-January through February, early May, and September through early November.

Q: Are there destinations that are particularly good for budget travelers?

A: Carnival Cruise Line offers great deals for budget travelers on Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination. Four-night cruises to Mexico are as low as $229 per person for cruises this fall (from California). Cruises to the Bahamas are also known to offer great rates for budget-conscious travelers.

Q: Any tips on Disney cruises?

A: You’ll pay a premium for a cruise on Disney Cruise Line, but they are worth every penny. The service, food, entertainment and the Disney experience set them apart from every other mainstream cruise line. The children’s area and programs are the best at sea, making Disney a great choice for families. (Marla’s note: You can monitor deals offered on Disney Cruises at disneycruise.disney.go.com/special-offers)

Q: Should I book a cruise with a travel agency or directly with the cruise line or with a website?

A: I always recommend to book cruises through a travel agent. Large agencies have group bookings on hundreds of cruises; they can book you into these groups, not only scoring you lower cruise rates but also extra amenities. These amenities can include on-board credit, free drinks, specialty dining and spa credits. Not only do you get these extra perks, but you have easy access to a travel professional who can answer all of your questions and will help you have the best cruise possible.

Q: Should I pay more (or will I pay more) for a more updated ship?

A: You’ll pay a premium to sail on a newer cruise ship due to a higher demand for ships that have the latest features on board. If your cruise is mainly about the ports that you are visiting, then save money by choosing an older ship that doesn’t have the latest bells and whistles.

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