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Best time to book a cruise? Maybe now

Real savings can be found during National Cruise Vacation Week. Here's how to find them.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 18, 2011 4:22PM

This post comes from Giselle Smith at MSN Money.


Ever taken a cruise? Never taken a cruise? Now might be the time to book one.


Twenty-five different cruise lines, from Avalon Waterways to Windstar Cruises, are offering special discounts and promotions through Oct. 23 -- on ocean and river cruises all over the world, through 2012, and in some cases into 2013.


Billing this week as "National Cruise Vacation Week," the industry group Cruise Lines International Association, whose members represent 95% of the North American cruise market, is sponsoring the "massive" sale on more than 200 ships.


According to USA Today:

The deals mean potential savings of $100 to $5,000, shipboard credits of $50 to $300, stateroom upgrades, and other incentives like complimentary shore excursions, airport transfers and deposit waivers. Deals include three- to five-day Caribbean cruises from $249, six- to eight-day sailings starting at $429; up to $2,000 savings per couple on French river cruises; and two-for-one fares with free airfare plus up to $5,000 in bonus savings on some sailings in Europe or the Pacific.

But is it really a deal?

If you've taken a cruise in the past, you know that cruise lines offer promotions year-round, and they promote them regularly to past guests. So while "sale" sounds good, unless you've been shopping for a cruise, how can you be sure that these prices are really a good deal? Post continues after video.

Answer: It depends. If you were planning to book a cruise sometime in the next year, this is probably a good time to do so, as pretty much all of the cruise lines are offering some sort of deal. But most of the promotions are for shipboard credit, which is meaningful if you want to enjoy some of the amenities on a cruise.


Part of the appeal of cruises -- for those who like them -- is that many vacation expenses are paid up front in one fee: accommodations, food, activities, and entertainment. But what is not usually included -- and can often be paid for with those shipboard credits -- are extras such as drinks (which don't come cheap), optional shore excursions, premium dining experiences, and spa services.


Frommer's offers this guidance:

The two outstanding bargains of National Cruise Vacation Week are not onboard spending credits but two-for-one cruises aboard winter departures of the Cunard Line and Oceania Cruises (the latter being the increasingly popular upscale line that offers a considerable degree of luxury to the 700 passengers per ship who book its smaller vessels). Go to the websites of each line, and you'll grasp how much of a saving you'll enjoy by paying one cruise amount for two persons.

"Most lines aren't listing any general fares, and we doubt they'll slash prices dramatically just for these events," reports the 15-year-old consumer cruise travel news site Cruise Critic. "However … it can't hurt to do some pricing research and see how a CLIA agent can best the offer this week."


What's in it for the cruise lines?

Fall is typically a soft time for cruise bookings and departures -- in part because it is hurricane season in the Caribbean. Most bookings occur between January and March, when dreary weather makes travelers long for a sunny destination, according to Time.


Last year, during what CLIA called "The World's Largest Cruise Sale," agents sold $47 million in cruises during the month-long promotion, according to Budget Travel.


According to Fox News, cruise lines are surviving the recession better than most travel industries, and they are doing it by offering good value for travelers' money, with cruise rates that are lower than they've been in 10 -- or even 20 -- years. CLIA president Christine Duffy told Fox News, "We do know (from surveys of travel agents and consumers) that compared to other vacations the public is giving cruises the highest marks for value and as a vacation experience overall."


To find the best deals

  • Find an agent. Cruising cruise line websites might not be the way to find the best National Cruise Vacation Week deals. According to Time, booking a cruise still causes most people to turn to a travel agent, which is how the majority of cruises are booked.
  • Attend a National Cruise Vacation Week event. CLIA has set up a web page to guide prospective travelers to agents who are holding events this week. (You enter your ZIP code and the site provides a list of agencies in your area.) Many of these are parties at which an agent will tell you about available cruises (and deals), but some are virtual events through the website that let you preview videos from up to seven cruise lines.
  • Do your research, and plan ahead. If you are serious about booking a cruise, look into cost-cutting tips such as "30 ways to save money on a cruise" on The Wisdom Journal, which include: Book very early; book very late; take your own pictures; ask the cost before you sign up for anything; forget the sodas; and avoid the casino.
  • Check group coupon sites such as Groupon Getaways.

More on MSN Money:

Aug 5, 2013 1:25AM
It is just 5 weeks until the 2013 national Cruise weeks commences. Get ready for some great deals from travel agents. Do you research but check out for some savings
Oct 31, 2011 11:28AM

Cruises make for a great getaway.  The choices can seem overwhelming.    I have found that the website  is a great resource.  They have information about the different cruise lines and what they offer

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