Cruise vacations can offer excellent value, especially if you can book the cruise you want at a good price. Finding the best cruise deals doesn’t have to feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole. All it takes is a little know-how, good information and advance planning.

Before you book your cruise vacation, be sure to do the following…

Brainstorm to find the Best Cruise Deals

Spend some time thinking about your ideal cruise. Where would you like to go? Would you like to travel on a large ship? Small ship? Something in between? Must you cruise on specific dates, or do you have a flexible schedule? Knowing the answers to these basic questions will help you narrow down your cruise options.

Review Your Options

If you’re not sure which cruise line or ship would be best for you, ask family members and friends about their cruise experiences. Take a look at online reviews, too. Popular Cruising offers video reviews and online behind-the-scenes ship tours, giving you the opportunity to see staterooms, onboard restaurants and shipboard activities before you book your own cruise.

Find a Cruise Specialist

Travel agents who specialize in cruises can often find ways to customize your cruise vacation and help you take advantage of early booking discounts, onboard credits and other incentives that will save you money. If you don’t normally work with a travel agent in your local area, ask family members and friends to make a recommendation, or contact Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to find a certified cruise specialist near you.

Once you’ve done your homework here are a few tips for finding the best cruise deals…

Book Early to Secure the Best Cruise Deals

Traditionally, bargain-hunters could find their best cruise deals during “Wave Season,” which runs from January through March. You can still find Wave Season deals, particularly if you work with a cruise specialist. You may also find a better cruise deal if you book more than a year in advance, as some cruise lines offer free airfare, two-for-one fares and other promotions aimed at passengers who can make reservations far in advance of their departure date.

Senior Cruises

Choose Your Cruise Dates Carefully

If possible, avoid holiday weeks and the height of cruise season when you make your reservation. Some cruise lines offer special discounts for early or late sailings. You may have to deal with less than ideal weather if you sail early or late in the cruise season, so you should carefully consider your options before you book your cruise.

Take Advantage of Cruise Promotions

While Wave Season is the traditional time to find great deals on cruise vacations, you may also be able to take advantage of other promotions. Cruise Lines International Association and its member cruise lines sponsor CLIA Cruise Week each October.

During this week, billed as “The World’s Largest Cruise Sale,” participating cruise lines offer stateroom upgrades, shipboard credit and other money-saving specials.

Choose a Nearby Departure Port

Your cruise fare isn’t the only cost you will incur. You will also need to travel to and from your departure port. Choosing an embarkation port near your home will save you money, particularly if you can arrange drop off / pick up service with family or friends.

Another way to save on transportation costs is to choose a departure port near an airline’s hub. Southwest Airlines, for example, has a hub at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). If Southwest offers departures from an airport near you, embarking at the Cruise Maryland Terminal in Baltimore might save you money. To reach the cruise terminal from BWI, make a reservation on GO The Airport Shuttle or take a taxi from the airport.

Remember to factor in parking fees as well as air and ground transportation costs when you choose your departure port.

Ask for Discounts

Some cruise lines offer senior, military, repeat cruiser and other discounts, so you should always ask whether you qualify for a discount before you pay your cruise deposit.

Explore Last-Minute Options

If you think you’d like to go on a cruise but are unable to book many months in advance, you may still be able to find a great cruise deal. Some cruise lines offer last-minute booking discounts. A good travel agent can discuss your preferences with you in advance, then work with you to find cruise discounts when you are able to make a reservation.

Consider Online Cruise Agencies

Using an online cruise agency can help you sort out fares and discounts, and you can often find good deals if you shop carefully. For example:

Cruises.com allows you to filter cruise options by your state of residence and your age, allowing you to find discounts quickly. You can also plan group cruises and social events with Cruises.com.

Cruise Compete collects information on the cruise you’d like to take, then sends these details to travel agents. You’ll receive quotes from travel agents, and you can work directly with the agent whose offer you like the best to finalize your cruise deal.

Onboard.com offers a Best Price Guarantee. If you book a cruise with Onboard.com and then find a lower price on a U. S.-based website for the same cruise within 24 hours, Onboard.com will give you a credit or refund for the price difference.

Vacations To Go is a good resource for last-minute cruise deals. This online cruise agent has been selling discounted cruises since 1984. Be sure to ask about Age 55+, singles and other special discounts before you book your cruise.

Where have you found the best cruise deams? Did you work with a cruise specialist to customize your perfect cruise? Share your experiences with the Sixty and Me community.

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For more tips on finding the best cruise deals, watch my interview with senior travel expert, Nancy Parode.

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