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10 smart ways to bag a cruise bargain

Author: Deborah Stone

Published on:

Cruise lines love to tempt us back to sea with a raft of special offers at intervals throughout the year, but it’s easy to bag a cruise bargain all year round when you know how...

1. Use a travel agent

It might sound counter-intuitive in our digital world but talking to a real person is often the best way to get a great deal. Travel agents may include hotels and other add-ons as well as your cruise and flights, while also offering peace of mind, which is vital in these Covid-afflicted times.

Jo Rzymowska, European MD of Celebrity Cruises, says her line works closely with specialist agents, adding: ‘It’s a great idea to book through a trusted agent, given their knowledge of precisely what is available and their ability to direct you towards the dream travel experience you’re after.’

Online travel agencies such as specialise in cruise, and Simone Clark, senior vice president of Iglu, says: ‘For peace of mind, you should book the whole package with a travel agent.

You’ll find this is often cheaper than doing it yourself and it will offer you protection if there are any changes.’

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Janet Robinson, from Flintshire in Wales, will be sailing on P&O Cruises’ Ventura in May with her husband Brian to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

She says: ‘We booked last September with Iglu because the price on the P&O Cruises website was more expensive.’

- READ MORE: Why you should book cruises through a travel agent -

Meanwhile, Tina Westwood, from southwest London, booked with a high-street travel agency because this would be her and husband Mark’s first cruise.

She says: ‘The service was great and they were able to assist when we had to change Mark’s outbound flight. They sorted us out for no extra cost.’

Get on board

Royal Caribbean 8-night ‘Western Mediterranean’ cruise aboard Vision of the Seas, round trip from Barcelona via Villefranche, Toulon, Corsica, Portofino, Civitavecchia and Sicily, departing 27 October 2022, from £634 including flights

Loneliness and boredom are never an option on a world cruise. Credit: Shutterstock

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2. Go all-inclusive

The great thing about booking an all-inclusive cruise is that you know what your holiday will cost before you depart, so you’re really in control of the budget.

A good holiday is all about the value rather than the price, advises Lynn Narraway, Seabourn and Holland America Line’s UK managing director. ‘If the cost of a cruise appears to be very low in comparison to the price you would normally pay for a holiday, then it may be that not everything you wish for is included,’ she says.

High-end small-ship cruise lines such as Seabourn have long offered all-inclusive holidays with free drinks, wi-fi and no charges for even the best onboard restaurants. Other US-focused brands such as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and SeaDream Yacht Club are similar.

- READ MORE: 9 smart hacks for booking a cruise in 2022 -

Recently, more British lines have started going all-inclusive, with Saga Cruises even including excursions and free travel insurance with Covid cover. Celebrity Cruises includes free drinks, wi-fi and tips for all staterooms, with the option of upgrading to include excursion credit, premium drinks and unlimited wi-fi, while Marella Cruises has free drinks and tips as standard, with the chance to upgrade.

Iglu’s Simone Clark says: ‘Rather than looking for the cheapest price, the best-value cruises are those with drinks, tips, wi-fi and even excursions included, meaning you don’t spend much on board.’

Get on board

Celebrity Cruises 9-night ‘Italian Riviera & France’ cruise aboard Celebrity Beyond, from Barcelona to Civitavecchia via Marseille, Villefranche, Santa Margherita, La Spezia, Sicily and Naples, departing 30 July 2022, from £1,499 with ‘Always Included’ drinks, wi-fi and tips.

Go all-inclusive and your shore trips could be free. Credit: Shutterstock

3. Save money with onboard packages

Onboard packages may not get you butler service or unlimited excursions but they can still transform your cruise into a near all-inclusive experience.

Fred Olsen Cruise Line holidays sold under its ‘Freedom Fare’ banner provide a free upgrade to an all-inclusive drinks and tips package, while Oceania Cruises has nearly 500 itineraries with an ‘OLife Choice’ option that includes free wi-fi, a drinks package, up to eight excursions and a generous amount of onboard credit for use in the spa or shop.

It’s also worth considering drinks deals such as MSC’s ‘Easy Package’, which includes draught beer and house wine by the glass, some cocktails, soft drinks and hot drinks. The selection widens with its ‘Easy Plus Package’ and ‘Premium Extra Package’.

- READ MORE: How to book a cruise for the first time -

When Janet and Brian Robinson sailed with MSC they booked a drinks package and excursions through the MSC website. ‘We were able to enjoy a drink whenever we wanted,’ says Janet, ‘and that meant top branded spirits, not just cheap drinks like you get in some all-inclusives.

The excursions were worth booking in advance to ensure our place on them, so everything was pre-arranged and we could just enjoy our cruise.’

Tina and Mark Westwood also booked drinks and excursions packages on a Royal Caribbean cruise. ‘We wanted to board the ship knowing that we would not incur additional charges while onboard, and we pre-booked excursions because we wanted the security of guided transfers and knowing we would get back to the ship on time.’

Get on board

Oceania Cruises 7-night ‘Venetian Vignettes’ cruise aboard Marina, from Venice to Rome (Civitavecchia) via Split, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu, Sicily and Sorrento, departing 14 April 2022, from £1,689 including free wi-fi and an ‘OLife Choice’ of either four excursions,a drinks package or $400 onboard credit

Onboard packages allow you to make the most of your cruise with anything from free-wifi to all-inclusive drinks. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Sign up for Special Offers

Cruise line websites almost always ask you to sign up for special offers – and it’s well worth doing so. You should also snap up loyalty schemes that offer future cruise discounts or perks such as onboard credit.

- READ MORE: How to save money when booking a cruise holiday -

Royal Caribbean International’s Crown & Anchor Society offers 25 per cent off last-minute bookings, while Norwegian Cruise Line’s Latitudes Rewards include discounts on excursions, spa treatments and duty-free shopping.

Tony Roberts, Princess Cruises’ UK vice president, says: ‘Princess sends newsletters to guests weekly. As we run different promotions throughout the year, these are a great way to stay informed about our latest offers and discounts.’ Lynn Narraway of Seabourn and HAL adds: ‘If you have a favourite cruise line or travel agency, make sure you’re on their email database, then you will be the first to hear of new products and special offers.’

Get on board

Seabourn 7-night ‘Caribbean Spice Islands’ cruise aboard Seabourn Ovation, round trip from Barbados via Saint Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Martinique and Grenada, departing 10 December 2022, from £3,799 including a complimentary upgrade to Veranda Suite, flights, drinks and gratuities as part of The Suite Life promotion.

Sign up for special offers such as cruise discounts or onboard credit. Credit: Shutterstock

5. Book early

The urge to wait for last-minute bargains is strong and sometimes it does pay off. But, as Celebrity Cruises’ Jo Rzymowska wisely says, ‘It’s good to focus on the holiday that’s right for you, not the holiday that’s left.’

Early booking is especially important on new ships, she adds. ‘When we announce cruises such as brand new Celebrity Beyond sailing out of Southampton for the first time in April, they fill up very quickly.’ The reality is that although you can get fantastic late deals, you won’t always get what you want.

And according to cruise specialists, if you book early you could be offered valuable extras such as free onboard credit or a cabin upgrade. Even if you have your heart set on a specific ship, on some lines the early bird fares can be as low as half price.

- READ MORE: Find your ideal cruise with our handy Cruise Finder tool -

Get on board

Ambassador Cruise Line 16-night ‘Hidden Baltic Treasure & St Petersburg’ cruise aboard Ambience, round trip from London Tilbury via Copenhagen, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Helsinki and Stockholm, departing 16 May 2023, from £1,339 with New Year Saver discount until 1 March.

Lisbon is just as lovely in spring or autumn - and cheaper, too. Credit: Shutterstock

6. ...or book late

This is a riskier option, say the experts at, but if you just fancy a fun cruise at a bargain price and you’re not too bothered about which ship you sail on or where you travel to, you can save money if the cruise line needs to fill last-minute vacancies and you’re all packed to go.

- READ MORE: Do you need special travel insurance for a cruise? -

Get on board

Cunard 12-night cruise aboard Queen Elizabeth, round trip from Southampton via La Coruna, Cadiz and Malaga, departing 6 March 2022, from £664.

Book early or late to soak up the sun in St Lucia for less. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Try a repositioning cruise

From late autumn, many ships leave the Mediterranean and northern Europe for winter seasons in the Caribbean and Florida, while others sail through the Suez Canal to the Middle East.

These repositioning cruises don’t stop at many ports but can be great value, especially if you love sea days. ‘Princess’s transatlantic cruises are usually less than £80 per person per day,’ says Tony Roberts.

‘And with more sea days, guests have the chance to make the most of everything that’s offered onboard.’

- READ MORE: Internet on cruise ships: How does the internet work at sea? -

Get on board

Princess Cruises 14-night ‘Iberian Passage’ cruise aboard Sky Princess, from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale via Cherbourg, Lisbon and Ponta Delgada (Azores), departing 29 October 2022, from £1,099.

Repositioning cruises don't stop at a port, so you can have a chance at making the most of your time onboard. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Sail from the UK

With no flights to pay for, you’re instantly saving money, and while most ex-UK cruises sail from Southampton, Portsmouth or Dover, a few lines depart from other British ports. Ambassador Cruise Lines, which launches in April, will sail from London Tilbury, as does Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, which also has departures from Liverpool, Newcastle and Rosyth.

Other lines may offer similar departures, post-pandemic. The most popular no-fly cruises are to the Mediterranean, the Norwegian fjords and the Baltic capitals.

Iglu’s Simone Clark says cruising is a cost-effective way to visit Scandinavia: ‘A glass of wine on P&O Cruises is about half the price you’d pay ashore, and there’s a wide choice of sailings from the UK.’

- READ MORE: How fast do cruise ships go? Amazing cruising facts & figures -

Get on board

Fred Olsen Cruise Line 14-night ‘Vistas & Volcanoes of the Azores and Madeira’ cruise aboard Borealis, round trip from Liverpool via Ringaskiddy (Ireland); Ponta Delgada, Horta and Praia da Vitoria (Azores); Funchal and Lisbon, departing 27 June 2022, from £1,999.

Southampton is a popular UK cruise port with many options for sailing. Credit: Shutterstock

9. Book an inside cabin

Do you need a room with a view? If not, you can make massive savings. Inside cabins are an especially good option on big resort ships with plenty of deck space for sitting in the sun and a wide choice of lounges, bars and other amusements.

- READ MORE: How to pick the best cruise ship cabin -

But some itineraries are a better fit than others. For example, you’ll want a balcony for scenic fjord cruising in summer, but perhaps not for chasing Northern Lights in the darker winter months, or for crossing the Atlantic. Beware though - the best bargains sell quickly.

Get on board

Cunard 7-night ‘Westbound Transatlantic Crossing’ aboard Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to New York, departing 13 November 2022, from £939 for an inside cabin, including return flight.

An inside cabin is a great option on a crossing to NYC. Credit: Shutterstock

10. Sail off-peak

School summer holidays are the busiest time for many cruise lines and they could probably fill their ships several times over. But term-time cabins can be harder to shift, so you’ll often find special offers.

Marella and TUI River Cruises offer ‘Live Happy’ discounts on summer 2022 itineraries, for example, while Royal Caribbean’s website has a Deals section with discounted airfares and beverage packages.

- READ MORE: How to book your perfect cruise -

It’s a no-brainer if you don’t have school-age children – and anyway, August in the Med is too hot for most Brits.

It’s much better to enjoy the gentler warmth of May and June, or the mellow sunshine of autumn.

Get on board

Marella 7-night ‘Adriatic Explorer’ cruise aboard Marella Explorer, round trip from Corfu via Koper, Venice, Split, Dubrovnik and Kotor, departing 6 May 2022, from £796 all-inclusive, including flights, with code CRUISE300.

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