Determining the best time to book a cruise is a highly debated topic, with some cruise passengers booking years in advance and others preferring to book at the last-minute.
Both options offer their own pros and cons, whether saving money by booking far in advance or coming across a last-minute cruise deal.
While there is no “best time to book a cruise,” it’s helpful to know what to expect if booking a cruise years in advance or just a few weeks before your cruise departs. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of booking your cruise late and early to help determine which option works best for you.
Pros of booking your cruise early
The best prices for a Royal Caribbean cruise tend to be found right after Royal Caribbean releases new itineraries, which are usually for cruises departing two years from the release date. Keeping an eye on when Royal Caribbean releases new cruise itineraries is a good idea for those hoping to book a cruise at a lower price.
Signing up for Royal Caribbean’s newsletters and following our blog are two ways to be notified as soon as new itineraries are released, which can lead to some nice savings if you are able to plan a cruise several years in advance.
Reprice until final payment date
One of the best benefits of booking a Royal Caribbean cruise early is that you are able to reprice your cruise an unlimited amount of times prior to final payment date. For example, if you initially pay $1000 for a stateroom and later find the price has dropped to $650, you’ll be able to reprice the cruise and save the difference.
Repricing is not done automatically and requires periodically checking Royal Caribbean’s website to see if your cruise fare has dropped. You can also contact a travel agent to ask if your cruise price has decreased.
Money saved on cruise fare can be put toward amazing shore excursions, dining and drink packages, and onboard activities, making repricing a cruise well worth it.
More stateroom options
Booking a cruise early brings far more stateroom options than booking a cruise close to the sail date. The further in advance you book, the more flexibility you have to book the exact stateroom you want.
While most room categories will not sell out very far in advance, certain cabins are more likely to fill up than others. Suite categories in particular are known to sell out, so if you know you want to book a certain suite it’s important to do so far in advance.
The limited studio cabins for solo travelers on select ships also tend to fill up quickly. If you have a certain stateroom in mind, be sure to book early so you don’t end up disappointed in stateroom options.
Excursion options and cruise add-ons
Booking a cruise early will give you the most options for shore excursions and cruise add-ons, which you can book on Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website.
While it’s unlikely all shore excursions will sell out, popular tours are more likely to fill up quickly. This is especially true for ports that tend to be further away from the main attractions, such as excursions to cities like Rome or Paris. In these ports, many guests opt to book an excursion directly through Royal Caribbean to avoid traveling several hours to the city from port without the added security of a Royal Caribbean excursion.
The same can be said for Alaska cruises, where popular excursions like whale watching and kayaking are in high demand. Booking early ensures you have the most flexibility in excursion options.
Other add-ons, such as dining packages and restaurant reservations, are also better to book further in advance. A limited number of dining packages are sold for each cruise, and sometimes certain packages may disappear from the Cruise Planner closer to the sail date.
If you know you want to dine at a specific specialty restaurant on a certain day or book a dining package, having a cruise booked early will ensure you have the chance to purchase these add-ons.
Repricing add-ons and excursions
Booking a cruise far in advance gives you more time to reprice cruise add-ons before your ship sets sail.
Just like repricing a cruise, you can reprice any excursions or add-ons like dining, beverage, and internet packages. If you notice the price has dropped on something you purchased, simply cancel the add-on on the Cruise Planner website and rebook it at the lower price.
There’s no charge for canceling and rebooking, and there’s no limit on the number of times you can cancel and rebook, so it’s an easy way to save money if you notice a lower price!
Cons of booking your cruise early
Planning for years out
While being able to snag the greatest deals is more likely when booking a cruise far in advance, this isn’t always possible for all guests.
Whether unpredictable school and extracurricular activities with kids, time off work, or family obligations, planning vacations years in advance can be challenging.
While Royal Caribbean offers flexible cancellation policies, especially if you’ve booked a refundable cruise fare, it’s not always worth the trouble to book a cruise far in advance if you’re unsure you can set sail.
Read more: How to cancel a Royal Caribbean cruise
Itinerary and ship may change
While not extremely common, it’s possible that Royal Caribbean’s plans for a particular ship or itinerary can change over time, leading to a cruise with a new itinerary or ship as opposed to what you originally booked. Unexpected events, scheduling changes, ship charters, and other unpredictable scenarios can cause your cruise vacation to change.
Those who booked cruises to northern Europe far in advance with the hope of visiting St. Petersburg, for example, faced itinerary changes in light of current political events.
Royal Caribbean can also change itineraries and cruise departure dates without warning. Earlier this year, the cruise line announced that several sailings on Mariner of the Seas would be canceled and modified due to “itinerary planning”. While refunds and alternate sailings were offered to guests, there’s always the chance of an unexpected change when booking so far in advance.
Changes are not always bad, though. Those who booked summer 2022 European cruises on Allure of the Seas were automatically switched to Wonder of the Seas when it was announced the ship would replace Allure in Europe for the summer. This meant that passengers who booked on Allure were upgraded to a newer ship at no extra cost!
Pros of booking your cruise late
Now that we've seen the pros and cons of booking a cruise far in advance, what are the pros and cons of booking at the last minute?
Booking a cruise at the last minute, or even just a few months in advance, can lead to a feeling of increased excitement and spontaneity! Having a last-minute vacation planned can offer a fantastic getaway with little waiting required.
While booking a cruise years in advance is often preferred, it can lead to extremely long wait times. Booking a cruise just a few weeks in advance means you have something to look forward to without much of a wait at all!
Last-minute cruise deals
The best cruise deals can often be found as soon as Royal Caribbean releases new itineraries, but it’s not unheard of to find fantastic last-minute cruise deals.
Royal Caribbean will sometimes lower a cruise fare closer to the sail date if demand is low, leading to low prices for those who can sail at the last minute. These last-minute deals tend to be found during shoulder season and on older, smaller cruise ships, but can offer nice savings for those with more flexibility.
Cons of booking your cruise late
Booking a cruise closer to the sail date offers fewer options overall, from stateroom choices to excursions, ship choices, itineraries, and cruise add-ons.
If you’re cruising on a budget and need to book an interior stateroom, you might be disappointed if interior rooms have sold out close to the sail date. Likewise, if you’re hoping to splurge on a Star Class suite, these rooms are not always available at the last minute.
Read more: Choosing a cabin for your cruise
Cruise add-ons can be fewer and far between closer to the sail date as well. While add-ons like beverage packages and internet will always be available, others, like shore excursions and dining packages, can sell out.
Flight prices are higher
Booking a cruise at the last minute can sometimes lead to great deals and added flexibility, but keep an eye on airline prices before booking.
Airline prices tend to only increase over time, so it’s not unheard of for a flight that could have been $200 if booked months in advance to increase to $400-500 closer to the sail date.
If you’re traveling on a budget, be sure to check airline prices before booking a cruise to ensure you don’t come across any unexpected surprises!
Less time to figure out logistics
If you book a cruise at the last minute, it’s important to consider any logistics you must take care of at home before leaving for your cruise. Whether childcare, finding someone to watch the dogs, or finishing up projects at work, it can be challenging to figure out logistics with little time to spare.
The last thing you want to happen is book a last-minute cruise, especially after final payment date, only to find out there is no one available to watch the dogs (or your kids!) during your vacation.