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Where to find cheap last-minute cruises

In:
24 Mar 2023

In search of a cheap cruise? Some of the lowest cruise fares can be found on sailings booked at the last minute. Whether a 3-night weekend cruise or a 15-night transatlantic cruise, it’s possible to find cheap last-minute cruises at any point during the year.

Last-minute cruises refer to any cruise departing within the next 90 days. Most cruise lines require final payment to be made 75-90 days before the cruise departs, and if they haven’t sold enough cabins by this point, the price may drop.

The trick to finding a cheap last-minute cruise deal is to remain flexible. If you keep your mind open to a wide variety of destinations, ships, and sail dates, you can almost always find a great deal.

The good news is that finding cheap last-minute cruises is easy. Several websites provide detailed lists of cheap cruises you can book, and little effort is required in order to find the best and most affordable cruises.

Here are our favorite ways to find cheap last-minute cruises.

Royal Caribbean website

The most straightforward way to find last-minute cruises on Royal Caribbean is directly on the cruise line’s website. Royal Caribbean’s website has a Last Minute Cruises page where they list the best deals on cruises.

Last-minute deals are organized by port and destination, and you can search for last-minute deals to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico, and Alaska. Royal Caribbean will list their best last-minute cruise deals on this page, so be sure to check periodically for any new sailings that pop up.

Related: How to find the cheapest cabins on Royal Caribbean

However, you can also use Royal Caribbean’s traditional search engine to find last-minute cruises. Filter the cruise dates to sailings within the next few months and change the results to populate from “Price lowest to highest.”

By doing this, you can see a list of the cheapest cruises departing in the next few months. You can also filter by departure port, destination, number of nights, and ships.

Going, Going, Gone

Another way to find cheap last-minute cruises on Royal Caribbean’s website is the Going, Going, Gone flyer. This flyer is published weekly (usually late Monday) by Royal Caribbean and lists cruise deals departing within the next few months.

You can find the flyer on Royal Caribbean’s website here.

The flyer lists the ship name, sail date, itinerary, embarkation port, and special rates for cabins. Not every cabin category will offer a great deal on the flyer—one sailing may offer a cheap deal on a balcony cabin whereas another has a promotion on interior or oceanview cabins.

Suite deals, however, are not found as often as standard cabin categories.

We recommend checking the Going, Going, Gone flyer late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. The flyer is not updated throughout the week, so certain sailings and cabin category promotions can sell out quickly.

Vacations to Go

Vacations To Go has what they call a 90 Day Ticker on their website, and this is one of the easiest places to find all last-minute cruise deals in one place. All cruises on the 90 Day Ticker set sail within the next 90 days, allowing you to make the most of any cheap cruise deals available.

On the ticker, you’ll find a long list of sailings organized by destinations around the world. Destinations include Alaska, Antarctica, the Arctic, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific U.S., the Panama Canal, South America, transatlantic, and transpacific cruises.

Under each destination is a list of cruises with the following details in each row:

  • Number of nights
  • Sail date
  • Embarkation and disembarkation ports
  • Cruise line and ship name
  • Ship rating
  • Price

The 90 Day Ticker lists cruises for a number of cruise lines, from mass market lines like Royal Caribbean to more upscale lines like Silversea. At the top of the ticker, you can click on each column name (Nights, Sailing Date, Cruise Line, etc.) to filter the results in alphabetical order.

Using Vacations To Go’s 90 Day Ticker is a valuable resource for those without a set plan for a last-minute cruise. Hundreds of cruise itineraries are on the ticker, which gives you the chance to discover the best deals much easier than you could by visiting each cruise line’s website individually.

You do not have to book a cruise through Vacations To Go in order to use the ticker. The resource is completely free, but you will have to provide your email to sign up and access the list of cruises.

Cruise Critic

Cruise Critic's website has a Find a Cruise page where you can easily compare prices from multiple websites. This is another great way to find cheap last-minute cruises, as you can filter the results by destination, departure port, departure month, cruise line, ship, cruise length, and more.

Once you click Find a Cruise, a list of cruises will populate. Cruises will be automatically sorted by the “Popularity” filter; to have cruises ordered by price, select “Price” in the dropdown menu instead.

Each cruise on the Find a Cruise search results lists the following:

  • Sail date
  • Number of nights
  • Name of cruise
  • Cruise line
  • Price per person
  • Price per person, per night

Not only is this tool helpful for finding cheap last-minute cruises, but it’s a fantastic way to find cheap cruises several months and years into the future as well. Although you can find the same deals on the Find a Cruise page as you can on Royal Caribbean’s website, the search and filter tools are a little more intuitive.

How to book a cheap cruise

In addition to the Royal Caribbean website, Vacations To Go, and Cruise Critic, you can find cheap last-minute cruises on a variety of other websites.

Popular travel websites like Expedia, Priceline, and Costco Travel all have extensive lists of last-minute cruise deals. You’ll also find many smaller websites and travel agencies with pages of cheap cruises you can book at the last minute.

Just because you find a cheap cruise deal on a particular website, though, does not mean you have to book the cruise from that website. If you find a cheap cruise deal on Vacations To Go, for example, you are not obligated to book the cruise from them.

Freedom of the Seas aerial at Nassau

Instead, you can search for the cruise directly on Royal Caribbean’s website or contact your travel agent to book the cruise for you. Because these tools are free, they provide an easy way to find cheap deals, but it’s up to you how you would like to book the cheap sailing you find.

As always, we recommend booking a cheap last-minute cruise with a travel agent. They can help to answer any questions you have about the sailing, organize ground transportation and pre-cruise hotels, and contact Royal Caribbean in case of any issues or concerns you encounter before, during, and after your cruise. 

Related: Top 5 things to look for in a good travel agent for your cruise vacation

Travel agents cost nothing extra and are extremely helpful during the cruise booking process, especially when booking a cruise so soon in the future.

Is a last-minute cruise worth it?

Is booking a last-minute cruise worth it, or is it better to book a cruise further in advance?

In most situations, booking a cruise early is the better choice. Booking as early as possible means you can (usually) find the lowest prices and you can take advantage of repricing the sailing if you spot a lower price before the final payment date.

Booking a cruise early also gives you the most choices in stateroom options. If you’re hoping to sail in a certain type of cabin—whether a suite or solo room—it’s better to book early before these categories sell out.

Not only that, but airfare tends to be cheaper when booked further in advance, and booking a cruise early gives you extra time to handle logistics at home, whether reserving a dog sitter or requesting vacation time from work.

Related: Pros and cons of booking a cruise early vs last-minute

This isn’t to say, however, that a last-minute cruise is a bad idea. Planning a spontaneous, last-minute vacation is exciting, whether you’re sailing to Florida or France. Instead of spending months (or even years) anxiously waiting for your cruise vacation, you’ll be heading to your cruise before you know it!

Moreover, even though booking far in advance usually means finding the best deals, it’s not guaranteed. It’s possible to find a cheap last-minute cruise for a lower price than the sailing was ever listed at before.

For those flexible on ship choice, embarkation port, itinerary, and cabin category, booking a cheap last-minute cruise can lead to a memorable, affordable vacation. Ultimately, being on a cruise ship is always better than being at home!

Planning a last-minute cruise? Check out more of our tips and tricks:

Where to find cheap last-minute cruises

Why booking a last-minute cruise isn't always a great idea

In:
05 Aug 2022

The benefits of booking a cruise at the last-minute are plentiful. Not only can you often find a great deal, but you’ll be able to enjoy a spontaneous vacation experience with little to no wait time!

That being said, there’s no perfect time to book a cruise, and you may find that the cons of booking a last-minute cruise vacation outweigh the pros. It’s important to remain flexible when booking at the last minute, and if you are set on a particular ship, itinerary, or stateroom, it’s probably best to book further in advance.

If you’re planning to book a last-minute cruise, consider the following factors when booking to ensure you don’t end up disappointed with your options and cruise fare cost.

Fewer ship choices and itinerary options

When looking for the best last-minute cruise, you’re unlikely to find deals on Royal Caribbean’s newest and biggest ships like Wonder of the Seas and Odyssey of the Seas. While you'll likely come across rooms available on newer ships, you probably won’t be seeing any major discounts.

Instead, you’ll typically find the best last-minute deals on Royal Caribbean’s older ships (Vision, Radiance, Voyager, and Freedom Class ships).

Additionally, you won’t have much control over itinerary options if you’re looking for the best last-minute deal.

If you’re set on visiting the colorful streets of San Juan, mountains of St. Lucia, or fjords of Alaska, you’re probably better off booking a cruise to those destinations further in advance rather than hoping for a cheap last-minute deal to those ports.

Certain destinations are seasonal, too, so you won’t be finding any last-minute cruise deals to Alaska in December or Australia in July!

Related: Pros and Cons of booking a cruise early vs last-minute

Limited stateroom categories

One of the main drawbacks of booking a cruise at the last minute is that there will be fewer stateroom categories available compared to booking a cruise far in advance. You might come across sold out stateroom categories, leaving you with no choice but to book a cabin category you otherwise would have skipped.

If you only cruise in balcony cabins, you might find that these are sold out, especially if the last-minute cruise is on a ship with fewer balconies, like Vision or Radiance Class ships.

Likewise, if you only cruise in interior staterooms to save the most money but they're all sold out, you might end up spending more on a higher category room than you would have originally spent on an interior.

Related: What's the best cruise ship cabin for my family?

Limited stateroom locations

Similar to having fewer stateroom categories to choose from, you’ll also have less control over where your cabin is located on the cruise.

If you prefer to sail midship or want an aft-facing balcony, there’s no guarantee these categories will be available when booking at the last minute. You may find that the only cabins available are located under the pool deck, far forward, etc. 

While some cruisers may not care where their cabin is located on the ship, others may prefer having complete control over cabin location.

Cruise add-ons can sell out or increase in price

A major perk of booking a cruise far in advance is also having the opportunity to book shore excursions, beverage packages, dining packages, and other cruise add-ons further in advance as well. Booking in advance not only means you can lock in the best price (or reprice if you notice a price drop), but it also means you can book cruise add-ons before they sell out.

This is most important for shore excursions, as some excursions are more prone to selling out than others. While Royal Caribbean will often add more tour options later on, this isn’t guaranteed, so booking a cruise earlier can give you dibs on top excursions.

Related: Guide to picking the perfect Royal Caribbean shore excursion

If you book a cruise at the last minute, you might also find that certain cruise add-ons, like the 3-night Dining Package or Unlimited Dining Package, are also sold out. Royal Caribbean offers a limited number of dining packages, and while they may add more over time if other passengers cancel, this is not guaranteed.

Expensive flights

If you have to fly to your cruise departure port, be sure to check airfare prices before booking the cruise. Last-minute airfare prices are often significantly higher than buying a flight several weeks or months in advance.

If a last-minute flight to Miami is $500 round trip but would usually cost only $200, you might be negating any cheap last-minute cruise deals with an expensive flight.

Last-minute prices aren't always cheaper

The term “last-minute cruise” can make some cruisers think they are getting the best deal out there, but this is not always the case. Just because a cruise is departing in a few weeks does not always mean the price will be cheaper than what you could have reserved several months in advance.

Related: Ultimate Guide to last-minute cruise deals

While Royal Caribbean will lower and raise prices to match supply and demand at any given time, there’s no set rule that cruises set to sail in the next week or month will be cheaper than a cruise a year in advance.

Before booking a cruise at the last minute, make sure you’re actually getting a deal and not paying just as much as you could for a future cruise where you’ll have more flexibility over ship, itinerary, and stateroom choice!

Payment is due upfront

If you plan a cruise vacation far in advance, you can make partial payments through Royal Caribbean in the months (or years) leading up to your cruise. Many people prefer booking vacations this way, as it can take some of the “sticker shock” away by paying little by little over time.

When booking a cruise at the last minute (i.e. after final payment date), you’ll have to pay the entire cruise fare upfront instead of paying over the course of a longer period of time. While this may not make a difference for some cruisers, others would prefer having the vacation paid for further in advance.

Bottom line

If you’re a flexible traveler, there’s no real harm in booking a last-minute cruise, especially if you need a vacation! While there are cons to last-minute deals, such as more expensive flights and fewer cabin options, you’ll still end up with an amazing cruise experience.

If you are not flexible, on the other hand, it’s probably best to skip a last-minute cruise and book the cruise you really want further in advance. Saving money and taking time off work for a vacation should, after all, be reserved for a cruise you’re really excited about!

Have you ever booked a last-minute cruise? Was it worth it? Let us know in the comments below!

How to get last minute cruise deals

In:
08 Jul 2022

You want to take a cruise but you also want to get onboard soon and snag a deal?

Ship in Cozumel

A cruise vacation is an attractive getaway, but finding a good price close to the sail date can be a challenge. Typically the best deals are when sailings are first put on sale up to two years in advance. As the sailing gets closer, prices tend to go up.

However, a last minute cruise deal is not unheard of, because there can be cancellations, itinerary changes, or simply weak demand for a sailing.

If you're looking to book a cheap cruise with just weeks to go before you get onboard, you're going to need some good internet searching skills, flexibility, and a little bit of luck.

The secret to last minute cruise deals

Two ships docked in Cozumel

There are plenty of strategies to get a last minute cruise deal, but the most important component is going to be how flexible you are with choosing a sailing.

Flexibility comes in many facets: how flexible you are on sail dates, the ship, itinerary, and departure port.

When you look for a last minute deal, you're probably looking at cruises that are past final payment date, which is 90 days prior to sailing. When Royal Caribbean gets past the point of final payment, they get a good sense of how booked (or unbooked) a sailing is and responds accordingly to fill up the rest of the ship.

Oasis of the Seas in Cozumel

Years ago, Royal Caribbean would have incredibly deep discounts for unsold cabins, but they've backed off that strategy a bit, due to higher demand for cruises overall.

In looking at prices for cruises coming up in the next two months, you will certainly spot reasonable prices for a cruise. After all, it's more important for the cruise line to get people onboard since the real revenue comes in onboard spending rather than the cruise fare itself.

When it comes to consistently finding a good last minute price, you're going to want to focus on four major areas.

Time of year

Without a doubt, the biggest factor in getting a good price is going on a cruise when others are unable to sail.

Cruises when kids are in school is always a solid starting point. If you take a cruise in September, January, or early December, you're going to likely find far less families onboard since kids are in school. As a result, there's less demand.

Radiance pulling into Seward

Likewise, taking a cruise during "shoulder season" is an important time of year. This is when the weather or sea conditions may not be ideal, which leads some to opt not to cruise.  On an Alaska cruise, the shoulder season would be May or September. In Europe it's late September and October.

If you can cruise during the times of year everyone else isn't going, you can usually find better prices.

Ship age

Cruise prices will almost always be cheaper on a Vision, Radiance, or Voyager Class ship than an Oasis or Quantum Class ship.

Older ships simply don't offer as much to see and do onboard as the newer ships, and pricing is almost always cheaper to begin with, regardless if it's last minute or not.

Royal Caribbean's marketing is so effective that most cruisers tend to gravitate towards the newest ships so they can enjoy all the bells and whistles these ships offer.

Unfortunately, older ships tend to have (an incorrect) stereotype that they're rundown and boring. The reality is these ships still offer plenty to do, just not as much as the newer ships.  Plus, for the right price, you can get some fantastic values.

Read moreWhy you shouldn't avoid older and smaller cruise ships

In short, you're more likely to find a better price on an older ship than a newer one.

Departure port

You may not find a great last minute deal on a cruise from Florida, but other less-common departure ports could get you a better deal.

Embarkation ports that cannot rely on a lot of people to drive to the port tend to have lower prices because nearly everyone has to fly there.

Radiance of the Seas in Seward, Alaska

Examples include:

  • Baltimore
  • Galveston
  • Seward, Alaska
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Galveston
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico

If you live in the area, or don't mind flying (more on that later), prices tend to be lower for cruises leaving from here and a last minute deal is more commonly found.

Repositioning cruises

If there's one type of cruise that almost always has cheap fares close to sailing, it's a cruise where the ship begins in one port and ends in another.

Repositioning cruises are a necessary evil for the cruise industry so that a ship can move from one market to another to begin a new season.

The most common repositioning cruises are when ships move from North America to Europe (and then back again). Ditto for transpacific cruises between North America and Australia.

Where to find last minute cheap cruise deals

Rhapsody of the Seas at sea

You may be tempted to start your search for a last minute cruise deal on the Royal Caribbean website, but there are a few resources you can leverage that may get you results faster.

It's always a good idea to reach out to a travel agent first. Travel agents do so much fare searches, that they could already be aware of a good price for a certain sailing. Moreover, their consortiums could have better rates than you can find online.

Internet search

Even if you do spot a great price, it's not uncommon for travel agents to be able to find a better discount on top of it and sweeten the deal.

Read moreTop things you didn't know travel agents can do for your cruise vacation

There are a couple of third-party websites worth checking as well, just to see if they have something you haven't spotted yet.

Cruise ship in Grand Cayman

Vacations to Go has a "90-day ticker" with a list of sailings of cruises departing within the next 90 days .

Cruisesheet.com is another aggregator of cruise deals you can reference.

Both sites are good jumping off points to start your search, and then circle back with your own travel agent to figure out the best possible price.

Downsides to a last minute cruise

Inside cabin on Mariner of the Seas

If a last minute cruise sounds like a great deal, you should remember a few important caveats.

If you're booking at the last minute you cannot be picky with your stateroom. Expect very few cabin category choices, and even fewer choices of where it's located.

Another consideration is if you are booking a cruise after the final payment date, you will need to make a full payment up front, rather than a deposit and then the rest later.

Airplane landing

If you have to fly to your cruise, airfare prices could sink any deal you find for a sailing. Be sure to cross-reference airfare prices before committing to a cruise fare.

The easiest way around high airfare prices is to drive.  There's no question last minute cruise deals benefit those within driving distance of cruise ports, such as those living in the southeastern United States.

Airport

If driving is out of the question, look at other airports to fly out of or into.  If your cruise is out of Fort Lauderdale, consider flying into West Palm Beach, Miami or Fort Myers.   Likewise, if you are flying out of New York City, try all the city airports as well as Westchester, Philadelphia or Hartford.  A little drive can save a lot of money.

Also consider flying to or from your cruise a day or two earlier/later to see if prices change.  It's a fun way to extend your vacation while saving money too.

Tips for keeping your cruise deal as cheap as possible

Remember, your cheap cruise deal doesn't stop when you book your cruise fare.

From shore excursions to drinks to dining, there are a few other ways you can pinch pennies while on a cruise.

Stick to included drinks

Flavored waters

Alcohol, soda, and lattes all cost extra, and those costs could run up your cruise bill quickly.

Royal Caribbean includes quite a few drinks with your fare. The more of these you can consume, the less you'll spend.

If you're going to enjoy cocktails or beers, then try to wait until you get to a port of call. Prices for drinks off the ship are usually cheaper.

If you have your heart set on a Royal Caribbean drink package, be sure to purchase it before the cruise. The price will be higher onboard.

Eat at complimentary restaurants

Windjammer entrance on Wonder of the Seas

Say no to specialty dining and you'll also save some serious cash as well.

There are plenty of restaurants included with your Royal Caribbean cruise, and I think you'll find the food to be really good here as well.

Dining in the Windjammer, main dining room, or one of the grab-and-go locations will not compromise on your experience and keep costs low.

Bring your own drinks

Bottles of water

Did you know Royal Caribbean allows you to bring a certain amount of non-alcoholic drinks and even wine onboard?

By bringing your own soda and a couple bottles of wine, you can really save money without having to skip out on these items.

Plan a DIY shore excursion

Another good way to save money is to tour the ports your ship visit on your own.

Instead of booking a cruise line shore excursion, walk around the port on your own and see what's around. You could bar hop, take a taxi to the beach, or just hang out at the port area.

Use your credit card points

If you're headed down the "cheapest vacation as possible" road, then now is a good time to cash out those credit card points.

You could use your credit card points for a free flight or hotel stay prior to your cruise.  Or you could get a gift card for yourself to use in ports for spending money.

Bottom line

Odyssey of the Seas pool deck

There's an art to a last minute deal, especially if you're looking for a slam dunk price instead of a "not that bad" price.

With some good internet sleuthing (and a good travel agent), you may be able to find a great getaway fare so that you can enjoy time relaxing onboard a ship enjoying (hopefully) beautiful weather and a fun atmosphere. The more flexible you are, the better your chances.

Equally important is being able to save money once you get onboard, because all those extras are very tempting. If you can avoid the additional costs, you'll be able to really save big money. Remember, you can have a great cruise without spending a ton on add-ons!

Water slides on Adventure of the Seas

Ultimately, the difficulty in getting a last minute cruise deal boils down to luck with the right offer, at the right time, from the right embarkation port. When I search for last minute deals, it's not as difficult to find a good price as it is to find a good price on a sailing that you want to go on.

If you find a great price, act quickly as cabins go quickly in those final weeks. Unfortunately a lot of people miss out on a cheap cruise deal in the interim time they take to verify they can get time off from work, dog sitters, and other logistics.

Hopefully these tips help you net a great last minute deal and I wish you happy hunting!

I tried my first 3-night cruise, here's how it went

In:
06 Jul 2022

I just went on my first weekend cruise, and it was a pleasant surprise. 

Originally being from the Midwest, whenever I would plan to go on a cruise, I wanted to maximize my vacation. I figured if I had to pay to fly down to the cruise port, I may as well book for at least 7 nights to make the travel time worth it.

Now that I live in Florida, it is a lot easier to get to many of the ports, and I’ve found that my cruising options have grown. I can easily take a weekend cruise, without the hassle of multiple travel days, taking up my PTO. 

For my first 3-nighter, I went on the Freedom of the Seas out of Miami, Fl. The primary purpose of this trip was to test the new SpaceX Starlink internet service, but it also gave me the opportunity to try my first weekend cruise. 

Read more: I tried Elon Musk's Starlink internet on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship

The shortest cruise I had been on before this was a 5-night cruise, so I was worried that this trip would be over before I knew it. Royal Caribbean has so many fun activities and experiences onboard, that I wasn’t sure how I would fit in all of my favorite things in just 3 nights.

We drove down to the port early Friday morning, getting on the ship just after 11 AM. After grabbing some pizza at Sorrentos, testing the Wi-Fi speeds and getting some content for the Royal Caribbean Blog TikTok account, I set off to begin my vacation. 

I hadn’t been on Freedom since before it was renovated, so I decided to explore the ship to get my bearings. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss a thing, as our cruise had 2 stops in Perfect Day at CocoCay and Nassau. This meant that there weren't any sea days, which was new for me.

After watching the ship sail away from the helipad, we went to dinner and then checked the schedule to see what they had planned for that night. I was surprised to see that the first night’s activities and show schedules weren’t filled. There weren't productions in the Royal Theater or Studio B, though that may have just been for this sailing.

Looking forward throughout the weekend’s schedule, it seemed that a majority of the popular activities were saved for nights 2 and 3. 

Day two was spent at CocoCay.

We spent most of our day at Coco Beach Club, but on our way back to the ship I started to realize that the crowd on this short cruise was leaning towards a younger age, with more of a party vibe.

There was a dance party in the Oasis Pool between the swim up bar and DJ booth, with more people than I had ever seen in there before. 

That evening we went to watch karaoke, where the party atmosphere from the pool had continued. Before the singers start, the activities staff announced their name and where they were from.

Based on the number of singers from Miami, and the cheering from the crowd when that was announced, we realized that most of the cruisers were local. When we’ve taken longer cruises, most of the people that we meet tend to be from the Midwest and Northeast, especially when cruising in the wintertime. 

We also started noticing that there were a lot of bachelorette parties, groups of young friends celebrating birthdays, and large multi-generational families cruising with us. This made sense as it is less of a time commitment than a longer cruise, making it easier for people’s schedules to align, and get away together for a weekend. 

The most surprising thing to me was that they packed three of Royal’s most popular activities on the last day.

After another port day in Nassau, most of the ship gathered to watch the International Belly Flop competition, Battle of the Sexes and Love & Marriage. This crowd was eager to participate in these games, with multiple people ready to audition or sign up. 

Overall, my first 3-night cruise was a weekend well spent. I’m someone who always believes that I could use a few more nights on a ship, but with the activities schedule not being as packed as I expected, I was still able to see and do everything I had wanted to, as well as get a little bit of relaxation time. 

One of my worries before going on the cruise was that before I knew it, the weekend would be over. It may help that I have another cruise coming up, but I felt that I was able to experience everything that Freedom had to offer, while still having a great vacation.

With the costs of these cruises typically being lower, the ease of getting to the port and having to take less PTO, I am already looking ahead to see when I can book another 3-nighter.

More cruise advice

Pros and Cons of booking a cruise early vs last-minute

In:
16 Jun 2022

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.

Labadee aerial

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

Best prices

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.

Read more: 10 tips for saving money on booking a Royal Caribbean cruise

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.

Read more: When should I book my Alaska shore excursion?

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?

Spontaneity

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

Fewer options

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.

How far in advance do you prefer to book a cruise? Let us know in the comments below!

Ultimate Guide to last-minute cruise deals

In:
06 Jun 2022

If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway but don’t want to wait months for vacation, consider booking a last-minute cruise. Royal Caribbean’s last-minute cruise deals can often lead to incredible savings, allowing you to visit crystal clear beaches in the Caribbean, historic cities in the Mediterranean, and breathtaking fjords in Alaska on a budget.

Knowing the ins and outs of booking a last-minute cruise fare can help save you money and avoid any mistakes along the way. While last-minute cruises can be tempting, they aren’t always the best choice available for all passengers, and they require much more flexibility than booking a cruise ahead of time.

Let’s go over everything you need to know about last-minute cruise deals to help you make the right decision before booking.

What is a last-minute cruise?

A last-minute cruise is considered any cruise you book past the final payment date for that sailing. Royal Caribbean requires final payment to be made for a cruise at least 75 prior to departure for 1-4 night sailings and 90 days prior to departure for sailings 5 nights or longer.

Royal Caribbean monitors the demand for a particular sailing date and may lower the cruise fare as the sailing date approaches. While last-minute deals do not happen on every cruise itinerary, they can make for some amazing savings on a cruise vacation.

How to find a last-minute cruise deal

If you're wondering how to get a last minute cruise deal, there's a few good considerations.

Be flexible

The first step to finding a great last-minute cruise deal is to remain flexible. If you’re already set on the ship, itinerary, and time of year you want to cruise, it’s probably better to book a cruise further in advance rather than wait for a last-minute deal that may or may not happen.

Last-minute cruise deals are often unpredictable, with deals appearing one day and disappearing the next! If you’re truly looking for the best last-minute deal you can find, you won’t have much choice over itinerary, ship, cruise length, or stateroom options.

Use Vacations To Go

Vacationstogo.com has a "90-day ticker" on their website, providing an extensive list of cruises departing within the next 90 days across major cruise lines. This is an excellent way to quickly search for last-minute cruise deals when you’re flexible on port, stateroom choice, ship, and even cruise line.

The 90-day ticker allows you to filter the results by stateroom type, currency, and price per night. The price per night feature is useful for those looking for the cheapest cruise per day, with some last-minute cruises listed for as little as $40 per day!

Once you find a cheap cruise you’re interested in on Vacations To Go, you can search for the same cruise directly on Royal Caribbean’s website or contact your travel agent to book the cruise for you.

It can be difficult to sort through cruise itineraries, ships, and cruise lines to find the cheapest deal, so Vacations To Go comes in handy when looking for a last-minute cruise.

Look at older, smaller ships

If you’re hoping to sail on one of Royal Caribbean’s brand new cruise ships, such as Odyssey of the Seas or Wonder of the Seas, you’re better off booking a cruise far in advance rather than waiting for a last-minute deal.

Ships in high demand are unlikely to have last-minute deals available, as they’re more likely to be booked further in advance.

Read more: Why you shouldn't avoid older and smaller cruise ships

Instead, take a look at Royal Caribbean’s older and smaller ships when searching for a last-minute cruise. Radiance Class ships, for example, may have better last-minute deals to Alaska compared to Quantum Class ships.

In addition, Voyager and Freedom Class ships come with great savings in the Caribbean compared to the Oasis Class, which rarely have last-minute deals available.

Consider short and long itineraries

A 7-night cruise is the “standard” length of a cruise vacation, offering just the right amount of time for a mix of sea and port days. This is the most common option you’ll see when browsing Royal Caribbean cruises.

Therefore, when searching for a last-minute cruise deal, you might have better luck searching for short (3-4 night) and long (8+ night) sailings.

Itineraries on Navigator of the Seas out of Los Angeles, for example, tend to have regular deals available on both the 3-night and 4-night cruises.

Longer cruises, including repositioning sailings, also tend to have more deals available. A long cruise, especially one that is 10 nights or longer, has less demand due to vacation time required for the cruise. Because of this, it's possible to find last-minute cruise deals on long itineraries if your schedule permits.

Sail during non-peak times of year 

Last-minute cruise deals are more frequently found during non-peak times of year. The peak cruise season in North America and Europe is from May to August, aligning with the school calendar. Peak season is also found during holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break).

Read more: What is the best time to cruise to the Caribbean?

Outside of peak season, you’re much more likely to find cheaper cruise fares and last-minute deals. Here are some of the best times to find a last-minute cruise deal:

  • January and February
  • March (before the spring break season)
  • April (after the spring break season)
  • May
  • September and October
  • November (before Thanksgiving)
  • December (first two weeks only)

Contact a travel agent

Travel agents can be a fantastic resource when trying to book a last-minute cruise.

Royal Caribbean regularly sends information to travel agents about deals on upcoming cruises. Therefore, travel agents may have a better understanding of what ships and sailings are offering last-minute deals.

Read more: Top 5 things to look for in a good travel agent for your cruise vacation

Plus, if a travel agent knows you are looking for a last-minute cruise, they’ll be able to contact you whenever a deal appears to see if you would like to book the cruise.

Sail from a port close to home

While last-minute cruise fares can lead to some amazing savings, these savings can sometimes be negated by last-minute airfare prices. A plane ticket that would otherwise cost $200 when booked months in advance can increase dramatically when booking at the last minute.

Therefore, we recommend looking for last-minute cruise deals closer to your home port than ports across the country (or world). If you live in the northeast, look for deals out of Cape Liberty rather than Los Angeles or Miami.

Likewise, if you live anywhere on the west coast you’re better off searching for last-minute deals from the ports of Los Angeles, Seattle, or Vancouver.

If you do not live within driving distance to a cruise port, be sure to look at airfare prices before booking a last-minute cruise. The last thing you want to happen is to book a cheap cruise only to find out the airfare is astronomically expensive!

Sign up for Royal Caribbean’s emails

An easy way to be notified of last-minute cruise deals is to sign up for Royal Caribbean's emails. If you’ve never been on a Royal Caribbean cruise before, click on the “Deals” tab on Royal Caribbean’s website, scroll to the bottom, and fill out the contact information form.

Once your email is added to the form, you’ll begin receiving emails from the cruise line regularly detailing not only last-minute cruise deals, but information on new activities, ships, and news from the cruise line.

Last-minute cruise cabins

Booking a last-minute cruise deal may come with cheap prices, but stateroom categories will often be limited. If you’re booking a cruise just a few weeks (or days) before the cruise departs, some cabins may be sold out. Whether a balcony, interior, or oceanview stateroom, there’s no guarantee a particular cabin will be available on a last-minute cruise.

If you are hoping to book a balcony, you may find that only interior cabins and suites are available, leaving you to sacrifice on either comfort or budget.

In addition, if you have a particular suite in mind, you may end up disappointed with suite selection on a last-minute cruise. Many suite categories may be completely sold out, leaving you with fewer options to choose from. In fact, it's not uncommon for all suites to be sold out when booking a last-minute cruise!

While you can still have an excellent cruise vacation in a different room category, it might not be the experience you were hoping for in a suite.

Guarantee staterooms

The last-minute deals you see for a cruise may be for a guarantee stateroom. This means that you do not have the chance to select your stateroom location yourself. Instead, you pay for a guaranteed room in a specific stateroom category. Royal Caribbean will then assign you a stateroom close to the sail date depending on which rooms are still available.

Read more: Should I book a guarantee stateroom on a cruise?

There are pros and cons to booking a guarantee stateroom. The biggest benefit is the lower price available, meaning you can save more of your cruise budget for things like drinks, shore excursions, and specialty dining.

There’s also the slight chance of an upgrade if there are no more staterooms available in your guaranteed category. If you booked a guarantee oceanview room, for example, and those rooms are sold out, you could be upgraded to a balcony cabin at no extra cost.

The major downside to booking a guarantee cabin, though, is that you have no control over your stateroom location. If you prefer being midship and close to the action onboard, you may end up in a cabin located very far forward or aft. Not only will this lead to longer walking times, but you may feel more of the ship’s movement in your cabin.

Therefore, if choosing your stateroom is extremely important to you, you will want to make sure the last-minute cruise deal is still available when choosing your own cabin location.

Are last-minute cruises always cheaper?

Booking a last-minute cruise does not necessarily mean you’ll find the cheapest fare. In fact, a quick search on Royal Caribbean’s website shows that many of the cheapest fares listed when filtering the search from “Price: Low to High” are for many months in advance.

Cruise pricing is extremely dynamic and quite unpredictable, so just because a cruise is departing in a few days does not mean the price will always be cheaper than a cruise several months later. In fact, the cheapest cruise fares are usually found right when Royal Caribbean releases new itineraries, which is usually around two years prior to the departure date.

Read more: How to find the cheapest cabins on Royal Caribbean

That being said, it's still possible to find last-minute deals, but you should not expect to always see cheap fares close to departure.

Repricing non last-minute cruise deals

While the prospect of booking a last-minute, cheap cruise fare may seem tempting, it's not necessarily the best way to find a cheap cruise.

Booking in advance can actually offer a cheaper (and more flexible) cruising experience due to Royal Caribbean's repricing policy.

No matter how far in advance you book a cruise, you're able to reprice your cruise an unlimited amount of times prior to final payment. If you initially paid $1500 for a 7-night cruise and the price drops to $1200, Royal Caribbean will refund you the difference in fare.

Read more: Do cruise prices drop?

The only downside to repricing a cruise is that you are unable to reprice the cruise after final payment date. Therefore if the cruise suddenly drops in price ~50 days prior to departure, you'll be stuck paying a higher fare than those booking last-minute.

However, booking earlier is recommended. More often than not, a last-minute cruise deal will not occur for your sailing. Extremely cheap last-minute cruises are the exception, not the rule.

Cancellation policy for last-minute cruises

Because last-minute cruises are booked so close to departure, there is not as much cancellation flexibility compared to booking a cruise months or years in advance. Depending on when you book a last-minute cruise, you may have to pay a cancellation charge if you decide to cancel the sailing.

Ranging from 25% to 100% of the total cost of your cruise, cancellation fees can easily reach thousands of dollars. Therefore, it’s important to be 100% certain you plan to cruise before you book a last-minute sailing.

Royal Caribbean has the following cancellation policy, with cruise cancellation charges varying depending on how far in advance you cancel a cruise:

Cancellation charges on 1-4 night cruises

  • 75+ days prior to departure: no charge (except nonrefundable deposit)
  • 74 to 61 days: 50% of total price
  • 60 to 31 days: 75% of total price
  • 30 days or less: 100% of total price (no refund)

Cancellation charges on 5+ night sailings

  • 90+ days prior to departure: no charge (except nonrefundable deposit)
  • 89 to 75 days: 25% off total price
  • 74 to 61 days: 50% off total price
  • 60 to 31 days: 75% off total price
  • 30 days or less: 100% of total price (no refund)

Pros of booking a last-minute cruise

Great savings

If you’re lucky enough to find a cheap last-minute cruise deal, you can have a truly amazing cruise experience on a budget. Saving money on cruise fare can mean splurging on extras like spa treatments, drink packages, or even a higher category stateroom.

Spontaneous vacation

Spontaneous adventures, whether road trips, date nights, or vacations, are a whole lot of fun. Transitioning from normal life to life on a cruise with little notice can be exhilarating. After all, why spend the weekend watching TV at home when you could be relaxing in the Caribbean?

Cons of booking a last-minute cruise

Cruise addons

Booking a last-minute cruise means you are late to the game when it comes to booking cruise addons like shore excursions and dining packages. By the time you book your cruise, you may find much less availability on excursions and dining packages may be sold out.

Prices of cruise addons may be more expensive as well, as you don’t have the ability to book addons far in advance and later cancel and rebook if you see a cheaper price.

Airfare and hotel prices

Booking a last-minute cruise may mean spending more on transportation to and from the cruise departure port. Airfare, rental cars, train tickets, and hotels tend to only increase in price over time.

You’ll also have less choice when it comes to booking a flight schedule and hotel, which can lead to less than ideal scenarios.

Fewer stateroom choices

One of the biggest cons of a last-minute cruise is that fewer stateroom choices are available. How much this matters to you depends on your cruising style, as some passengers spend a lot of time in their cabin and others view the cabin as just a place to shower and sleep.

Booking at the last minute comes with far fewer stateroom categories than booking in advance, which could leave you disappointed.

Logistics can get complicated

If you have pets, figuring out who can watch them while you’re away on short notice is not always easy. If you have kids, it can be difficult to take them out of school at the last minute when homework, tests, and activities are happening throughout the week.

Planning a last-minute cruise can be more complicated for some passengers than others, so it’s important to consider logistics before booking.

More cruise planning resources:

Are last minute cruises really cheaper?

In:
17 Feb 2020

When it comes to travel, booking at the last minute can sometimes offer a terrific value or a sky-high price.  In terms of cruising, people wonder are last minute cruises really cheaper?

What is considered a last minute cruise?

When we talk about last minute cruises, we are talking about any sailing that is past Royal Caribbean's final payment date. 

In most cases, the final payment date is 90 days prior to when the ship is scheduled to depart.

The closer you get to the sail date, the more difficult find a deal may be, but the rewards may be higher given the cruise line's desire to fill the room.

Do cruises get cheaper closer to departure?

In practical terms, last minute cruises are few and far between. 

Royal Caribbean cruises are as popular as ever, so last minute deals are not nearly as prevalent as they once were. More often than not, sailings sell out in the weeks and months before a cruise is set to begin, leaving little to no opportunity to book a cruise closer into the sail date.

Of course, there are still occasionally last minute cruise deals to be had, but you have to dig for them.  

Since last minute cruise pricing is so rare, I do not recommend it as a means of planning your family vacation.  There are too many risks involved with not getting a cruise at all, or perhaps at a bad price, to put everything in one basket like that.

Instead, last minute cruises are a good way to supplement your vacation plans, rather than a primary strategy.

How can I get a cheap last minute cruise?

They key to snagging a great deal close to sail date is being flexible.

Stateroom choices will be limited in the weeks leading up to a cruise, and you may need to look for sail dates that are during odd times (such as a departure on a Monday).

Around 60 days before the cruise departs, you can look to see what availability and pricing is present.  Around this time, cruisers whose plans have changed have already canceled, cruise lines have a good read on passenger load, and last-minute deals begin to emerge. The reductions may or may not continue as the sailing date draws closer.

You can also find deals during off-season and lower-demand times of the year.  Last minute deals and good pricing can be found during the cheapest months of the year.

Another strategy is to leverage social media. There are many Facebook groups dedicated to a particular ship or cruise line, and often deals are shared among the members.

Regardless of how you find a deal, you will want to act quickly if you discover a good rate. Accommodations are limited and deals are often short-lived.

Royal Caribbean sticking with no last minute discounts and extending the program to the UK and Ireland

In:
23 Oct 2015

Royal Caribbean is sticking with its policy of offering no last-minute discounts to protect its price integrity and expanding it to new markets.

During Royal Caribbean's third quarter financial results call with investors, Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain highlighted the gains made by the company's "Price Integrity Policy", which promise not to drop prices in the days leading up to a ship sailing, even if it means unsold staterooms.

The rationale behind the program is two fold: First, it promotes higher guest satisfaction with the notion they do not have to worry that after they book a cruise, the price will drop and they will end up paying more.  Second, it has lead to higher revenue for Royal Caribbean.

Fain commented the policy gives,"our guests and our travel partners more comfort that when they book a cruise with us, we wont be dropping the price of that same cruise during the last few days before the ship sails."

"Depending on the itinerary, we have internally banned any new discounts in the U.S. and Canada in the last 10, 20, 30 or 40 days before the cruise starts.  The program has been in place for seven months or so and we have not granted a single exception to the policy."

The Price Integrity Policy is still progressing and that has cost Royal Caribbean money in the short term, "I acknowledge that is has cost us a bit, and is costing us a bit this year in revenue. And some cabins have gone empty, which could have been filled with dramatic last minute deals. But we stood firm and we have made zero exceptions."

"We believe our guests and our travel partners are beginning to respond as we had hoped they would and we are sticking with the program."

Fain also mentioned that Royal Caribbean has expanded the Price Integrity Policy to other the cruise markets of the United Kingdom and Ireland.  These policies extend the same policies about no new last minute discounts in Britian and Ireland that we have been applying in the U.S. and Canada.

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