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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.

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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.

In this guide:

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

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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