Personal Finance > Smart Spending > Travel

Getting the most for your cruise dollars
Shopping tips for the budget-conscious cruiser.
September 25, 2002: 11:06 AM EDT

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Sure, browse the brochures for a glossy glimpse of paradise -- just ignore the prices. As with hotels, there's no reason to pay list. Here's how to get the most for your cruise dollars.

First, use a travel agent. Unlike airlines, which maintain tenuous, even hostile, relationships with travel agents, cruise lines encourage booking through agents specializing in cruises. They get discounts, group rates (even if you're not part of a group) and priority on room selection. Most Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) certified agents have relationships with specific lines, so we suggest you speak with several.

Second, use the Web to do some of your own research. Want the straight dope on a line or ship? At, cruising devotees dish about everything from the size of the lobsters to how firm the mattresses are.

Book early to get the berth of your choice. Plus, many lines offer discounts; Silverseas, Royal Caribbean and Radisson take off 20 percent if you book six months ahead.

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Last-minute booking does have its advantages, though. Like airlines, cruise ships slash prices as departure time approaches. Find the deals through a travel agent or at or, both of which let you handpick your room using floor plans.

Sail off-peak. Great deals are available between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also look for deeply discounted repositioning cruises, when ships sail from winter ports (in the Caribbean, Mexico and the South Pacific) to summer destinations like northern Europe and Alaska. These trips are usually longer than a typical cruise and stop in fewer ports.

Consider leaving from alternate ports. Since 1997, the number of ships leaving small regional ports has grown from 136 to 439. This hasn't affected prices directly, but if you live within driving distance of places like Baltimore, Charleston, S.C., Galveston, Texas and Seattle you'll save on air fare. Also, some of the best last-minute offers appear in local papers.

Ships leaving from traditional "fly to" ports like San Juan and especially Hawaii have been hurt by the tourism lull and are offering sizable discounts.

Find out what's included. Cruise fares often don't cover gratuities, port charges or land excursions, and they rarely cover air fare, alcoholic beverages or babysitting.

Buy travel insurance. Trip-cancellation policies, which will refund a deposit if you cancel for medical reasons, should run about $7 for every $100 of coverage. Read the fine print: Many policies no longer cover you if your cruise line goes bankrupt. Private insurers such as CSA Travel Protection usually offer more comprehensive coverage than the cruise lines. will do a free carrier-to-carrier comparison.  Top of page

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