Need to get away? Consider taking a last minute cruise to relax and enjoy a quick break. There can be plenty of last minute cruises to meet your needs and you might even get a bargain as well.
Last minute cruise deals and stateroom availability tend to be best off-season, particularly from late August through mid-December. Avoid trying a last-minute booking strategy for holiday periods and prime summer weeks, as most cruises sell out during those time periods. Repositioning cruises, itineraries used by the cruise lines to move their ships from one major region to another, are also good bets for last minute availability and reduced rates.
Here are seven tips for taking a last minute cruise, saving money and finding hot cruise deals:
1. Watch Your Timing: While it's certainly possible to sail away with only a few days notice, be aware that many ships sell out very close to departure - particularly those with popular Caribbean itineraries. Try to research your options several weeks before sailing to get the best choice of ships and itineraries.
2. Check With The Pros: Contact a good travel agent to find out your options and select the cruise that's best for you. Travel agents are also often aware of excellent last minute deals and special promotions. Some online sites that can be helpful for finding last minute cruise bargains include VacationsToGo.com, CruiseCompete.com, CruisesOnly.com, and Cruise.com. Last minute stateroom availability in many categories can be limited, particularly for cabins that can accommodate three or four people. A good travel agent can help research the possibilities and recommend the choices that might best fit your needs and financial constraints.
3. Stay Flexible: Stay true to your budget and cruise preferences when shopping for a last minute cruise. After all, the goal is to have a great time and enjoy your vacation. On the other hand, remaining somewhat flexible about your itinerary and other details may help you to find a better deal. If you must cruise to a particular port (say St. Thomas) to have a great time, tell that to your travel agent. Be aware, however, that sometimes Western Caribbean itineraries may have lower prices for a similar length cruise.
4. Cruise From a Nearby Port: Cruise lines have many homeports around North America and Europe, eliminating the need for pricey last minute airfares. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines offers 18 year-round or seasonal North American homeports within driving distance of many areas of the country. Year-round homeports include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, Jacksonville, Tampa, Charleston, Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, Galveston and Long Beach, California. Carnival's seasonal homeports include Seattle, Boston, Norfolk, Honolulu, Vancouver, Ensenada, Barcelona and Venice.
5. Look Into Alternative Transportation Options: If driving to a homeport isn't convenient and last minute flights are too expensive, check into other options such as Amtrak and major bus lines such as Greyhound, Megabus, BoltBus and others.
6. Have Your Documentation Ready: Check with the cruise line and your travel agent to make sure that you and your entire group have the proper documentation necessary for your cruise. Some cruises require a valid passport for all passengers, while some passengers on "closed-loop" cruises departing and ending from the same US port may only need a birth certificate and a government-issued picture ID. Always carefully confirm documentation requirements before booking, particularly for a last minute cruise.
7. Plan For Last Minute Dining and Shore Excursion Issues: Sometimes certain dinner seatings and ship-sponsored shore excursions may already be completely booked when a last minute cruise is purchased. If this happens, it's possible to make alternative plans. Immediately after boarding your cruise, check with the Maitre dí in the dining room to see if you can change your dinner time to your desired seating. If not, you might be able to opt for your cruise line's flexible dining program if available. Other options include taking advantage of casual buffet dining on some evenings, trying out one of the shipís alternative dining restaurants, or even taking advantage of free room service. If your favorite shore excursions are sold out, look into tours available from private companies. The boards on CruiseCritic.com and TripAdvisor.com can be good sources for private shore excursion information.