Best cruise deals and how to get them

Everyone likes a good deal. But great deals are even better. For guests new to cruise vacations, we have tips, tricks, and inside information on the best cruise deals and how to get them.

What kind of special offers can you expect from a cruise line?

Most cruise lines have similar offers, all bundled up and packaged differently, so comparing and deciding what kind of value you are getting for your money is wise.

When starting your search for the best cruise deals, the best thing to do is to pick a cruise early on that interests you. Then make a note of the price point for the cabin category you are looking at. Wait a few weeks, then recheck the price. Look at the fine print and see what is included.

Take some time to research the price thoroughly by speaking to the cruise line directly.

Ask them to make a preliminary booking and give you the best cruise deal. You will need to provide each guest’s name and date of birth.

Have them email you the offer. Unless you pay a deposit by the specified date (usually within one week), the offer will expire at no cost.

Check this with the cruise line. You are under no obligation to accept this offer.

The advantage of having an offer sent in writing is that you will see a breakdown of the exact cost of your cruise. This will include basic fare for your cabin category with all inclusive dining and entertainment, use of pool and sports courts etc., taxes and fees.  Ask them to include gratuities (tips) as you will have to pay this anyway, and any discounts and offers currently available.  By seeing a breakdown of the cost of your cruise, you will be accurately able to compare it with other cruise lines or cruise vacations. That way ensuring you are getting the best cruise deals available.

Now, if you think you have a great price and an unbeatable offer, you could book by paying the required deposit. You will see the deposit amount and the offer expiry date on your offer form.

Or you can wait a few weeks, then recheck the price for the same cabin category. At the same time, look out for those unique campaigns and offers and see if you can lower your cost.

Here are the sort of campaigns you can expect from cruise lines:

Norwegian Cruise Line

If you are unfamiliar with Norwegian Cruise Line’s concept of “Free at Sea,” it is an optional upgrade in addition to the basic price of your cruise.

You can choose to upgrade your cruise for a fee, depending on what’s important to you. The “Free” part of “Free at Sea” does necessarily mean they offer the packages free of charge.

Instead, the concept refers to the fact that you are “Free” to choose the packages that suit you. That is, you are free to tailor-make your cruise as you want.

“Free at Sea” upgrades are a fixed price per person, and the fee depends on the length of your cruise. Most often (and depending on what region you live in, as offers in Europe vary to those in the USA), you choose two packages in your fixed price upgrade, and the options are:

  • Beverage packages
  • Internet packages
  • Specialty dining packages (dine at restaurants that are not included in your cruise fare)
  • Shore excursion packages

However, Norwegian has a regular campaign that offers some or all free of charge when booking.

Other times they offer all four packages for a fixed price instead of only 2.

They also can offer and percentage discount on the price of your cruise. Note that this most often is a discount on the basic cost of your cruise, excluding all the taxes and fees. Check your written offer to see where and how they apply the discount.

At the time of writing (Nov '21), Norwegian Cruise Line are currently offering a 35% saving on the cost of featured cruises or fly & cruise packages. Plus all 4 perk packages for the fixed price of 99 euros or USD$99 per person for a cruise of between 7 to 9 days (less for a shorter cruise, more for a longer cruise). In addition they are offering a reduced rate for any extra guests you bring along in your cabin.

Get the offer in writing from the cruise line mailed to you. That way, you will see an exact breakdown of costs and where they apply the savings. Then you have something to compare to when you check again or compare it with other cruise lines.

Be sure you are signed up for the Norwegian Cruise Line newsletter to see all their new campaigns.

Royal Caribbean Group

Royal Caribbean have amongst some of the best cruise deals. Often, many offers and campaigns are running at the same time. These can be across their entire fleet, for specific ships, or to particular regions.

This cruise line offers significant savings, and you will see headlines such as 30% discount or a 50% discount for all guests in the same cabin. They even take away the deposit so you can book a cruise for the future and secure a cabin of your choice without paying a deposit.

And better still, the kid’s sail for free campaigns are very popular with families. That’s not to say you don’t pay anything for your children. The actual cost of the cruise with full board and entertainment is free, but taxes, gratuities, specific activities on board, and excursions still need to be paid for.

Royal is also a fan of flexible booking conditions. Sometimes they will offer a cancellation policy whereby you can cancel up to 48 hours before departure and receive a credit for the amount towards a future cruise.

Always check the small print - Often it is not a refund of money but a credit note to use the value of your cruise as a later date. Ask what the latest date is you can use your credit. Also ask what the latest date is you must actually sail. And do check to see if you get a credit for the full amount paid or is there a cancellation fee that the cruise line withhold? 

Campaigns vary depending on where you live. For example, Royal can have the following cruise deals:

  • UK residents: £440 discount on the price and bookable with just a £75 deposit
  • USA residents: $550 discount on the price and a 30% discount on all your guests
  • Australian residents: USD$400 pocket money (On Board Credit) to spend while at sea, plus a $250 discount on the price plus a 60% discount on your second guest
  • Canada residents: $200 discount on the price and a 30% discount on all your guests

Royal Caribbean’s campaigns are often good, but check the offer’s small print and details. That means clicking on their website’s “terms and conditions” and reading the campaign.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises’ concept is an “Always Included” pricing. This offers an all-inclusive cruise to make the booking process a bit easier for you.  

What this means is, whichever class of cabin you book, your price includes the cost of:

  • Gratuities
  • Classic Beverage Package
  • Wi-fiWifi one device per cabin)

Then there are the upgrade packages you can add, and read more about them here.

So what offers do Celebrity Cruises have over and above this “Always Included” concept? At various times throughout the year, you can often find the following types of campaigns from Celebrity Cruises:

50% off the price of the second guest. Remember that the half-price offer will be calculated on the basic cruise fare, not including all your taxes and fees. These will be added on afterward and will not be discounted.

We are also seeing more and more offers for the solo travellers as the cruise lines try and fill their single capacity cabins. And Celebrity are no exception. You can find offers from 25% to 35% off the base price of a single cabin.

Offers of onboard credit are not unusual with a Celebrity cruise. Remember to ask the cruise line when booking if your onboard credit is per person or cabin and exactly how you can spend this on board.

For example, can you book shore excursions and room service or use it to upgrade to a better wifi or beverage package?

Most often, the answer is yes, but the rules and conditions of offers vary, so check when you book to see what kind of real value onboard credit gives you.

If you are a Captain’s Club loyalty program member, you may nab an even better deal. So from the first time you cruise with Celebrity Cruises, be sure to become a member and gain loyalty points.

Points are awarded for every night you are onboard. Sign-up is free of charge, and you can find more information here.

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises generally have excellent prices for their cruises. Especially when children under 12 years old are in the same cabin as Mum and Dad, you will sometimes be amazed at how little it costs them, considering all meals are included!

That’s why when MSC Cruises release campaign prices, booking often soar. Then it’s first come, first serve for the best cabins in the category you are after (inside without window, outside cabin with a window and ocean view, a balcony cabin, or even a suite).

Campaigns vary. Favorites we see popping up time and time again are 30% discounts on cruise prices – note this is on the basic cruise price. You never get a discount on any taxes or fees calculated separately in your booking.

An all-inclusive beverage package offered within the price is a popular campaign. For this, you will most likely (unless specified) get MSCs basic beverage package called the “Easy” package, which includes the following:

  • Draft beer 
  • Select house wines by the glass
  • A selection of classic cocktails
  • Alcohol-free cocktails
  • Soft drinks, fruit juices by the glass, bottled mineral water
  • Coffee (espresso, cappuccino, caffe latte), hot chocolate, hot teas

It’s a good package and one that is more than adequate for the whole family. Upgrade to premium and pay only the price difference if you want a more extensive selection of wines, cocktails, draft beers, and bitters.

But all in all, the promise of a complimentary beverage package is a freebie many cannot resist. And in all truth, you will add value to your already well-priced cruise if you can nab this offer at the time of booking.

Sign up for the MSC Cruises newsletter, so you don’t miss out.

Questions to ask the cruise line about their offers and campaigns.

All you see initially are the campaign headlines. Prudent questions to ask your cruise line would be:

  1. Is the discount on the price for the total cost of the cruise, or just on the base price excluding taxes, fees, gratuities, etc.? Do you get the same discount on excursions, for example?
  2. Is the discount amount stated on the total booking or per person? Can the monetary discount apply to the deposit amount, or will it be taken off the total cost of the cruise when your final payment is due?
  3. What can you purchase with the onboard credit you are offered? For example, can you book specialty restaurants and shore excursions or use them for a beverage package? Can you use it in part payment for something more expensive? Do you get the amount back in cash at the end of your cruise if you haven’t spent it?

Are offers of a discounted fly & cruise package a good deal?

Cruise lines love it if you book a fly-and-cruise package. The package will most likely include flights to and from the port city of origin and departure, transport to and from the cruise ship, and the cruise itself. It is, of course, an opportunity for them to make more money.

The cruise line may also offer an attractive fly and cruise package discount. This can be a good offer if you must fly to your port of origin to start your cruise. However, comparing this offer with the price of booking flights is essential.

When doing this, add the best flight price you can find (direct flights are worth it even if they cost a bit extra) when flying two days before cruise departure (always recommended). Plus the nights at a hotel and transport.

It’s a meaningful comparison. Because you may find a lower price than the cost of a flight that the cruise line offers you, even with the discount, if the cruise line flies you on the same day your cruise departs, they are responsible for getting you to the cruise ship on time. You should check that a transfer from the airport to the cruise port is included.

If you book your flights yourself, you must make it to the port on time, it becomes your responsibility. Therefore we always recommend that you fly in at least two days before departure. 

Or more if you want to enjoy the city of embarkation before you cruise. 

For example Barcelona, Rome, London and Athens are some of the most fantastic cities in the world and deserve to be explored before you cruise.

When is the best time to book a cruise, and do cruises get cheaper closer to departure?

Experienced travel agents are used to booking cruises for customers about a year before the sail date.

The best time to book a cruise package (consisting of the cruise, flight, hotel, and transfers to and from the ship) was when the airlines released flight prices. And this is 10-11 months ahead of the departure date. And this is when you, too, should start looking.

Early booking of your cruise gives many benefits:

  • Secure the exact cabin you want
    Cabins with connecting doors or family suites are limited in number on board. Booking early ensures you get the size cabin you want, with the view to match.
  • Book the itinerary you want
    Choose the destinations you want to visit on a date that works for you and your family.
    Are you traveling with kids and can only travel during school vacations? Get in early to fix the date that works best for you and your budget. Involve the family when choosing the itinerary. Do you have some bucket list destinations that you have dreamed of visiting?
  • Lock in the best price deal you can find
    Cruise lines do adjust prices according to demand. If you are lucky enough that the cost of your booked cruise reduces, they will adjust your final payment to reflect the new lower price. Taxes, however, can be subject to change.
  • Early booking still means you can lower your price
    If you see your cabin category suddenly become available at a lower price, then call the cruise line and ask for a refund for the price difference. Do this before making your final payment. However, check that you do not lose your perks or any special add-ons that appear in your original booking.

How do I let the cruise lines know I am looking so special offers are sent directly to me?

Don’t be afraid to leave your contact details with the cruise lines that appeal to you. They all want you as their next customer. And you will most likely receive offers and promotions daily. Do the following:

Sign up for newsletters via the cruise lines' own websites.
This way you will not miss out on the best cruise deals going.

Norwegian Cruise Line Newsletter
Royal Caribbean Newsletter
Celebrity Cruises Newsletter - Click "Subscribe" in the top bar menu
MSC Cruises Newsletter

Follow the cruise line on Instagram. 
You will get promotions sent to you through your feed. 

Be an active group member.
Join a Facebook group for the cruise line or region you are interested in visiting. There are numerous groups out there. Some run privately and others run by travel agents. World gets out quickly and you can pick up valuable info through these groups that share. 
To find a group just put in your cruise line name in the search bar in Facebook at you will get group suggestions pop up. Choose the group with the best fit for you.

Like the cruise line on Facebook. 
Very often through Facebook's messenger you get answers to common questions are can write to the cruise line directly and receive an answer. But more preferable than hanging on the phone waiting for them to answer.

Are cruises a good deal?

A cruise ship is a great way to see many places in a short amount of time.

You get from port to port without the need to travel by road on board a floating hotel.

Cruise ships have everything you need onboard for your convenience. Although the price tag may be high at first glance, cruises are considered a value-for-money vacation option compared to the total cost of flight and hotel packages.

Cruises include things that would otherwise cost you extra – everything from all your meals to entertainment, sports activities, and transportation.

So yes, we think a cruise offers good value for money for an all-inclusive vacation.

Meet the author: Sarah has created and booked hundreds of travel itineraries for thousands of customers during a career in the travel industry that spans 20 years. Having worked hand in hand with cruise lines, hotels, airlines and tour operators worldwide, she offers inspiring & detailed insights in the world of travel and tourism.