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What is the best way to book a cruise?

Odyssey Aerial

Looking for the best cruise deal and aren't sure where to start? You've come to the right place! 

While your first instinct might be to try and book through the cruise line, other options exist. From third parties to travel agents, each has its own pros and cons. Who doesn't want to save money and potentially score free onboard credit to spend on the ship?

It's important to understand the terms and conditions, though, as some may have less flexible cancellation policies. 

Here are the best ways to book your next cruise. 

A travel agent

travel agent

Planning a cruise can be difficult. Whether you're a first-time sailor or cannot make up your mind on your next voyage, utilizing a travel agent will help make the process much simpler. 

With over 100 different ships across seven mainstream cruise lines, you might not know where to even begin. Every cruise line aims to offer a unique experience. While Royal Caribbean is known for amazing multi-generational family vacations on the largest cruise ships in the world, their sister brand, Celebrity Cruises, caters more towards an older crowd on their upscale vessels. 

From deciding between the eastern and western Caribbean to selecting cruise add-ons like shore excursions and specialty dining experiences, travel agents can advise you on more than what cruise line you should sail on. 


Additionally, they usually offer certain perks to incentivize you to book with them, such as onboard credit or free gratuities. I've also saved money on the cruise fare by booking with an agent!

For instance, my finacée and I booked a cruise onboard the brand-new Celebrity Ascent for July 2024. At the time, Celebrity's website was advertising a Prime Edge Infinite Veranda cabin with drinks and Wi-Fi for $6,490.18. My travel agent was able to secure the same stateroom and perks for $5,440.32. 

Agents will also give you reminders about specific dates, such as when the final payment is due and when check-in for your sailing opens. 

Read more: 5 Reasons to Book With a Travel Agent for Your Next Cruise

Third-party websites

Expedia's website

If you Google "booking a cruise," the search result will yield websites like,, and, so which should you use? 

While the rates won't vary too much from one another, you may find that each website offers different promotions. Plus, online travel agencies (OTA) make searching a little bit easier than on a cruise line's website, as you can search for sailings from a specific cruise port or departure date and get multiple options across different lines. 

One drawback, however, is that you don't have the same price guarantee as you would if you booked through the cruise line. Royal Caribbean, for instance, will allow you to reprice your sailing up to the final payment if you notice that the fare decreased. This cannot be done through websites like Expedia or Priceline. 


Moreover, their promotions can be misleading, so it's important to read the fine print. If the site is offering, for example, up to $2,000 cashback or up to $1,500 to spend onboard, the total amount you receive is often based on how much money you spend. You may only receive $25 in onboard credit if you book the cheapest cabin available, whereas those who splurge on expensive suites will be the ones who receive the full offer amount. 

Read more: Best websites to book a cheap cruise

Through membership warehouses 


Did you know that in addition to selling bulk items, you can also book vacations through Costco and Sam's Club? Of course, you have to have a membership with them to access their travel department. These vary in pricing, starting at $50 for Sam's Club and $60 for Costco. 

As with third-party websites, they usually have certain incentives to convince you to book with them, such as onboard credit and/or a gift card to the warehouse. 

If you're a frequent shopper, it could be good to look into what they're offering, as free money for day-to-day essentials is always appreciated. 

Directly with the cruise line


If you have a preferred line, you can book the cruise yourself via their website! It's an easy process. First, you select what kind of cruise you're interested in. You can choose from various filters, such as ship, itinerary, and even length (i.e., 3-5 nights, 6-8 nights, or even 14+ nights!). Then, you'll be able to complete the online booking process. This includes selecting your cabin and placing the deposit. 

You can also call and book with a representative, who will be available to answer any questions you may have, such as what's included in the fare and if they're able to arrange your flights. It's best if you have done a little bit of research before calling, though. It will make the call go much smoother if you have an idea of what you're hoping to book, such as a cruise on the line's newest ship or to Alaska during the month of July. 

Once you have placed your deposit, you can also call for help in reserving cruise add-ons. This, however, can also be done online through the cruise line's planning portal. 

While you're on a cruise

NextCruise office

You can book your next cruise before you step foot off the ship! The future cruise desk will be open just about every day of your sailing, albeit with limited hours sometimes. 

If you take advantage of their services, you'll often get extra onboard credit and/or a reduced deposit. The actual perks vary depending on which line you're sailing with. If you use a travel agent, you can transfer the booking to them once you're off, so you can receive the cruise line's offer, as well as the agent's services! 

I did this once while sailing onboard a Royal Caribbean ship. I booked a future cruise onboard Freedom of the Seas at the NextCruise desk and received $50 in onboard credit from the cruise line, as well as $50 from my agent. While not a substantial amount, my finacée and I were able to save $100 on our drink package


Of course, this can be rather limiting, as you'll have to book a cruise with the line that you are on. If you're sailing onboard a Carnival cruise, you won't be able to book a future cruise onboard Icon of the Seas or Norwegian Prima

Read more: Guide to Disney Cruise onboard booking discount

When's the best time to book a cruise?


Traditionally, the best industry-wide promotions can be found in January, February, and March. This trio of months is referred to as the "wave season." It's usually one of your best chances of saving money and getting added perks. If you missed out on booking a cruise during the first quarter of the year, you'll have other chances, such as during Memorial Day and Black Friday sales. 

If you're able to think years ahead, you should book your cruise as soon as new itineraries are released. Not only will you find the best availability in terms of cabin selection, but the rates are usually as cheap as they will get. If you're eyeing a specific sailing, it's smart to book as soon as you can, especially if you're hoping to stay in a suite or cruise on an inaugural sailing for a new ship. 

Read more: When is the best time to book a cruise?

Don't hold out for a cheap last-minute cruise

Aerial view of PortMiami

Last-minute rates are not as common as they used to be, as cruises are selling out further in advance due to the demand. During a conference call on February 1, Jason Liberty, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, said, "We have less inventory available to book in 2024 than we did a year ago for 2023 and half as many staterooms left in [the first quarter]." 

Similar comments were made by Carnival Corporation's President and CEO, John Weinstein, in September 2023, as he claimed that the company was ahead by roughly ten percentage points compared to 2019. Additionally, they had less cabin inventory to book, even though capacity increased by 5% due to new ships entering service.  

If you decide to wait to book a cruise at the last minute, you'll have to be flexible, as the stateroom category you were hoping for might be sold out. The cruise you were eyeing could be completely sold out, meaning that you'll have to pivot to sailings with availability. 


This happened recently when I was planning a last-minute cruise onboard the brand-new Celebrity Ascent. I emailed my travel agent on February 2 asking for a quote for an interior stateroom for the February 25 sailing. Initally, she said that the cruise was sold out. 

Later in the day, I checked Celebrity Cruises' website to see if anything had opened up. Luckily, I caught an ocean-view room available! It, however, wasn't the cheapest cabin available. There weren't any other options, though! 

Read more: 8 Best New Cruise Ships Launching in 2024

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