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There's so much to experience on a Royal Caribbean International cruise and we want to make sure you make the most of your time with us. Cruise Planner is available to help you pre-plan your vacation right after you've booked your cruise. Now you can plan ahead and reserve shore excursions, book specialty dining, schedule spa treatments and more on your tablet or computer from the comfort of your home.

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The Best Ways to Book a Cruise

Lee Huffman

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

Not all cruise sites are created equal. While you may find comparable prices on different sites, each site has its own benefits, offers and cancellation policies. 

Before you book, though, have a look at these credit cards that come with cruise benefits to sweeten the pot even more.

What is the best way to book a cruise?

The best place to book a cruise will vary depending on what you're looking for out of the experience. We've broken out cruise booking sites based on common booking goals.

From our findings, here are the top cruise booking sites for your next vacation, plus the pros and cons they offer travelers.

For sailings across the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America: CheapCaribbean

CheapCaribbean.com is the best cruise website for the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America. It offers a best-price guarantee plus limited-time offers and discounts.

If you find a better deal within 24 hours of booking, CheapCaribbean will price match and beat it by $25. The company's customer service is available seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.

Best-price guarantee.

Customer service is available seven days a week.

Charges a $24.99 processing fee on reservations.

Must provide an email address to receive the best deals and promos.

» Learn more: The best cruise lines

For consulting reviews from other cruisers: Cruise Critic

Cruise Critic is an independent website that encourages community members to post reviews and share tips.

Its message boards offer ways for website visitors to ask questions and share feedback with others based on their personal experiences and opinions. The site also acts as a metasearch for cruise deals, pulling in prices from multiple cruise websites.

Read cruise reviews from travelers who've been on that itinerary before.

"Deal Score" ranks deals to find the best value.

Price tracker shows 90-day trends for cruise prices.

Must click through the deal to book your cruise on other websites.

Prices are not guaranteed and can change before booking due to fees and restrictions on the sites where the cruises are being sold.

To review several cruise prices at once: CruiseDirect

CruiseDirect is the best cruise website when all you want are cruise prices. It doesn't offer hotels, flights, rental cars or other reservations you may want for your next vacation. CruiseDirect does, however, offer bonuses for travelers booking through its site.

Travelers can filter search results by destination, cruise line or departure port on various ships. This site offers cruises for every type of traveler, from budget to luxury, and every type of ship, from riverboats to mega-ships.

Bonus offers on every reservation provide extra value.

Best-price guarantee and free reservation holds.

Buy now, pay later financing options.

Promos offered by cruise lines aren't exclusive to CruiseDirect.

Customer service can be unfriendly.

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» Learn more: Should you insure your cruise?

For budget-friendly options: Priceline

Priceline was originally known for its "Name Your Own Price" promotions, but has grown into a full-service online travel agency offering flights, hotels, rental cars and cruises, saving consumers more than $1 billion dollars per year.

Travelers who book a cruise with Priceline receive up to $2,000 to spend at sea, plus waived deposits on their reservations.

Up to $2,000 to spend on board.

Waived deposits of up to $500 when booking your cruise.

110% best-price guarantee within 48 hours of booking.

Ability to book flights, hotels, rental cars and more from the same site.

Must call Priceline to get exclusive offers and unpublished fares.

Restrictions make the best-price guarantee harder to benefit from.

» Learn more: Tips for getting the best cruise deals

For booking travel experiences beyond the cruise: TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is an online reviewer community where travelers share their experiences, pictures and ratings of hotels, suggested activities and more. This honest feedback and travel inspiration also make it one of the best websites to book a cruise.

Search over 70,000 cruise deals from more than 60 sites at once.

Dedicated ship pages share details, reviews, photos and itineraries.

Too many search results make it harder to narrow down your choices.

» Learn more: Are cruises all-inclusive?

To match with a vacation planner: Avoya Travel

Avoya Travel is a family-owned website that matches travelers with a vacation planner based on their preferences. It's the best way to book a cruise using a travel planner because it offers a low-price guarantee without charging extra fees for the planner.

The downside is that online pricing is not "live." Therefore, you must speak with a travel planner to get the latest prices and book your cruise.

Match with cruise planners according to your needs.

Does not charge Avoya fees for booking, changes or cancellations.

Get a low-price guarantee and the expertise of a vacation planner without extra fees.

Must become a member to unlock the best deals.

Pricing on the website is not "live" pricing, so actual cost may vary.

Cannot book a cruise online. You must speak with an independent vacation planner.

» Learn more: The best cruise insurance right now

To book a vacation package with an airline or hotel

American airlines cruises.

American Airlines AAdvantage members can earn airline miles when booking cruises at BookAACruises.com . All members earn one mile for every dollar they spend on cruise reservations, up to 10,000 miles. Some cruise specials offer up to 100,000 miles based on your selected cruise.

If you have an American Airlines credit card, you'll earn 2x miles, up to 20,000 miles. These miles and Loyalty Points count toward airline elite status. Additionally, trips booked through this site are eligible for promotions offered by the cruise lines.

Earn miles and Loyalty Points toward travel and elite status.

Cardholders earn 2x miles, up to 20,000 miles on cruises.

Cruise experts are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Cruise reservations are offered by a third party, so customer service issues can be a challenge.

» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now

Delta SkyMiles Cruises

Delta Air Lines is another airline that allows members to earn airline miles when booking cruises through its portal. Booking through SkyMilesCruises.com helps you earn Delta SkyMiles on your purchase.

Members get up to 10,000 miles on most cruises and up to 100,000 miles on luxury cruises. Plus, the site waives deposits on eligible cruise reservations.

Can earn up to 100,000 miles when booking a cruise.

Waives deposits when booking eligible cruises.

110% price guarantee within 48 hours of booking.

Most cruise awards are capped at 10,000 miles.

Miles earned are based on the length of the cruise, not the amount spent.

United Airlines Cruises

United Airlines MileagePlus members can earn up to 25,000 miles when booking a cruise through United at Cruises.United.com .

When you have a United Airlines credit card, you'll earn up to 45,000 miles. By offering up to 4x miles per dollar spent (or 7x as a cardholder), this site is the best way to book a cruise and earn airline miles on your purchase. If you have Premier status, you receive additional perks on select cruise lines, like wine and onboard credits.

Earn up to 7x miles on cruises.

United MileagePlus Premier members receive additional perks.

Can redeem miles to pay for some or all of your trip.

Not all cruises can be booked online.

Prices do not include a nonrefundable $24.99 processing fee.

Marriott Bonvoy Cruises

If you want to earn hotel points on your cruise, Marriott Cruise with Points is the best cruise website for you. You'll earn up to 6x points on your cruise purchase, or you can redeem Marriott Bonvoy points to pay for your trip.

Plus, Marriott cardholders can earn an extra 2x points when they use that card for their purchase. While most cruises max out at 25,000 Bonvoy points earned, some luxury cruise lines offer up to 250,000 Marriott points.

Earn up to 6x points on your cruise, up to 250,000 Marriott points.

Marriott cardholders receive an extra 2x points when paying with their cards.

Can use Bonvoy points to pay for your cruise.

Redemption value of Bonvoy points is only 0.4 cent.

Must call to book cruises using points.

Processing fee of $24.99 per reservation.

» Learn more: Airline credit cards vs. hotel credit cards

For cruise package deals: Costco Travel

Costco is a retailer that offers exclusive products and pricing to its members. Through its Costco Travel website , members receive exclusive prices and benefits when booking hotels, rental cars, cruises and travel packages.

Executive Members earn 2% back on Costco Travel purchases and receive additional benefits on select packages. Plus, Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi cardholders earn 3% cash back rewards on Costco Travel purchases.

Earn 2% rewards and extra perks with Executive Membership.

Some cruises offer Costco gift cards or onboard credit.

Must be a member to book reservations with Costco Travel.

Directly with the Cruise Line

In some cases, booking directly with the cruise line can be best because it eliminates a third party. If there's a problem with your reservation or you need to make a change, you don't have to worry about the booking site and the cruise line pointing fingers at each other.

This may be the best approach if you know which cruise line you want to book and which cities you want to visit. However, you may miss out on promotions offered by third-party sites.

Simple search functions.

No hassles with third parties for problems, changes or cancellations.

Less likely to get scammed by fraudulent sites.

Miss out on deals offered by third-party sites.

Harder to compare prices, benefits and routes from multiple cruise lines.

Comparing cruise prices across websites

Without being able to compare prices, it can be a challenge to determine the best site for booking a cruise. To make it easier to compare, we priced out a 7-night Caribbean cruise for two adults. 

We selected the lowest-priced balcony room on Royal Caribbean departing from Miami in August 2023. Here are the results:

Mitigate cancellation policy risks with travel insurance

If you're worried your trip plans being disrupted by bad weather or a change of plans, travel insurance might help. This optional standalone insurance can be purchased separately from your cruise bookings.

But you might not even need to pay out-of-pocket for trip insurance because many credit cards offer travel insurance as a built-in benefit to customers who pay for travel expenses on that card.

» Learn more: The best credit cards for cruises

Travel cards with cruise benefits

You can get even more perks by booking your cruise with the right card.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Bank of America's website

The Platinum Card® from American Express

on American Express' website

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Receive 60,000 online bonus points - a $600 value - after you make at least $4,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

Get 25% more value out of your points when you book cruises through Chase.

Book with your card to get automatic travel protections for your cruise.

Redeem miles as a statement credit to cover spending on cruises.

Book with your card to get automatic travel insurance coverage for your cruise.

Earn 2x points on travel spending, including cruises and some ship excursions.

Book with your card to get trip delay reimbursement, trip cancellation coverage and other travel assistance services.

Get American Express Cruise Privileges Program benefits when you book at least five nights with eligible cruise lines. Terms apply.

Cruise program benefits include $300 credit redeemable toward dining and spa services plus amenities like wine, chocolates and champagne. Terms apply.

Booking a cruise recapped

When looking for the best way to book a cruise, the price is virtually the same on every website. The difference lies in how each seller sweetens the deal.

Several cruise booking sites set themselves apart from the competition by offering additional benefits to encourage booking through them. Additionally, being able to book other parts of your trip — like flight and excursions — on the same site, or offering access to a travel agent, distinguishes some of the best cruise websites. 

When prices are the same, we recommend cruise bookers compare the perks being offered, then book on the site with the most appealing bonuses, like onboard credits, airline miles, hotel points or cash back.

If you're searching for cruises on a third-party website, you may question the legitimacy of that site. This is especially true if the site doesn't look professional or some of the information is outdated.

For this reason, you should stick with one of the best cruise booking sites on this list because they've been vetted for legitimacy and have a good track record with travelers.

Yes, last-minute deals can be the best way to book a cruise. If your travel plans are flexible, these deals can save you a lot of money. Keep in mind that you may not be able to book your preferred destination or routing if it is sold out.

Unfortunately, most cruise lines do not offer free cancellations or changes to take advantage of price drops after you book. Passengers can always negotiate with a booking site or cruise line, but they aren't obligated to refund the difference. Instead, they may offer you onboard credit, complimentary excursions or credit toward another cruise booking.

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Find the best cruise for you

Featured cruise deals, cruising guide, why take a cruise vacation.

If you have a place on your bucket list, chances are, a cruise will get you there. Cruises cover the world, taking millions of passengers each year to destinations like the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Alaska, Europe, the Mediterranean and even Antarctica. Cruising offers a tremendous value, with trips that include your lodging, meals and entertainment, all rolled into one. Some cruise lines even offer fully inclusive vacations, which cover drinks and tours ashore. Cruising means seeing the world while unpacking only once.

Cruises also provide a wonderful option for families, with many ships offering things like waterslides, mini-golf courses and fun clubs for kids and teens -- all for free. Planning is easy: Pick your destination and the right ship for you. The cruise line makes it simple, offering packages to help you save on extras like alcohol, shore tours or even airfare.

Travelers say they choose to cruise because cruising often costs less per night when compared with staying at a hotel, where they'll have to book -- and pay for -- all their extras.

What are Tips for Finding Cheap Cruises?

If you're a flexible traveler, you'll have a better chance of finding cheap cruises. Take a cruise that doesn't sail over the summer or holidays, when prices are highest. Book an inside cabin, or take your chances with a "guarantee cabin," ideal for passengers who aren't picky about their cabins but really want the lowest price available. Book cabins on lower decks, which often come with lower prices than those rooms on higher floors.

Cruise lines such as MSC Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International offer rates that might drop as low as $75 per person per night -- and sometimes lower. Here's a tip: Many times, the smaller ships from these lines offer the smallest prices.

If you want a real bargain, consider a transatlantic or repositioning cruise. These cruises are one-way or open-jaw trips, that start in one port and finish at another. You can score a deal sailing from Florida to Europe, for example, or even from New York to Florida. Just be aware, you'll probably have to pay a bit more for airfare to return.

What are Tips to Finding Last-Minute Cruise Deals?

Being flexible will get you the best last-minute cruise deals. If you live near a cruise port and can drive, you're probably going to be able to jump on those deals that might pop up a week or two before the ship is set to sail.

If you don't have flexibility with dates and locations, be willing to bend on destination. This will allow you to find a wider range of last-minute deals traveling to locations in their off-season or shoulder season.

Do plenty of research and know what your ideal cruise costs on average. When you see it drop, pounce! Many cruise lines update pricing several times every day, so be prepared.

Best cruises in 2020

Part of the appeal of cruising is that there's truly something for everyone. Ships come in an array of sizes, some loaded with so many activities, you couldn't get to them all in a week.

Families will find plenty of options and activities onboard big ships, which have transformed cruising, making the vessels as exciting as the destinations to which they sail. The Caribbean is a great option for families, offering lots of sunshine, great beaches and culture. Alaska, famous for its incredible vistas and abundant wildlife, also is a solid family cruise option. Consider cruise lines such as Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney, Celebrity, MSC and Holland America for a family cruise.

River cruising has been heating up over the past few years, with itineraries that send passengers down the Danube or Rhine rivers in Europe or to even more exotic locations, like the Mekong River in Cambodia or Vietnam or the Volga River in Russia. Popular river cruises embark in cities like Amsterdam, Budapest and Lisbon. Popular river cruise lines include Viking, AmaWaterways, Avalon, Scenic, Emerald Waterways, Tauck, Uniworld and Crystal.

If you're a thrill-seeker, consider an expedition cruise. These cruises, often onboard small ships, offer an intimate experience that brings passengers right up next to glaciers, whales, penguins and iguanas. Ships visit tiny spots all over the world, including Antarctica, Alaska, Australia and Greenland. Passengers will spend their time kayaking, hiking, biking and exploring with expert guides and knowledgeable naturalists. Expedition travelers love cruise lines such as Lindblad Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures, Silversea, Hurtigruten, Ponant and Quark Expeditions.

Luxury cruises offer all-inclusive experiences onboard smaller ships with perks like butlers, high-end amenities and personalized, intuitive service. Ships often feature luxury touches like marble and crystal decor, intimate spaces and beautiful spas. Because luxury ships tend to be smaller, they can often reach off-the-beaten-path destinations bigger ships can't -- ports like St. Tropez or Guadeloupe. If you're looking for a luxury cruise, consider Crystal, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Azamara, Viking Oceans and Silversea.

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The Best Websites to Book a Cruise in 2024

Looking for the best website to book your cruise ?

We wouldn’t be surprised if after a little bit of searching, your head is spinning a little bit.

Think of all the options you have to consider — the length of your trip, the cruise line, the ship, the date, ports of call, and more. And that’s before you even decide on which website to use to book your cruise.

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Cruising is big business, and that’s why you have dozens of websites at your disposal, all competing for your travel dollars.

From the major cruise line websites like Carnival.com to major travel portals such as Orbitz or Expedia to lesser-known sites that specialize in cruises like AvoyaTravel.com, it can seem like your options are nearly unlimited… and overwhelming.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be stressful to book a cruise.

To help you out, we detailed the pros and cons of the best websites to book your cruise below. Before we get too far, however, there’s something you should know about price shopping for cruises online.

Cruise Buying Tip: Prices Are Often the Same Across Every Site

If you are worried about finding the best price for your cruise, there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is that cruise prices are usually the exact same across every single website you search .

Below are the results of a search we recently did for a July 2024 Carnival cruise from Miami aboard Carnival Celebration, with prices listed for each website:

As you can see, they all have the exact same rates. That means you don’t have to run yourself ragged trying to find the best deal.

The bad news? If you’re a deal-hunter, there isn’t some magic website that has cruise fares for dramatically cheaper than everyone else (that we’ve ever found). But there are differences on where you book.

That’s because some sites can offer perks like onboard credit or even a direct phone number to call to talk to someone with any questions you might have before you cruise.

So should you just find any random site and book your cruise? We’d suggest not. Below we lay out the advantages and disadvantage of booking with each different type of website.

For more on getting the best deal on a cruise, see our 10 Rules to Getting the Best Deal on a Cruise here .

Booking Direct Through Cruise Line Websites

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It used to be that if you wanted to book a cruise, you’d visit a travel agent or call up the cruise line. You can still take those routes, but the cruise line websites make it simple to book your trip.

Every major cruise line allows you to book online and do everything from find a cruise to make upgrades, buy extras like drink packages, and pay for the trip. In other words, you can book your spot on the ship completely online at any time of the day.

Specific cruise line websites include:

  • Carnival.com
  • RoyalCaribbean.com
  • DisneyCruises.com
  • MSCCruisesUSA.com
  • Princess.com

Each of these cruise line websites will allow you to be as narrow or as broad with your search as you wish. You can search all cruises, or search for trips on a specific ship, leaving a specific date, and from a specific port.

Advantages: The good thing about booking directly through the cruise line then there is no third-party company to deal with should there be an issue with your trip. Want to make a change or get a refund? You don’t have to worry about any sort of mix-up between the cruise line and another website. While this is rarely an issue, it could happen.

Disadvantages: The main drawback of using a cruise line website? It’s like going to a buffet and restricting yourself to only the salad bar.

Cruise line websites only have cruises from that line, so you are limiting your options of prices, ships, dates, and itineraries. In other words, if you’re looking for the absolute best deal or the most flexible schedule, you aren’t likely to find it searching only one cruise line.

If you are loyal to one specific cruise line, then that’s ok for you. But if you want to see all your options, it’s better to do a search on an “aggregator” website that will search all the cruise lines for that perfect vacation.

Bottom line: Know which cruise line you want to sail? Then going directly to the cruise line site is a good idea. Just know that if you want the cheapest deals or the most available cruises, then opening your search to more lines is ideal.

Booking on Aggregator Websites

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While aggregator websites sound complex, they are actually just search engine for travel bookings. In fact, you’ve likely searched on these sites before for a hotel or a rental car. The sites include the big names that you’ve seen advertised heavily on TV and the Internet:

  • Travelocity.com
  • Expedia.com
  • TripAdvisor.com

Just like searching for a hotel room, you can search these websites for a cruise across all of your options. This means being able to search across all the lines at once. They also give you the ability to narrow searches to specific dates of cruising, length of trip, destination, port of departure and more.

One thing to note is that many websites in this space are actually owned by a single company — Expedia. For instance, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, and Orbitz.com, are all part of the Expedia family.

That means you’re going to find the same prices across these sites, along with similar search functions.

Advantages: There are two main advantages to using an aggregator website. First, they allow you to search across every cruise line.

So if you want to sail from Miami, you’ll see all the options from the port for every cruise line. That gives you a better chance of finding something that matches your budget and schedule versus just searching one line.

In addition, while aggregator websites will almost always have the same prices you’ll find everywhere else, they often offer perks you won’t find on the cruise lines websites.

For instance, a cruise might be priced the same as another website, but will have an offer of free onboard credit as an incentive to book through them. These perks usually aren’t huge, but are a nice to have.

Disadvantages: The drawback is that booking through third-party websites introduce a “middle man” into your cruise booking. The vast majority of the time that creates no issue.

However, if there is a reason where you need to change your booking or get a refund, then it could be a little more complicated than booking directly through the cruise line.

So should you use aggregator sites? We think so as they can help you look at every cruise available to find one that fits. Smart cruise shoppers use them to look at all their options and see what sort of incentives they have for booking through their site.

Bottom line: Not sure which cruise line you want? An aggregator site will search them all at once, allowing you to sort by price, date, and more. Use these to find the best deals and the most flexible dates.

Booking Through Specialized Cruise-Travel Websites

In addition to the large cruise aggregators, there are a number of smaller websites focused solely on cruises.

These sites include:

  • AvoyaTravel.com
  • CruisesOnly.com
  • Cruises.com
  • VacationsToGo.com

These websites are similar to the large aggregator websites in that they can help you search through every cruise out there to find the best deal. The difference? These websites focus solely on cruises.

With a focus on cruising, they are able to better serve cruise passengers — including having staff that you can call directly to help you book.

In other words, these sites are more akin to having your own travel agent to help you with the booking process compared to only a website.

That’s a big help if you’re not entirely sure about which cruise you should book. As well, these sites often have deals and incentives to entice you to book.

Advantages: Like the larger aggregators, the niche booking websites offer the ability to search across multiple cruise lines to see all of your options. As well, many of these sites also offer their own special incentives such as onboard credit or low deposits for booking through them.

In addition, these sites feature their phone number prominently for those who wish to talk to a person about their reservation. You don’t always find that with the large aggregation websites. Their staff are also focused on cruises, giving you someone who knows what they are talking about compared to someone with more general travel knowledge.

Disadvantages: While booking through these sites is largely the same as through the cruise line or an aggregator, we’ve found the incentives can be somewhat confusing.

For instance, one recent search promoted free gratuities on trips booked through the site, but we couldn’t find any mention of this once we actually started the booking process. Digging further, the incentive applied only to certain cruises, despite being heavily promoted.

That’s where having the phone number to call an agent of the company directly is a big help in getting things explained.

Bottom line: Sites like these offer the benefit of searching multiple cruise lines and the help of an agent you can call to help you book.

Booking Through Costco Travel

Are you a Costco member? If so, then you can book cruises online through the store. In fact, the offers are good enough that it’s usually worth it to become a member for a year just to book a cruise.

You can book online at CostcoTravel.com

Costco is well-known for its low prices, great deals, and customer service. Buying a cruise through the store might not enter many people’s minds, but it can save you big.

Like other cruise-buying websites, Costco offers rates that are in line with what you’ll find anywhere else. However, the big difference is that Costco offers special incentives to book through their site. This includes Costco Shop Cards — a gift card to the store.

Advantages: While the deals change from day to day on aggregator websites, Costco’s incentives are simple and straightforward. If you book through them, then they offer Costco Shop Cards. The amounts can be high as well.

For example, we found a cruise offering a $45 Costco Cash Card for booking the cheapest stateroom for just $409. In other words, that deal is like getting 11% off the price of your cruise . The cash increases substantially with upgraded cabins.

Disadvantages: First, in our searches, sometimes Costco’s pricing seems to jump around quite a bit. So you’ll see one price, click through, and then another price appears. Even so, sometimes that works in your advantage with seeing lower prices than you thought. Sometimes it doesn’t, but the Costco Shop Card more than makes up the difference.

The other disadvantage is that you need to be a member of Costco to book. An annual membership costs $60. In addition, the Costco Shop Cards are only valid at the store. It’s not the same as actual cash.

Bottom line: Costco can offer great cruise deals if you are a member, but not everyone is.

Final Recommendation for the Best Websites to Book a Cruise

Costco Members: If you are a Costco member, then we suggest CostcoTravel.com as the best website to book a cruise. It’s the largest and simplest incentive we’ve seen for booking online. Prices are competitive, but the cash back offers provide a lot of value. Just be sure to compare the total price there with what you find on other sites before booking.

Non-Costco Members: If you aren’t a Costco member and don’t want to join, then we suggest looking first at the specialized cruise travel sites to search all your options and find the cruise you want.

If the site offers a good incentive for booking through them, then know that you’ve found a good deal. If the incentive isn’t that strong or you don’t want to go through a third-party to your reservation, then booking directly through the cruise line is your best bet.

FAQ About Booking Cruises Online

How do I know if a website is legit to book a cruise? There are dozens — if not hundreds — of websites that you can use to book your cruise. Frankly, not all of them look professional, so it is understandable you might question the legitimacy of a website or their deals.

We suggest you stick with the websites mentioned here or other well-known spots.

Above all, remember the age-old rule that if something sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Be wary of any websites advertising cruise deals that are significantly less than the same cruise priced elsewhere.

What about booking last-minute cruise deals on websites? It makes sense that if a cruise cabin is about to sail empty the price would drop to fill it up. In reality, this doesn’t usually happen. In fact, cruise lines consistently have occupancy rates above 100% — meaning that more than two passengers are in some cabins.

By waiting until the last minute you aren’t likely to find great deals, but it will mean that you have fewer cabin choices. It’s best to book earlier compared to later.

What if I book on a website and the price drops? Cruise prices can fluctuate. It’s possible that if you book one day, the next day the price may go down. The good news is that the price is unlikely to move much (unlike airfare).

So what do you do if the price does change? In that case, you’ll want to contact the website that you booked through — not the cruise line (unless you booked through the cruise line’s website). For example, if you book through CostcoTravel.com, then contact them first for any price drops you see.

Have more questions about the best website to book a cruise? Let us know in the comments below.

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CruiseCompete.com allows you to get quotes from multiple travel agencies by requesting a quote only once. You open an account for free, enter the date/cruise you want to go on (their site has info on itineraries, dates, etc) and then travel agents will respond with their pricing and special deals (OBC’s, etc).

I totally agree. I know people like to think they’re getting a “deal” but there aren’t that many deals out there. Most websites and TA’s are basically selling the same thing, for the same price. Where you will find better “value” sometimes though, is with a travel agent that can help put the pieces of the trip together for you. You’re getting more personal service, without paying more. A nice little bonus when we booked through an online TA was that we received an onboard credit that we weren’t expecting, which was nice. The deals likely come with whatever credit card you use, getting points or cash back. Some cards are pretty generous with their cashback on certain things.

You are dead wrong about costco cash cards. As a costco member you can cash the cards at any store for actual cash money. Done so many times.

That’s a good tip.

What about booking thru an independant, or franchise, agent? ONLY an indepent person is able to/allowed to give you back some of their commission. Most often as OBC – but heck $100 of OBC pays your gratuities. fyi: There are THOURSANDS of agents that have the SAME inventory as Cruises Only. ALL under the World Travel Holding Umbrella.

Vacations to go has a amazingly well laid out web site with every imaginable ship or itinerary feature. Just check it out and see. Great price and incentives as well

Why no mention of “www.Vacationstogo” ? I booked many at a reduces price on their website.

you didn’t mention booking through credit card companies. For instance, you can earn points for booking your cruise through Capital One, or, if you have discover you can earn 5% cash back through booking a cruise. Also, There are a few other sites such as Sears or Shop Your Way where you can book vacations. It’s not just going to the travel aggregator sites. if you can’t find a lower price, at least you can get a discount through these card companies. If you have the card that is.

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The 9 Best Sites to Book a Cruise

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Avital Andrews

Avital Andrews, SmarterTravel's editor-at-large, is a travel and lifestyle journalist who is also a contributing editor for AAA's Via magazine. Her stories have been among the 10 most emailed or viewed on the Los Angeles Times, Outside, Sierra, and SmarterTravel websites, and have also appeared in USA Today, HuffPost, Apple News, Business Insider, and many other nationwide outlets. Her travel book , sold at bookstores and on Amazon, is in its fourth edition, and her journalism gets national media attention, including from The New York Times , The Atlantic , Time , NPR, and MTV. She's currently working on her first children's book. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb .

The Handy Item I Always Pack: My laptop—the lightweight and stylish HP Spectre x360—since I'm almost always on deadline.

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Booking a cruise isn’t always simple. It can be a complicated, time-consuming process that involves dozens of open tabs and maybe a spreadsheet or two. But knowing the best site to book a cruise can help a lot.

And while would-be travelers are accustomed to clicking around on travel search engines to find the best deals on flights , hotels , and rental cars , many people don’t realize that they can use these same types of sites to book cruises, too.

But is there one best site to book a cruise? That depends on what you’re looking for. Sometimes the best cruise website is actually a cruise line’s own site—since technically, cruise booking websites aren’t allowed to undercut the prices that the cruise lines set.

Often, though, the best cruise search engines are indispensable for locating incredible deals, including ones that throw in booking incentives worth hundreds of dollars—in Amazon gift cards, complimentary shore excursions, onboard freebies, and so on.

To save you the hassle, SmarterTravel investigated the glutted space of cheap cruise sites to determine which are worthy of listing as the best cruise websites; below are a few that come highly recommended.

The Best Sites to Book a Cruise

  • Expedia (including Travelocity and Orbitz )
  • TripAdvisor

Avoya Travel

Cheapcaribbean.com, cruisedirect, cruise critic, costco travel, cruisewatch.

Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of Expedia

Expedia is an obvious first mention in a list of the best cruise booking sites, in part because it’s an absolute juggernaut (Expedia also owns Travelocity and Orbitz ). Its cruise-booking interface is simple and straightforward, only requiring you to enter your preferred sailing destination and date range, as well as how many passengers you’ll be bringing along. Then Expedia does the heavy lifting for you, with comprehensive results that make it one of the best cruise search engines.

On Expedia, it’s common to find bookable cruises for 70 percent off face value, with the ability to sort by price so the best cruise deals come up at the top of the list, saving you the scrolling. A sample search for a mid-June cruise to Alaska, for example, quickly came up with a seven-night itinerary starting at $389 per person—that’s less than $56 per person, per night for a mostly inclusive weeklong vacation.

Expedia’s cruise deals tend to come paired with other enticing offers, including steep discounts on pre-departure hotels when you book both your cruise and hotel through Expedia. There’s also a dedicated 800 number that lets you speak to Expedia’s cruise experts and, often but not always, a generous amount of onboard credit thrown in for good measure.

Best feature: Sheer search power. Expedia’s easy-to-use cruise search engine generates a useful and well-ordered list of the best cruise deals, without much effort required from the user. Also, Expedia’s prices frequently match what the cruise lines themselves offer.

Check out Expedia

Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of Priceline

Priceline is another powerhouse among cheap cruise websites. The initial interface comes off a bit clunkier than, say, Expedia’s or Kayak’s, but the tradeoff is that you can quickly search by cruise line, both standard and luxury, as well as by cruise length and departure port.

Using the seven-night Alaska example, Priceline brought up an itinerary aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Radiance of the Seas that starts at just $374 for the full week—roughly $53 per night. Hard-to-believe cruise deals like this show up on Priceline with regularity, which is part of what solidifies it as one of the best cruise websites.

Also adding to the appeal: deals exclusive to Priceline, plenty of bonus amenities (examples include $50 in onboard credit, third and fourth guests sailing free, and free specialty dinners for two), no money down to book certain sailings, frequent onboard credit sales, an 800 number to call should you need assistance while booking, and a loyalty club that’s ties in with every cruise line’s loyalty program. Priceline also lets you click a “senior discount” box if that applies to you.

Best feature: Priceline’s “ 110% Best Price Guarantee ” promises that if you find your cruise listed at a lower price on another website within 48 hours of booking, then Priceline will refund you 110 percent of the cost difference, including port charges.

Check out Priceline

Tripadvisor

Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of Tripadvisor

Many people think of Tripadvisor mainly as a travel review site, where you go to get real talk on hotels and attractions, and to see non-glamorized photos of places as seen through actual travelers’ eyes. But Tripadvisor is also an excellent site for travel deals, including on cruises.

Tripadvisor Cruise , which launched in April 2019, is among the best websites for cruise deals—it lets you nab the lowest price by comparing more than 70,000 ocean and river cruises from some 60 of the best cruise websites. It’s got an attractive, inspiring landing page, and its newest function, “Explore Ship-tinerary pages,” lets you browse full ship profiles, details, photos, and itineraries.

Though Tripadvisor is technically a meta-search site for cruises, which means that it will send you elsewhere to actually book, its search engine lets users sort by destination, length, cruise line, and month of travel. The default search results are ordered by “best value”, unless you specifically click that you’d rather see the results organized by price, cruise length, departure date, or cruise ship. Even when you click on “price,” the lowest-priced offering doesn’t always come up first, though it only takes a few seconds of scanning to determine which itinerary has the lowest price—that seven-night Royal Caribbean International trip to Alaska came up on Tripadvisor starting at $365.

Best feature: What makes Tripadvisor one of the best sites to book a cruise? In addition to having one of the best cruise search engines, Tripadvisor lets you read other cruisers’ candid reviews of the cruise that you’re considering, so that you get the non-sugarcoated truth about each sailing.

Check out Tripadvisor

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Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of Avoya Travel

A rarity on the internet, Avoya Travel is a family-owned company that has been dealing in travel for more than 55 years. Avoya is one of the best sites to book a cruise in part because of its patented technology that lets travelers search cruises by destination, date range, cruise line, and last-minute status—and then get matched up, in real time, with one of Avoya’s expert vacation planners, who use that algorithm to customize a cruise booking to your specific preferences. (From Avoya’s website: “…we combine the ease of online search, with the expertise and personalized service of Independent Vacation Planners, plus secure exclusive deals and extras so you get more out of every vacation.”)

Avoya’s team of staffers and wide network of independent agencies make for a cruise booking website that’s a bit different from the rest. Its front page shows the “Best Travel Deals,” which might include half-off cruise fares, onboard credit, prepaid gratuities, and free or reduced airfare.

Like several of the other best cruise websites, Avoya offers a low-price guarantee; if you book a cruise with Avoya and then find a lower rate on another website within 24 hours of booking, Avoya will refund the difference.

Best feature: Avoya offers free membership, and members get exclusive deals and discounts, access to unpublished fares, first dibs on promotions, the ability to save favorite searches, and the right to book, change, or cancel travel without incurring any Avoya fees.

Check out Avoya Travel

Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of CheapCaribbean.com

When looking for the best site to book a cruise, don’t be put off by CheapCaribbean.com ’s overly specific moniker. Despite the site’s name, it offers cruises all over the world. The site’s vibe is beach-oriented and a bit cheeky, with a front page that can overwhelm—but click on the “Cruises” tab, and a cleaner interface appears. There you can search by cruise line, ship, destination, departure date, and departure port.

CheapCaribbean.com offers refunds on 24-hour cancellations (within certain parameters) and a “ 110 percent best price guarantee, ” a promise that if you find a lower price on the same cruise within 48 hours of booking, the company will refund you 110 percent of the difference. The site also lists traveler reviews about each cruise ship (as supplied by Cruiseline), though the reviews often include comments about the ship’s destinations other than the one you’re considering, which isn’t entirely helpful. There’s also a live chat widget if questions come up while booking.

Best feature: Helping to make CheapCaribbean.com one of the best cruise search engines is the fact that it lets you check boxes for additional discounts, including a senior discount, discounts by state (just enter your ZIP code), and past guest discounts if you’ve previously sailed with, say, Princess, Norwegian, or Disney.

Check out CheapCaribbean.com

Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of CruiseDirect

Its front page is clunky and sort of in your face, but CruiseDirect is still one of the best cruise sites for a variety of reasons. As a cruise-only company, CruiseDirect doesn’t deal in flights, hotels, or rental cars, allowing it to focus its full capacity on helping you find the best cruise deal possible. On the site, you can search by destination, departure port, month, length of cruise, and cruise line. There’s real-time online chat and a contact number for support from a cruise expert. If you aren’t quite ready to buy, you can “heart” cruises to save them as favorites to refer back to later.

CruiseDirect offers perks on most sailings, like onboard credit, free drinks, free Wi-Fi, free gratuities, free travel insurance, or a free specialty dining experience—check out the “Bonus” box on the cruise listing you’re considering to see what extras it comes with.

Best feature: Like some of the other cruise websites on this list, CruiseDirect offers a “ best price guarantee ,” which means that if you find a lower price on another cruise booking website within 24 hours of your initial booking, you’ll get refunded the difference. But one key difference between CruiseDirect and the other cruise sites is that you don’t have to pay the cost of your cruise up front, just a deposit—and then if your cruise fare drops before you’ve made your final payment, CruiseDirect will readjust your rate accordingly.

Check out CruiseDirect

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Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of Cruise Critic

A subsidiary of Tripadvisor, Cruise Critic has similar search results to that site, but it offers a bit more comprehensive information for seasoned cruisers who want more details before they book. Cruise Critic has tons of filters and sort options to help you find what you want, including everything from cruise line to cruise style (family cruises, luxury cruises, cruises for the disabled). Each itinerary clearly lists what is and isn’t included in the fare; Wi-Fi, alcoholic drinks, gratuities, and port taxes and fees are among the common exclusions.

Certain itineraries are marked with graphics declaring that the ship has won one of the site’s “Cruisers’ Choice” awards, denoting vessels that Cruise Critic members declare to be the among the best in categories such as cabins, entertainment, and family-friendly features.

You can sign up for price alerts, which will notify you by email when the fare on your selected itinerary drops.

Once you’re ready to book, Cruise Critic shows you a variety of offers from some of the best cruise booking sites, including bonuses such as onboard credit and prepaid gratuities. Then you click off to the site of your choice to make your purchase. Prices generally match what’s advertised on Cruise Critic.

Best feature: Under each search result is a tab for “reviews” where you can read reviews from Cruise Critic members who’ve previously traveled on the ship. On certain cruises you can click over to a full-length write-up of the ship by one of the experts on the Cruise Critic editorial team, including detailed information on dining options, cabins, entertainment, dress code, and more.

Check out Cruise Critic

Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of Costco Travel

When you think of Costco, you probably think of bulk food and toilet paper. But the next time you’re booking a cruise, it’ll be worthwhile to pull up Costco Travel , which is, unexpectedly, one of the best cruise websites.

The site doesn’t look fancy—it’s pretty bare-bones, visually—but the upside of going with a no-frills cruise-booking website is that Costco Travel offers extremely competitive prices, as well as some of the most attractive incentives, usually in the form of Costco Cash delivered to you after you get home from your cruise.

Though there’s no single point of contact if you need to call and discuss your cruise booking, Costco Travel’s call center is staffed with helpful agents from early morning until evening, seven days a week, and passengers can rest assured that Costco won’t go out of business before they set sail. Note that a Costco membership (starting at $60 per year) is required to book with Costco Travel, and that Costco doesn’t accept American Express.

Best feature: Rock-bottom prices—plus lots of cash back if you play your cards right: Costco Citi cardholders earn 3 percent cash back on cruise purchases, which can combine with the 2 percent Costco Reward for Costco Executive Members for a total of 5 percent back on Costco Travel’s already super low cruise rates.

Check out Costco Travel

Laptop showing the cruise search homepage of Cruisewatch

Pondering which is the best site to book a cruise? Keep Cruisewatch in strong consideration—more than a typical cruise booking website, Cruisewatch bills itself as a “digital cruise advisor” that couples data power with personalization.

As an artificial intelligence cruise advisor, Crusewatch created technology that makes searching and booking a cruise more efficient—the first, it calls “Cruise Price Prediction.” In short, Cruisewatch collected and stored the daily price for each ship and cabin over a span of five years, resulting in millions of data points—and a massive database that informs exactly when cruise prices are lowest, and when the greatest saving potential exists.

Thanks to this comprehensive price history, Cruisewatch can predict cruise prices and drops with an accuracy rate of around 80 percent. Using the site’s cruise price prediction alerts, travelers can save up to 71 percent just by booking at the right time.

In addition to being able to predict prices, Cruisewatch tailors user search results to match their established preferences through customizable profiles and other similar features. This means you won’t waste time wading through cruises that may be cheap but don’t align with your vacation goals.

Best feature: Cruisewatch’s easy-to-set price alerts, based on tons of data, allow users to be notified in real time of the best new cruise deals the minute they come online.

Check out Cruisewatch

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Need a place to stay the night before you set sail? Search SmarterTravel Hotels for great accommodations in your port of call.

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Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them.

Follow Avital Andrews on Twitter  @avitalb  or on  Facebook .

Editor’s note: Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

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Everything to Know Before Booking Your First Cruise

By Mark Ellwood and Ramsey Qubein

How to Book a Cruise 2021 NCL Bliss Endicott Arm Alaska 2018

Approaching how to book a cruise for the first time has always been somewhat daunting, with a dizzying assortment of itineraries, companies, destinations, and ships to choose from. How can first-timers  book a cruise without going wrong? We asked three  Traveler -approved experts for their seasoned advice: Gene Sloan is cruise editor for  The Points Guy ; Jason Leppert is cruise editor for  TravelAge West ; Carolyn Spencer Brown is  Cruise Media’s chief content officer. All three are industry experts that have decades of experience across various types of cruises.

What’s the ideal cruise length for a first-timer?

A week or so is the  sweet spot for most first-time cruisers , which will offer three to six ports. Three-day sampler itineraries won’t allow you to explore more than one or two destinations, and you can’t decompress as thoroughly, either. Still, Leppert suggests a weekend trip could be enough for those that just want to try out cruising for the first time to see if you like it. 

While that’s  a good idea for some, Sloan also points out that cruise lines don’t always put their best ships on shorter runs. The ships on these itineraries can sometimes be older and have fewer of the bells and whistles that draw people to cruising in the first place. He says it is not exactly representative of the latest cruising has to offer, and the destinations on super-short cruises are not always the most unique offerings.

What’s the best way to book a cruise?

Many may wonder: Is it cheaper to book a cruise direct? Sure, you can  book a cruise online—but it’s a rookie mistake. Smart cruisers know the best place to book a cruise is with a  travel agent . Though agents’ roles have diminished in the mass-market travel biz, they remain crucial for cruising. Not only can specialists offer seasoned advice, but they can also wrangle deals and promos: Ask them about shipboard credit, which is the ocean equivalent of a gift card to spend onboard—$100 or so is a standard bonus. They may also have access to group rates, according to Sloan. Even if their prices are similar to those when booking direct, the volume of business agents do with cruise lines means you are more likely to score perks like a cabin upgrade or welcome bottle of Champagne when using one.

As the industry reinvents itself in the wake of the pandemic, it’s never been more important to have expert counsel, adds Spencer Brown. “At the end of the day, you’re going on this trip to relax, have fun, learn something, and get away from your everyday world. I want that support system.”

If something goes wrong, an agent can help rectify the situation faster than you may be able to if you go it alone. You won’t be paying more for their service, either. Most make their money via commissions from the cruise lines. Leppert calls it “the best of the best” advice to go with a travel advisor. 

What’s the best time to book a cruise?

If you're looking to leverage new cruise deals, the best way to  book a cruise is by starting early since prices continue to be robust. “There’s so much pent-up demand. People haven’t traveled for a year or more, so they’re spending more money on the trips they’re going on—upgrading to a nicer suite, perhaps,” says Spencer Brown. This could make it harder to secure the cabin you want on the sailing you want.

Leppert highlights  Wave Season (January through March) for booking a future cruise since this is when cruise lines typically announce their best deals although last-minute bargains always pop up. Like Spencer Brown, he says that demand is outpacing inventory so it is best to book as soon as possible.

Sloan agrees and says people  book cruises much further in advance than a hotel or flight, which means that inventory can get gobbled up quickly. Many cruise lines open up their reservation window as far as two years in advance, which means certain cabins can get snatched up. Don’t forget that many travelers are looking to use leftover credits they have from the pandemic, which further compounds the demand.

Most major cruise lines offer the equivalent of a price adjustment—if the cost of your cruise drops after you pay a deposit, but before the final payment, you’ll be protected, and refunded the difference. This means there is little penalty to reserving as early as possible.

What are the best types of cruises for first-timers?

Opt for a winter sun trip in the  Caribbean . It’s easy and affordable to reach the boarding port, and shuttling between the clusters of islands offers a compact, convenient way to experience a multitude of cultures. “Think of a cruise as a tapas menu,” says Spencer Brown—it allows you to sample destinations to which you might later return for a longer visit. Even handier, when on a Caribbean cruise almost every island accepts payment in dollars, so there’s no need to juggle currencies. The waters also are largely calm, keeping seasickness to a minimum.

River cruising is another smart first-time choice, adds Spencer Brown. “You can literally walk off the ship into town, go to a park or ride a bike, or just sit on the top deck breathing the air—it’s marvelous,” she says. 

Sloan offers another take saying that your travel budget should lead the way. If you are prepared to drop $1,000 a night on a cruise, start out on an upscale line with smaller ships like Silversea Cruises or Seabourn. These will give you a taste of cruising with fewer passengers, and often to smaller, less-frequented ports. 

If the budget leans more toward the $100 per-day price point, try one of the newer mega-ships from Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean. These newer ships can have a bustling resort vibe that will keep you busy no matter what your cabin type.

How to Book a Cruise 2021 MSC Sinfonia Le Piscine pool area

Seasoned cruisers know that ship amenities are often less buys while at port.

Understanding cabin categories

There’s a dizzying array of options (and pricing) for staterooms, especially on larger ships. First-timers who simply want a place to crash often book the cheapest category, an interior cabin with no window or balcony. 

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If you fall for the trappings of a bargain-basement deal, that cheapie stateroom might be right across from the service area, with a door slamming shut 24/7 or underneath the kitchen, with heavy carts rolling at 6 a.m. Avoid cabins below frequently used passageways on the top decks where footsteps and the sound of deck chairs moving frequently can be annoying. Even higher category cabins can be one deck below the main deck so it is wise to ask about this when reserving.

There are several websites with exhaustive cruise deck plan maps that offer advice and user-generated feedback, almost like a sea-going counterpart to SeatGuru’s airline seat maps. These can be a lifesaver when choosing a cabin type.

The scoop on shore excursions

For a first-timer, these can be confusing. Details aren’t often added to an itinerary until six months or so before sail date; check back regularly, snap up a place on any excursions that are of interest, and book early—popular options can reach capacity long before sailing. 

Still, some travelers choose to go off-menu and arrange private excursions, using independent companies, which can often be cheaper than the line's options. Just keep in mind that when taking an independent excursion, the ship won’t wait for you if you’re late. Staying with the cruise line’s jaunts may be more expensive, but is a safer bet if you are not sure of a new destination.

Sloan says that it really depends where the ship is going. In some ports like Barcelona or Venice, it is easy to venture off on your own without an excursion. Others, however, may require longer drives or special access passes making excursions a safer bet.

Another consideration is to use port days to spend more time on the ship. Leppert notes that onboard amenities like pools, buffets and waterslides are less crowded when most people are ashore. If a particular destination doesn’t appeal to you (or perhaps you have been many times before), it’s ok to enjoy the ship instead.

What is a sea day?

Transits, when the ship is en route between ports, are known as sea days (like the term shore excursions, it's more  cruise lingo ); passengers, obviously, remain on board. Many newbies fret about wasting time at sea rather than exploring, but they’re often a fun chance to explore the ship itself, as well as decompress between ports. Some travelers actually  book cruises that have at least one or two sea days, especially if it’s a larger ship with loads of amenities like water parks, race car tracks, zip lining, and multiple shows. 

What's the best first cruise for a family?

The mega ships are always primed to be the best first choice for families, whether Norwegian’s 4,200-passenger  Escape or the newest Oasis class of ships beginning with the  new  Wonder of the Seas . Their emphasis is on activities like adrenaline-rushing water slides, surf simulators, and three-tiered race tracks.

Disney Cruise Line is an obvious place to start for families, but it has a surprising number of activities and experiences for adults, too, including adults-only areas on board. Still, this isn’t the line for an adult-only vacation unless you’re a hard-core Disney fan.

How much does it cost to book a cruise?

You may be wondering how much does a 7-day cruise usually cost? The answer is that it depends. The time of year you travel (avoid school holidays, for example), the destination, and the ports of call can affect the overall cost. 

Many travelers enjoy, for example, taking repositioning cruises. These happen typically as the seasons change and cruise lines move their ships from one region to another (between the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, for example). Sometimes, these cruises visit islands that are rarely frequented making them more expensive. Many experts say that they are not ideal for first-time cruisers, however, as there may be many sea days. 

Shorter cruises that rely on drive-market travelers typically come with a lower price point than those in far-flung destinations. Special deals and repeat traveler discounts can also affect the overall cost.

What is the cheapest cruise ship to go on?

These are generally the shorter sailings from Miami or Port Canaveral, for instance, using the larger brands like Carnival, Princess Cruises, or Royal Caribbean, according to Sloan. The best deals are generally in the fall (the low season for Florida departures). Cruises to the Bahamas or the Caribbean tend to be more affordable than those to places like Europe or Alaska.

West Coast travelers can find great bargain deals on cruises to Mexico, too, adds Leppert.

What to know about cruise insurance

Don’t skimp on  cruise insurance . Cruise vacations can easily fall prey to flight disruptions or storms that can snarl plans. Check online for insurance policies from places like VisitorsCoverage and Seven Corners, which have reasonable prices for comprehensive coverage.

If you’re flying to the embarkation point, plan to arrive the day before—even the most perfect cruise won’t wait if you’re stuck in air traffic congestion all morning. Yet another reason to ensure you’re insured.

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Do these 3 things before your Royal Caribbean cruise

While you can just book your cruise and then show up on embarkation day, that's probably not the best decision you can make. 

Cruises generally require planning — more than most traditional vacations — because ships have limited resources.

Exactly which decisions need to be made before you sail vary by ship, even within the same cruise line. On Royal Caribbean's Oasis-Class ships, for example, you need to make theater, comedy and Aquatheater reservations before you sail or risk not getting to see those shows.

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On smaller ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet, that isn't necessary. Most preboarding choices can be made in the cruise line's Cruise Planner, essentially a section of its website. Check-in should be done via the Royal Caribbean app (although technically it can be done from a computer).

Unless you do precruise planning, the first day of your cruise will be less fun as you spend time waiting in line. You want to maximize your time having fun, and putting in a little advance work makes that happen and gives you a better chance of getting everything you want out of your cruise vacation.

1. Download the app and check in

While some seasoned cruisers like to put their phone away in their cabin's safe once they board the ship, it's a lot easier before your sailing if you download the Royal Caribbean app. The single most important thing you can do before your cruise is to check in through the app as soon as you can.

Once you log into the app, from the home screen you should click on the person icon toward the upper right corner of the screen. Once you do that, the app will show you your sailing, unless you have multiple cruises booked, and then you will have the option of clicking into each sailing.

When you arrive at the page for your sailing, scroll down, and you will see either the option to check in or the date check-in opens. Put that date into your calendar, as you want to check in as soon as possible.

On that day you will have to enter your passport info (or scan it), take a picture of yourself, and pick a boarding time. Early boarding times tend to fill up fast, but if you check in on the first day that you can, you will have your pick. That can be the difference between an 11 a.m. boarding and a 2:30 p.m. boarding time.  

2. Book dining, drink, internet and excursions

Royal Caribbean has some fairly confusing policies when it comes to what you can book before your cruise. If you buy an Unlimited Dining Package, for example, you cannot book your meals before you board. If, however, you buy individual meals at specific restaurants, those can be booked before your sailing.

Internet and beverage packages almost always cost less if you book them before your cruise. You don't need to book either one, but if you want to stay connected, or have drinks beyond the very basic included beverages, it's best to book those in advance.

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When you buy internet, it's generally cheaper to buy a multidevice plan that can be shared if you need multiple connections. Let's say one couple is in a cabin while their adult children are in another: A two or three-device plan can be bought and shared. That's not breaking rules as each connection paid for can be moved between devices. 

When it comes to alcoholic-drink packages, however, every adult over 21 sailing in the same cabin must buy the Deluxe Beverage Package if one person buys it. Usually, if you have a nondrinker in the room, Royal Caribbean will allow you to purchase a Refreshment package, but sharing of the Deluxe Beverage Package is strictly prohibited. 

When it comes to excursions, prices may be lower when you book before your cruise, but that's not the only reason to do it. Some popular activities and trips do sell out, so waiting until you are on board could be disappointing.

3. Study the ship and plan must-sees

When people visit Disney World or a city they've never been to, they'll often buy a guidebook or study up on their destination. That makes sense because they're there for a limited time and they want to make the most of it.

Think of a cruise ship as a theme park or a strange city. You would be amazed at how many people get on a larger ship and learn about a favorite activity only late in their cruise. Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas, for example, has a sports bar overlooking a sports court that offers everything from basketball to bumper cars, but it's not in a location you're likely to walk by.

Cruise ships have a lot of hidden areas you may not know about. You can find out a lot simply by reading about your ship on Royal Caribbean's website.

Sign up for the Come Cruise With Me newsletter to save money on your next cruise.

And just like at Disney World, it makes sense to identify things you really want to do so you can prioritize them. 

It's also a good idea, especially if you are traveling with children, to set a meeting point in case you get separated as communication on a cruise ship can be challenging. 

Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas at seas. Ship Lead

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When it comes to planning the ultimate getaway, there are so many reasons why cruise vacations rank among the most popular travel options. First of all, they’re completely stress-free. On a cruise vacation, all the planning is taken care of by the cruise line — from the destinations you sail to and the shore excursions available at each port, to a full range of entertainment and activities happening onboard every day. If you’re not a planner, or if the only things you’re looking to focus on during your getaway is savoring great food, relaxing, and soaking up the sights, cruise vacations are the way to go. A cruise vacation is also a great option if you’re traveling with the whole family, especially when you opt for a Royal Caribbean cruise. All of the ships in this cruise line’s fleet offer family-friendly experiences for guests of all ages. Even little ones will find plenty of ways to play with spaces and activities designed for tots to tweens. One of the top reasons savvy travelers love cruising, though, is because of the incredible value it offers. With Royal Caribbean, your cruise fare includes access to most of the ship’s attractions, select dining venues and all of the entertainment onboard. If you want to make your experience even more all-inclusive, you can opt for beverage and specialty dining packages that cover drinks and dinner at some of the most exclusive restaurants in the fleet. On top of all that, the cruise line presents frequent limited-time offers and seasonal sales, making it easy to score big savings when booking your vacation.

I’m ready to start planning my cruise — how can I score the best deals?

Whether you’re looking to book a short getaway or a longer adventure to far-flung destinations, Royal Caribbean makes it easy to save big on everything from your cruise fare to special experiences onboard and onshore. The first step to making sure you get the best deals is to join the cruise line’s email list. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll receive regular updates on all the latest offers, like deals by destination , kids sail free promotions and flash sales. The savings don’t end when you book your cruise, though. Once you’ve made a reservation, you’ll also receive notifications about special offers for onboard experiences — like discounts on beverage and specialty dining packages, shore excursions, spa services, and more via My Royal Cruise .

Does it pay to plan ahead, or should I wait until the last minute?  

It’s an age-old question — does the early bird really get the worm, or are there perks to taking a “wait-and-see” approach? If you’re booking a cruise vacation, you’ll find there are benefits to both strategies. Planning ahead is a great way to score big savings , as Royal Caribbean often runs early saver deals to guests booking well in advance. It’s also pretty safe to assume prices usually go up as availability goes down the closer you get to your sail date, so booking ahead is a surefire way to lock in a great rate. That said, booking a cruise at the last minute can also yield some unexpected savings — but only if the itinerary you’re interested in hasn’t sold out yet.

If you can be flexible when it comes to your travel dates, you’ll have your pick of unbeatable savings. Popular vacation dates — like the holidays , spring break , summer vacation and week long cruises — sometimes see the highest prices (though you might get lucky with a seasonal sale). If you have the flexibility to travel during the shoulder season or off season, you’ll likely enjoy big savings on popular stateroom categories , like Balconies and even Suites. The deals don’t only apply to your cruise fare, though. Once you’ve booked your vacation, you could easily unlock discounts and specials on add-ons, including beverage and dining packages , Voom® high speed internet, shore excursions, and amazing experiences not included in your cruise fare — like a day of pampering at Vitality SM Spa, a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship’s galley followed by brunch, VIP seating at shows, and much more.

How can I maximize the value of my cruise vacation?

There are plenty of ways to get more bang for your buck when you sail on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Every ship in the fleet offers a range of delicious complimentary dining options , but you can dig into even more crave-worthy flavor by purchasing a Specialty Dining Package for less ahead of your cruise. Add a Specialty Beverage Package — which includes unlimited alcoholic beverages, soda, and more — and your experience is as close to all-inclusive as it gets. And with so many complimentary shows and attractions onboard, you can easily fill every sea day without spending a single dollar extra.

Royal Caribbean also offers deals based on departure ports  and destinations, so if you’re a flexible traveler looking for great savings, you can plan your next vacation around which itineraries are on sale. Just check your email or visit RoyalCaribbean.com/cruise-deals to stay up to date on promotions, sales and special offers. You can even browse sailings and deals by homeport, destination and season, so you can rest assured you’re getting the best possible deal no matter when or where in the world you choose to set sai.

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28 countries for $25K? Princess' World Cruise will offer 'more all-inclusive experience'

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On Princess Cruises’ 2026 world cruise, the line will one-up itself.

The 114-day sailing will visit 52 ports, the most destinations for any of the line’s world cruises.

Terry Thornton, the line’s chief commercial officer said the voyage “addresses a growing interest in longer voyages that make stops at more exotic destinations, and the urge to do it as part of a more all-inclusive experience,” according to a news release .

“Our 2026 World Cruise offers our most destination-rich itinerary ever so guests can immerse themselves in a global experience rich with landmarks, ancient ruins, unique landscapes, wildlife, gastronomy, cultures and heritage,” he added.

What is a world cruise? It's not a 'shoot-from-the-hip decision'

When is Princess’ 2026 world cruise?

The cruise will sail round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Jan. 5, 2026, on the line’s 2,000-guest Coral Princess ship.

 Guests can also opt to sail round-trip from Los Angeles on Jan. 21 instead.

Where will the cruise go?

Guests will sail to 28 countries on six continents, and the stops will give passengers access to 45 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The itinerary also features late departures from more than a dozen ports, including Honolulu, Hawaii, Singapore, and Sydney, Australia. Guests will also stay overnight in Hong Kong.

The cruise will include the line's first-ever stop in Boracay, an island in the Philippines, and Coral Princess will make new world cruise calls to Puerto Chiapas, Mexico and Ponta Delgada in Portugal’s Azores Islands . Guests can enjoy destination-specific programming on board, such as themed deck and sail-away parties, lectures on Mediterranean history and art, World War II and more.

How much does the cruise cost?

The round-trip Fort Lauderdale departure currently starts at $25,214 per person based on double occupancy, while the Los Angeles option starts at $24,004, according to the line’s website .

Guests who book by Oct. 31, 2024, will get a complimentary Princess Premier package that includes Wi-Fi, premium alcoholic drinks, specialty coffee and more; $500 in onboard credit each for two passengers; and transfers from local airports, among other perks.

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at [email protected].

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'I'm weary of repeating myself': How do I deal with rich friends who take $22,000 cruises and book $800 hotel rooms? Prices are crazy enough already.

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By Quentin Fottrell

'When one friend made a fuss over wanting to fly business class, I threatened to cancel completely'

Dear Quentin,

I have never had a problem living below my means, until now. My problem is extravagant friends and family members who think differently than I do, post on social media and want me to continue to vacation with them. I have no problem saying no to $16,000 plane tickets, $800 hotel rooms, $22,000 cruises and such, but they keep asking.

When one friend made a fuss over wanting to fly business class, I threatened to cancel completely. I am not poor, but I am a single senior without a rich husband - or any husband for that matter. I'm helping my grandkids with college and have three properties to maintain. (I have no debt or mortgages.)

I'm weary of repeating myself to these friends. As a result, I often don't answer their calls and I now pretend to be busy when they ask me to go on vacation or to an expensive restaurant. Do we have to live in a world where everything should be displayed on social media? How do I deal with rich friends, and with rising prices?

The "Poor" Friend

Related: 'I'm torn': Is it creepy to give my 13-year-old daughter her late grandfather's iPhone number?

Dear Friend,

Those 529 plans for your grandchildren are worth their weight in gold.

You can negotiate with retailers like you can negotiate with friends - which sometimes just means saying no. Walmart (WMT), Ikea, McDonald's (MCD) and Starbucks (SBUX) - among others - have all expressed concern about consumer demand. In April, the consumer-price index rose 3.4% on the year, with food, gas prices, shelter and energy costs topping the list.

Let's start with the friends, and then we can move on to the prices. Friends who don't take no for an answer come in all tax brackets. They're not just wealthy, which is relative. After all, a friend who makes $1 million or more a year may be the "poor" friend if their social circle travels in private jets and their nearest and dearest have trust funds to fall back on.

As a society, we have been brainwashed into thinking that it's a positive and healthy sign for someone to post about their best life on Instagram, Facebook (META) and TikTok, and that people who don't brag about their vacations and visits to five-star restaurants are somehow the oddballs who can't be trusted are best avoided.

The average U.S. household spends $270 a week on groceries.

Some of my favorite, most down-to-earth friends have no social media accounts and are just as happy (or happier) sitting around a kitchen table with a home-cooked meal as they would be posting photos of their lobster salad while on vacation on the Amalfi coast. You can live in the moment and have a high quality of life, and still have a comfortable retirement.

There is a fine line between self-centered and narcissistic people. The former might be clueless as to the impact of their actions, but they will listen when you say, "I can't afford to spend $800 on a hotel room." The latter need to be in control, lack empathy and are manipulative and emotionally abusive. Your friend group may include both types.

When your well-heeled friends realize that you cannot not drop everything at a moment's notice and fly to a luxury spa in Mexico or a villa in Italy because you have a little thing called work or pesky responsibilities called bills, they will fade away. True friendships, like fruit on a pesticide-free farm, grow organically or not at all.

Negotiating higher prices

As prices rise, people are struggling to make ends meet. Take this letter: Friends go for dinner and one person, who orders a cheaper dish, asks for a separate check, yet is regarded as a skinflint. For some folks, saving $10 can make a big difference to their budget. (The average American household spends $270 a week on groceries.)

I don't buy coffee at Starbucks or its rivals like Black Press. It makes no sense to spend $5 on a coffee. I prefer my coffee burned and strong from a bodega or, better yet, from my own coffee machine. And yet some bodegas in New York City charge $10 for a large freshly-squeezed orange juice. If I don't buy that one coffee and OJ, I can buy a pack of razors.

People are learning to get smarter about their spending. Total consumer credit rose at a slower pace in March, according to Federal Reserve data released last week. Consumer credit rose at a 1.5% annual rate, down from a 3.6% rate in the prior month. Credit-card borrowing barely budged, rising just 0.1% in March after a 9.7% increase in the prior month.

People are getting smarter about their spending.

We all need to reassess our "needs" and "wants." It could be a Tesla Model 3 or a used GT-R. It could be a Fabergé egg, aluminum siding or a $30,000 necklace. Or it could be a $45 Stanley water bottle, which sums up the sheepish folly of some American consumers right now. (Tesla (TSLA), for what it's worth, has been cutting prices for many of its models.)

A friend told me last week that she cut $80 off her cable bill by telling the rep on the other end of the line that her "husband" was giving her grief over the bill. The female customer-service representative empathized and helped her lower the bill. (Sexist? Yes. Opportunistic? Sure. Particularly as the woman in question actually has a wife.)

You don't have to "like" your friends' latest house renovations on Facebook. If you choose to overlook such conspicuous consumption, it does not make you a bad person, especially when there are people fighting for every cent to pay the rent. And by helping pay for your grandchildren's education, you're making a social-media-free investment.

Because of you, those kids are already rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

My father 'deliberately and hurtfully' cut my late sister's two kids out of his will. How can I ensure they get their fair share?

'They left nothing except junk': My brother emptied our father's house. It stands empty years after his passing. What can be done?

'My brother and sister are villains': My siblings took control of my late mother's estate and won't reveal the contents of her trust. What do I do?

Check outThe Moneyist's private Facebook group, where members help answer life's thorniest money issues. Post your questions, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

By emailing your questions to The Moneyist or posting your dilemmas on The Moneyist Facebook group, you agree to have them published anonymously on MarketWatch.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

-Quentin Fottrell

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

05-15-24 1409ET

Market Updates

Never mind market efficiency: are the markets sensible, starbucks stock could use a pick-me-up after big selloff; is it a buy, 5 cheap stocks to buy from an attractive part of the market, markets brief: all eyes on inflation, 5 things we learned from the q1 earnings season, after earnings, is palantir stock a buy, a sell, or fairly valued, what’s happening in the markets this week, can the fed declare victory on inflation, stock picks, 3 warren buffett stocks to buy after berkshire hathaway’s just-released 13f filing, going into earnings, is nvidia stock a buy, a sell, or fairly valued, after earnings, is arista stock a buy, a sell, or fairly valued, a cheap dividend aristocrat to buy before it bounces back, alibaba earnings: more positive outlook despite mixed results, after earnings and a 56% rally in 2024, is arm stock a buy, a sell, or fairly valued, how morningstar rates stocks, after earnings, is disney stock a buy, a sell, or fairly valued, sponsor center.

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