This Is When You Should Book a Cruise to Score the Best Deals

Wave season, which kicks off every January, is when cruise companies roll out some of the best cruise promotions of the year. These are among the top cruise deals we’ve spotted so far in 2024.

Uniworld's Ganges "Voyager II" vessel on the Ganges River at sunset, with lights on in ship reflecting in water

You can save up to $3,000 when you book cruise and airfare together on select 2024 Uniworld itineraries, like this Ganges River cruise through India.

Courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

You’ve finally landed on the cruise you want to take—maybe it’s a winter expedition to Norway to see the northern lights or perhaps you’re keen on sailing around the Galápagos to see the islands’ impossibly curious animals—but now the question is, when should you book? Is it better to secure reservations far in advance or do you stand a better chance of snagging a deal if you wait?

We polled travel advisors who specialize in cruises to better understand when the best time to book a cruise is. Here’s what they had to say.

When is the best time to book a cruise?

While there’s not necessarily a wrong time to book a cruise, there are time frames where travelers can benefit from discounts and promotions.

Beyond holiday periods such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Labor Day when there may be some flash sales, January and February are particularly good times to book a cruise, as the first two months of the year are considered “wave season” in the cruising industry. It’s when companies are looking to base load their ships for the year.

“Wave season is when cruise lines announce incredible promotions in an effort to sell as much unsold space for the year as possible,” explains Jeremy Hall, a travel advisor at Cruise Vacations International.

Those promotions could include free stateroom upgrades, highly reduced cruise fares, discounts on deposits, free sailings for children, complimentary airfare, and discounted beverage packages, among other offers.

The best wave season cruise deals for 2024

AmaWaterways: River cruisers can save up to $2,000 per stateroom and earn $50 in onboard credit per stateroom on select 7- to 11-night European river sailings in July and August 2024 (including a 7-night Colors of Provence cruise, a wine-themed Burgundy sailing, and a Rhine castles and Swiss Alps cruise). For 14-night European river cruises (such as the Grand Danuba sailing) during the same period, travelers can save $4,000 per stateroom and receive $100 in onboard credit.

Aurora Expeditions: Environmentally friendly expedition operator Aurora Expeditions is offering a slew of savings on sailings to the Arctic and Antarctic in 2024 and 2025, including up to 25 percent off some itineraries and air credit on others. The savings are available on bookings made before March 31, 2024. Here’s our recent review of sailing with Aurora in the Arctic.

Azamara: Travelers can save up to $2,000 per stateroom on select 2024 sailings when booked before March 21.

Celebrity Cruises: Until February 1, cruisers can save 75 percent on their second guest’s cruise fare (specifically for nonrefundable cruises; otherwise it’s 50 percent off) for sailings from now until April 30, 2026.

Cruise Croatia: Passengers can enjoy up to 30 percent off on more than 25 departures along the Dalmatian Coast between May and October for bookings made through January 31.

Crystal Cruises: The newly relaunched luxury line Crystal is offering complimentary suite upgrades on select 2024 sailings booked before the end of January.

Emerald Cruises: Savings on this accessible luxury river cruise line include two-for-one fares and up to $3,750 off per suite on select Europe and Southeast Asia river cruise sailings. Bookings must be made by March 31.

Explora Journeys: On the recently launched cruise line Explora Journeys, passengers can save up to 40 percent on their trip when they book either an Ocean Terrace Suite or Ocean Grand Terrace Suite for sailings on Explora I (we were among the first onboard this brand-new vessel, which aims to court noncruisers) and Explora II by January 31. The deal is applicable for sailings through April 2026. Some available trips include the 44-night A Grand Journey Connecting Continents and the 10-night A Celestial Caribbean and Creole Soul.

Holland America Line: Cruisers can save up to 40 percent on bookings made by February 29. Bonus deals include up to $500 per stateroom for onboard spending (depending on cruise length), free fares for kids, and stateroom upgrades.

Hurtigruten: From now until the end of March, cruisers can get up to $4,000 off select voyages within Norway.

HX (formerly Hurtigruten Expeditions): For select bookings made by March 31, 2024, for departures between March 29, 2024, and March 29, 2025, HX is offering flight credits of up to $2,000.

Lindblad Expeditions: Until March 31, guests can save up to $2,000 on cabin fare and up to 40 percent on solo cabins. Here’s what recently sailing around Svalbard with Lindblad entailed.

MSC Cruises: One of the largest cruise lines in the world is offering a sale to kick off the new year. Guests who book during wave season also receive Wi-Fi for up to two devices per stateroom and up to $400 in onboard credit. Kids sail free. The deal applies to sailings in the Caribbean and North America, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and the Southern Caribbean through winter 2025.

Oval dining table with place settings and eight chairs at the Toscana on "Vista" cruise ship

Oceania’s 1,200-passenger Vista launched in 2023 and offers some of the best fine dining at sea, plus impressive solo cabins and immersive port excursions.

Courtesy of Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises: On these fine-dining–focused cruises, you can get up to 50 percent off per stateroom on 112 sailings in 2024 and 2025 if you book before the end of February.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Through February 29, ultra-luxury line Regent Seven Seas is offering an Upgrade Your Horizon promotion that gives guests a free two-category suite upgrade (up to a Penthouse Suite) on select cruises departing between now and June 2026. This past November, Regent unveiled the latest “world’s most luxurious cruise ship”: the 750-passenger, all-suite Seven Seas Grandeur with marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and exclusive art pieces.

Scenic Luxury Cruises: On Scenic’s river cruises, guests who book by March 31 can get up to $4,250 off per suite, a promotion that can be combined with Scenic’s 2-for-1 fares on 31 departures in 2024. For ocean sailings (including expedition-style cruises to Antarctica, Greenland, and Australia’s Kimberley region), guests can book 2-for-1 fares and receive up to an additional $13,000 off per suite. The discounted fares are available on more than 60 sailings in 2024 and 2025.

Seabourn: For both ocean and expedition voyages booked by January 31, guests sailing on Seabourn’s super-luxurious cruise ships can save up to 25 percent off fares and receive up to $1,000 in shipboard credit per stateroom. Maybe this is your sign to book Seabourn’s epic 90-day Africa itinerary, which will stop in 44 ports in 26 countries as it circumnavigates the continent.

Sea Cloud Cruises: For select sailings booked before February 29, cruisers can save 25 percent on the fare and receive $500 in onboard credits.

Silversea Cruises: Luxe line Silversea is offering savings of $4,000 per suite on door-to-door all-inclusive fares (which even includes pre- and post-cruise private transfers and airfare) or $2,000 per suite on port-to-port all-inclusive fares for bookings made through February 29.

Star Clippers: On select sailings aboard the Star Clipper or the Star Flyer, cruisers will receive $240 in air credits per person and $200 in onboard credits per cabin. The deals are good for bookings made by March 31.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises: Cruisers can save up to $3,000 when they purchase cruise and airfare together on select 2024 itineraries with this boutique luxury line. This offer is valid on new bookings made through January 31 for travel in 2024.

Viking: Viking is offering special fares (with just a $25 deposit) on new bookings across its collection of river, ocean, and expedition offerings through January 31. Select voyages include free airfare.

Virgin Voyages: Through January 31, cruisers can get 70 percent off the second guest’s booking. They will also receive up to $600 off their bar tab, depending on the length of the voyage. Virgin Voyages—which launched its newest ship, the 2,770-passenger Resilient Lady, in 2023—bills itself as the perfect cruise line for people who don’t like cruises. Here’s our take.

Windstar Cruises: Book a Windstar sailing by February 29 and you can choose an additional perk, which could include a free night in a hotel (pre- or post-cruise) or up to $1,000 in onboard credit. Those who book a premium suite can upgrade to the all-inclusive fare, which includes alcohol, Wi-Fi, and gratuities. Our suggestion? Sail the Mediterranean with Windstar this winter, when there are fewer crowds and no extreme heat.

Empty sauna, with large window with view of glacier on "Seabourn Venture."

You’ll have access to a sauna with glacier views on Seabourn Venture.

Rendering courtesy of Seabourn

How far in advance should you book a cruise? Is it better to book early?

Travelers who are less concerned about deals and more focused on a specific destination or making sure they get choice accommodations may want to take a different approach to booking a cruise. Cruise companies open up bookings for sailings as early as two years in advance. While that might sound like plenty of time to mull over sailings, William Kiburz, a travel advisor at Coronet Travel, says the earlier you book, the better, especially when it comes to expedition-style or specialized cruises, as well as sailings to Alaska, as those are itineraries that often sell out more than a year in advance.

Samantha Robichaud, a travel advisor and owner of Fabulous Adventures Travel Company, says that booking early also means travelers have more choices when it comes to travel dates, staterooms, specialty dining reservations at preferred times, and shore excursions.

Todd Smith, owner of AdventureSmith Explorations, says that if you want to go on an expedition cruise, which typically involves a smaller ship, it’s imperative to book early.

Booking last minute also means you get what remains available instead of the best trip, ship, cabin, and program for you,” Smith says.

Another reason to try to book early: The cabin price is usually lower. “Cruise fares tend to rise as the time before departure draws closer,” Hall says. “Even though you may see a new promotion announced for the cruise you booked six months ago, chances are you got a better deal because the cruise fare more than likely went up before that new promotion was announced.”

There are often perks for guests who book early. For example, Holland America Line offers an early booking bonus that allows guests to enjoy all the benefits of the standard “Have It All” package, including shore excursion and specialty dining credit, plus included gratuity, a low-price guarantee, and upgrades to premium Wi-Fi and an “elite” beverage package, which covers all premium spirits, beers, and wines.

Is it possible to score last-minute cruise deals?

If pricing is more important than preferred accommodations, travelers can opt to wait until closer to the departure date to see if they can take advantage of any last-minute offers. It’s a bit of a gamble—you risk the ship selling out. And, in the 11th hour, flights to the port might be more expensive.

To find deals, travelers can sign up for email newsletters from various cruise lines, as the companies often send out updates on flash sales. You can also search the cruise line websites—some, like Holland America, have pages on their website dedicated to last-minute deals.

Hall says that his company typically sees more last-minute deals with river cruises than ocean cruises. He also notes that last-minute deals usually involve added amenities or a waived single supplement.

Will working with a travel advisor get me a better deal?

“There are so many ways to get a good deal on a cruise, and nobody knows better than an experienced travel advisor,” Hall says. “There are so many promotions, amenities, loyalty programs, and pricing structures these days—it makes finding the best deal a daunting task. Your travel advisor will know precisely how to narrow down the search field to find the right cruise and deal for you.”

Robichaud echoes that sentiment, saying that travel advisors can leverage relationships with cruise companies to get discounted rates or free add-ons. And Smith notes that agencies that book a lot of cruises often receive free upgrades for their clients as an incentive from cruise lines aiming to build up a loyal network of travel advisors who sell and book their cruises.

Are there better times for families or groups to book a cruise?

Only certain ships and expeditions offer accommodations large enough to fit three or four people, so groups and families looking to stay in the same cabin should book as soon as possible because options may be limited.

As Robichaud notes, rooms that can accommodate more people tend to fill up fast during holidays and school breaks; if travelers have a specific sailing in mind, it’s essential to book early.

Judy Perl, president of Judy Perl Travel, adds that for parents looking to travel around school schedules, it’s worth noting that spring break is often the cheapest for cruising, and summer break offers more destination options. The winter holiday season is always significantly more expensive, she says.

Red and white exterior of the Retreat, a private resort area within the ship, with various empty chairs

Sailing with Celebrity? Upgrade to the Retreat, a private resort area within the ship.

Courtesy of Ryan Wicks/Celebrity Cruises

How to bid on a cabin upgrade

Just as some airlines offer the opportunity to bid for a business- or first-class seat upgrade, many cruise companies offer travelers the opportunity to bid on stateroom upgrades.

  1. Some cruise lines will email confirmed customers before their voyage, offering them the chance to bid on a higher class of cabin at a steeply discounted price.
  2. Travelers suggest a price they’re comfortable with spending.
  3. If the cruise company accepts the offer, guests will be charged the amount of their bid and receive an updated booking with their new room details.

Robichaud says she just got back from a Virgin Voyages sailing where she was supposed to have a Sea Terrace stateroom but won her bid for a Mega RockStar suite (complete with daily spa access, a bottomless in-room bar, a personal butler, and access to a members-only sundeck). Similarly, some companies have dedicated landing pages on their websites where guests can bid.

When bidding for an upgrade online, be aware that you can’t cancel your bid once accepted (but you can cancel or change the offer before acceptance).

Upgrades are also available after you’ve boarded the ship. Perl recommends that people keen on a larger room go to the purser’s office and inquire if there have been any cancellations or no-shows. “Once the ship leaves the dock, typically, it is no longer under revenue management control back at headquarters,” Perl explains. “The ship can make their own pricing decisions about what to charge to maximize the yield on their available inventory.”

What’s worth it and what isn’t in terms of cruise add-ons?

Amenity add-ons, like beverage packages, onboard credit, Wi-Fi, laundry service, and included gratuities, only have a value if you are going to use them. A person who drinks only one glass of wine each day or someone who likes to disconnect from tech on vacation may find little worth in an unlimited drinks package or premium Wi-Fi, respectively. It’s important to know the value of these items for you and purchase accordingly.

This story was originally published in March 2023, and was updated on January 12, 2024, to include current information.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR