So, you’ve decided you need a vacation, and you’ve narrowed it down to a relaxing, luxurious Caribbean cruise.  Now what?  There is a dizzying array of choice out there.  How do you know what to do to pick the perfect vacation at the best price?

Don’t worry.  Here is a simple how-to guide designed to take the stress out of booking a cruise.  After all, vacations are all about escaping the stress, aren’t they?

First, do you use a travel agent or book it yourself?  Both can score you a great room at a great price.  It’s just a matter of whether you want to do the work yourself, or let someone else do it for you.  Deals are available either way, but you should still do some research first.

A Room with A View?

Decide what kind of cabin you want, and make sure to choose two or three cabin codes you will be happy with.  Then, go online to look at your ship’s deck plan.  You want to avoid high traffic areas, such as rooms close to the dining room or pool, or even worse, near the nightclubs.

Now, it’s time to find the best price.  Forget what the advertising says, the real cost will vary wildly depending on a number of factors, including location of the room, when you book, and how flexible you are.

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Your best bet is to book early, or take a risk and book late.  The lowest possible price goes to returning customers who book well in advance of the sailing date, usually by at least six months.  If you’ve cruised before, you know that you get your best deals by being loyal.

Now, look for special discounts.  There are reductions offered if you’re in the military, if you’re over 55, or if you’re traveling with a large group.

If none of this applies to you, the next question to ask is, are you a gambler?

When a ship is close to its sail date and hasn’t filled up yet, the remaining cabins can be discounted significantly. The trick is, you have to be flexible.

When I booked an Alaskan cruise, I paid for an “inside upgrade”, meaning I paid for an inside cabin, and was promised the fourth floor, or better.  I really didn’t care where my room was, so I figured I would take the chance.  I ended up with a suite on the top floor, with a private balcony, for the same price as an inside cabin on a lower deck.  Remember that you won’t know where your room is until you pick up your tickets, so you really are taking a gamble.

Whatever you decide on, a travel agent can save you time and hassles, because they can do all your legwork, booking the cruise, the airfare, and any hotel rooms.  Look for a travel agent that specializes in cruises.

If you want to do the work yourself, it’s easy to do direct booking with your cruise line.  Discount sites don’t offer any prices that you can’t find on your own, and sometimes they will even include a service fee.

No matter how you book it, a cruise can be good value for your vacation dollar.  Just make sure that you know what you want in order to make your dream vacation come true, and do a little research to make sure you’re not paying too much for it.

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