Wave season 2017 is here. And those who love to cruise know what that means: it’s time to plan their cruises for the year ahead. This year, that means looking for ways to add value to your cruise package.
For those who aren’t in the know, wave season is the period between January and March when the cruise lines try to fill their cabins for the season ahead. Since many of the cruises are still a ways off, they try to entice passengers by offering special deals in return for booking early. So, how are the deals in wave season 2017?
There are deals out there, to be sure. I’ve seen some attractive fares to the Caribbean and Europe this year. How about a nine-night Caribbean cruise from Miami in March on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, with stops in Labadee, Haiti; Willemstad, Curacao; Oranjestad, Aruba; and Kralendijk, Bonaire, starting at $682 U.S. ($887 Cdn), plus the usual taxes and fees?
Or an Adriatic cruise from Venice on the MSC Poesia in May, landing in places like Katakolon, Mykonos and Piraeus (Athens) in Greece, plus Dubrovnik, Croatia, for $591 U.S. ($780 Cdn). And if you’re bound for Europe, river cruise lines like Viking have some great fares on offer. There are many deals later in the year and in 2018, as well.
You can also find some deals on ships that have been moved to North America from Europe, where business has slowed due to security concerns. If you like a long cruise, check out the 20-night Panama Canal cruise on Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver in April; stops include Cartagena, Colombia; Puerto Chiapas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; and San Diego. Prices start at $2,050 U.S. ($2,698 Canadian).
Bargains are fewer on itineraries like Alaska, Canada/New England, Australia/New Zealand and Asia. Those are the hot destinations this year, says Roberta Westwood, a travel agent with Expedia CruiseShipCenters in British Columbia. And that means there aren’t too many screaming deals on those itineraries.
However, there are other kinds of value out there. In a growing trend, major cruise lines like Princess, Holland America and Norwegian are competing for passengers by offering free perks — things like drinks packages. free internet and prepaid gratuities.
“Wave season is all about the perks”
“Wave season is typically all about the perks,” says Westwood. In fact, she notes, some of the cruise lines have based their sales pitches on branded perks packages this year.
That includes Holland America’s View & Verandah package, which offers cabin upgrades and up to $500 U.S. in onboard spending money. Then there’s Celebrity’s Sail Beyond Event, which offers discounts of $150 or more for everyone in your cabin, as well as two free perks. Both these campaigns run till the end of February.
While that’s not the same as snagging a rock-bottom fare, getting $400 or $500 in onboard credit — or even $100 or $200 — can be almost as good. “That’s real money,” Westwood says, “and you get to choose how you spend it, rather than have the cruise line do it for you.”
The best value, she says, is to use it to pay the gratuity the cruise lines add to your bill to pay the staff who take care of you while you’re on board. At a typical rate of $12 U.S. a night, that’s well over $100 on a longer cruise — more if you’re spending Canadian dollars. An all-inclusive drinks package can cost from $350 to $500 U.S. for a seven-day cruise, as well. (Some of these are more inclusive than others, so look closely: for example, do they include bottled water, and are tips included?)
One other enticement many cruise lines are using this year is the “BOGO” — buy one, get one — offer. In other words, the second cruiser in the same cabin sails free, or in some cases, half-price (called BOGOHO). That sounds great, but the second passenger still has to pay all the taxes and port fees, and the base fare involved may not be the lowest available. So while these can save you money, it’s wise to ask for the final per-cabin price to see how much.
What about Canadians struggling with the exchange rate on cruises priced in U.S. dollars? There are some “Canadian dollars at par” deals on selected cruises, if you look — check Norwegian Cruise Line. But you may find you don’t get the same perks as you would if you paid in greenbacks.
Book now, negotiate later
There’s another strategy you can use to get good value from wave season 2017, Westwood says. If you know which itinerary, cruise line, and cabin type you want, this is the best time to get it booked at a reasonable price. That’s especially true if you want a particular cabin location (“port side please!”) or have a preferred dining time. Book now and you know the price can’t go up before the cruise date.
It can go down, however. And if you monitor the prices in the weeks and months before the final payment date, you can very often find a lower price for the same cabin, or a better cabin for the same price. Then, you contact your travel agent and have him or her rebook your cruise at the better rate.
There is one possible problem. If your original deal included a lot of perks, you’ll likely lose them if you rebook. And if they were worth a lot of money, it could be worth staying put. However, if your travel agent got some of the perks through a corporate deal with the cruise line, you may not lose them all — for example, you might keep part of your onboard credit.
All of which brings up another tip: when perks are a big part of your cruise deal, it makes sense to book through an agent who specializes in cruises, and one who’s part of a consortium. They can usually deliver more perks than the cruise line itself, and may have a special deal that gets you a better rate.
Travel agencies are also bound by the laws of the country where they operate, and may offer you some protection in case something goes wrong — for example, a refund if a tour operator goes broke. For Canadians, booking with a Canadian agency ensures the protection of the provincial travel industry protection plan, Westwood adds. If you book with a U.S. agency, there’s no protection.
So, that’s wave season 2017. It seems that there’s a little something for everyone — and if you like perks, there’s a lot. But even if you don’t find an amazing deal right now, you can always book the cruise you want and wait for a lower price later on. And if you cruise, you know that anticipation is half the fun.