Woman sitting on the bow of a yacht, captioned "How Far in Advance Can You Book a Cruise?"

How Far in Advance Can You Book a Cruise?

When planning a trip with a cruise line, what most travelers wonder is how far in advance they should book their trip. While there is no single, hard-and-fast rule when it comes to booking your cruise for the lowest rate, there are plenty of trends and factors to take into consideration when deciding the best time to book your cruise. Whether you book early, late or somewhere in-between depends on your budget and your priorities. The most important rule of thumb to keep in mind? How far in advance you book will determine whether you’re able to sail on your dream cruise.

When to Book a Cruise

Ultimately, deciding when to book a cruise comes down to your budget at the time, coordinating with who you’re going with, and how much demand there is for the cruise.

You should book a cruise early if you want a good rate on your favorite cabin and if you have a specific ship and itinerary in mind. Popular cruises sell out quickly, so you should definitely book early if that’s your cruise of choice.

If you’re comfortable with being flexible when it comes to your cabin, ship and itinerary, booking late may get you the lowest price, especially if you live close to the home port.

If you’ve missed your chance to book early but don’t want to deal with the riskiness of booking late, keep an eye out for promotions such as fare sales and perk offers. They may not match the low rates you can find when you book early or last minute, but you can still find a deal.

Best Time to Book a Cruise –– Early vs. Late

When it comes to sailing, what are your priorities? Do you want the best selection of rooms? Do you want the best deal?

Although many claim it’s better to book a cruise late for the best price, cruises actually tend to offer the best fares when their itineraries go on sale. Rates rise as ships sell out. For the best selection of dining times and rooms, you should book early, especially if you’re looking for a suite. Travelers who book early also may receive perks such as complimentary upgrades, onboard credit or free airfare. Best of all, most cruise lines require only a refundable deposit for your cabin reservation. If your plans change, you can easily cancel your booking.

Adventurous woman holds a phone and a coffee cup, captioned "Best Time to Book a Cruise"

Booking late may offer the lowest price as cruise lines look to fill empty cabins at the last minute. You can start looking for these deals about 90 days ahead of sailing. If this is your plan, you’ll need to be flexible with itineraries, ships and sailing dates. You may find good deals on outside and balcony cabins, but you’re not likely to find these low rates for prime cabins or elegant suites. Last-minute rates for dream cruises that fill up quickly will be higher, not lower. Additionally, if you need to fly to the port, last minute airfare may negate what you saved on the lower cruise rate.

The answer boils down to what you value. Do you value experience or savings? Discuss with your cruise companions to determine when the best booking time is for you.

Cruises You Should Book in Advance

Regardless of when you’ve decided is the best time for you to book your cruise, several cruises really should be booked in advance. If you’re looking to sail on any of these six cruises, you need to book as early as possible.

1. Holidays

Some of the most popular cruises are ones that fall over the holidays. Families, couples and friends get together to enjoy one another’s company –– while someone else does the cooking. You can drink eggnog by the pool or eat a multi-course meal prepared by professional chefs during the holiday season, but don’t wait until the last minute to book your trip. Because cruises for holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s and Thanksgiving are popular with so many people, you’ll need to book at least a year in advance.

Since these cruises are so popular, you’ll need to be prepared for spending more, making it even more vital to save on cruise fare by booking early. New Year’s and Christmas holiday cruises are generally the most expensive, as children are on break from school and families want to take advantage of the time off with a vacation. This means cabins are in high demand during these holiday seasons. If you’re looking for a specialty cabin or suite, aim to make your reservations as soon as bookings for your itinerary open. To ensure you get your preferred itinerary, cabin, ship and dining group, book nine to 12 months prior.

The itinerary is also a critical component of holiday cruises, so you’ll want to book early to make sure you get to experience your dream itinerary. Do you want to spend the actual holiday, like Christmas, on the ship or in port? You may end up stuck in a port where most businesses are closed, leaving you with little to do. Or you might find a port stop with local festivities and celebrations you’d like to attend. Or maybe you’d prefer a day onboard to relax, spend time with your loved ones and enjoy activities on the ship. Pick the itinerary that works for you.

To get the utmost enjoyment out of your holiday cruise with as little stress as possible, book as far in advance as possible.

2. Newer Ships

Many travelers are excited to be among the first to set sail on a new ship –– the first to sleep in their cabin, the first to see a new show, the first to sample a new restaurant, the first to experience the onboard activities. To top that all off, there’s also the smell of a new ship and the excitement from the crew and locals. The cruise line will listen to your feedback, and it will help them determine which restaurants are preferred, which shows and activities draw the most interest and which features cruisers most enjoy in their cabins.

But with a lot of interest in the ship comes plenty of competition for reserving a cabin. Getting a spot on a newer ship will require booking in advance. This is especially true for small ships like ours at Windstar, which can fill up quickly. If you want to be one of the first to travel on a newer ship, be sure to book early.

At Windstar, we’re renovating our three all-suite Star Class ships for your enhanced comfort and enjoyment. Book your cruise on Star BreezeStar Pride or Star Legend for a new, enhanced experience. And don’t forget to book ahead.

Deck of an expensive cruise ship, with a caption describing how people like to be the first on a new ship

3. Short-Season Trips

For some cruises, the need to book early has less to do with the ship and more to do with the destination. Short-season trips compress high demand into a shorter timeframe, which means getting a spot on this cruise is more difficult. Take into consideration the peak season for your destination as well. If you want to take a cruise to Alaska, for example, keep in mind that cruises in late May and early September tend to be less in demand, as weather can be unpredictable and wildlife sightings are more scarce. Trips to shore and helicopter and boat tours are more likely to be canceled during these times of the year due to the weather. The waters in the Gulf of Alaska also tend to be choppiest in September, so cruisers prone to seasickness should avoid an Alaskan cruise at that time of the year. However, September also offers the best opportunity for cruisers to view the Northern Lights and the best deals for souvenir shoppers.

From mid-June to mid-August, you’ll definitely need to book a cruise to Alaska well in advance. The summer months offer the warmest weather, although July and August tend to be rainy. Summer also provides the best chance at seeing wildlife and boasts the largest variety of fish if you’re looking to add fishing to your agenda. What works best for you in terms of weather and experiences will be what determines the season you’ll be traveling.

Book your Alaska Cruise with Windstar to explore narrow fjords, view massive glaciers and get up close and personal with wildlife like bears, seals and whales. Take your trip on any of our Alaska cruises:

  • Islands & Inlets of the Inside Passage
  • Alaskan Splendors
  • Aleutians & North Pacific Crossing
  • Alaska Glaciers & Prince William Sound

Be sure to book in advance for a cruise to Alaska and other short-season trips!

4. Expedition Trips

Expedition cruises give you a taste of adventure and exploration combined with the relaxation of an elegant vessel to carry you on your journey. These trips include an expedition team who are experts packed with knowledge about your destination. If an expedition cruise is on your agenda, booking early is vital. Expedition ships are small, so these cruises sell out quickly and long before sailing. As with short-season trips, you may be able to book an expedition trip outside of the peak seasons, but you likely won’t see as much or experience the best weather.

With Windstar Cruise Tours, we offer the best of both land and sea experiences for you to cross off your bucket list. We take care of all the on-land details, like hotel accommodations and tickets to attractions. Choose from any of these Windstar Cruise Tours for an unforgettable expedition:

  • Alaskan Explorations & Denali Cruise Tour
  • Alaskan Glaciers & Rails to the Rockies Cruise Tour
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest & Arenal Volcano Cruise Tour
  • Private Vatican & Italian Riviera Cruise Tour
  • Prince William Sound & Denali Cruise Tour
  • Under the Tuscan Sun & Down the Dalmatian Coast Cruise Tour

Booking your cruise in advance will ensure you don’t miss out on experiencing the expedition of your dreams!

View of Tuscan countryside with explanation of Windstar Cruise Tours expedition trips

5. Special Occasions

Combining a cruise with a special occasion or a visit to a popular event can be the trip of a lifetime. Maybe you want to take a cruise for an anniversary or a birthday. Or maybe you want to attend an event like Mardis Gras or the British Open. Since many of these world events occur only once a year, you’ll need to book far in advance. You’ll also want to be sure to reserve any tickets to the event or perks that aren’t included in the cruise’s fare. Events like the Australian Open, Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz Fest, the British Open, Monaco Grand Prix and the Melbourne Cup are all major events that attract large crowds, so any cruises that incorporate them will need to be booked as early as possible.

6. Themed Cruises

If you have a hobby you enjoy, a celebrity you’ve been dying to meet or a TV show you’ve been watching for years, a themed cruise may be the perfect option for you to combine an interest of yours with a vacation. Some cruises give you the chance to meet famous athletes, authors or musicians or to attend Q&As and concerts. Other themed cruises allow travelers the chance to indulge in their hobbies. You can brush up on your golfing skills or work on improving your dance moves.

Music, food and craft beer are the most common themes. Culinary-themed cruises tend to offer a range of activities, from wine tastings to cooking lessons to competitions. Music cruises focus more on meet-and-greets and concerts. You can choose from full-ship theme cruises, partial-ship theme cruises or theme-inspired cruises. Your level of interest in the cruise’s theme should factor into your decision of which of the three you choose to sail with.

Cruises around bands, TV shows, hobbies or interests can sell out very quickly, and especially popular cruises tend to sell out mere months after going on sale. Book early to enjoy any of these themed Windstar cruises:

Gourmet cuisine with the view of a cruise ship in the background, highlighting the availability of culinary-themed cruises
  • James Beard Foundation: Alaskan Splendors
  • James Beard Foundation: Autumn on the Atlantic Coast
  • James Beard Foundation: Classic Italy & Dalmatian Coast
  • James Beard Foundation: Quintessential Croatia
  • James Beard Foundation: Spanish Main: Rise of the New World
  • James Beard Foundation: West Coast Epicurean Extravaganza
  • James Beard Foundation: Windstar Cre Hometowns: Philippines & Indonesia
  • James Beard Foundation: Yachtsman’s Harbors of the Rivieras
  • Rome & Grand Prix of Monaco
  • Sail Amsterdam Celebration
  • Star Collector: Alaska & James Beard Foundation West Coast Adventure

A themed cruise is a special experience, so book well ahead of time to make sure you get to enjoy the experience yourself!

Book Your Windstar Cruise Today

While most cruise ships attempt to offer you the chance to explore the world, Windstar’s small cruise ships bring you closest to exciting, new destinations. We offer cruises on newer ships, short-season trips, expedition trips and themed cruises, so you can choose from a variety of cruise vacations depending on your interests. The service and experience with Windstar will make your trip an unforgettable one. Explore Windstar’s cruise destinations and book your next adventure today!

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Bob Van Ness

Has anyone booked using the guaranteed cabin price? If so, did that prove to be a good deal or not?

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