The Last Minute Cruise Myth
2009 will be remembered as the year Alaska cruise prices collapsed. Who will forget 7-night Alaska cruises for $299? But I want to address something I have been seeing lately; the last minute cruise bargain myth. Just last week a reader asked me, "My neighbor says he buys cruises at the pier at the last minute for next to nothing. Is he lying?"
Yes, he is! Perhaps decades ago it was possible to join a ship at the pier for next to nothing. Today, however, every ship must file a passenger manifest with the Department of Homeland Security long before it sails. We have seen three different reports recently where this process caught parolees trying to sneak a "getaway" vacation between visits to their probation officers.
There is no evidence they were on the ships for mayhem; An FBI agent went onboard to follow one of these guys and he didn't commit any crimes. At the end of the cruise he was arrested anyway for leaving his district. Two others were similarly detained.
Here is another aspect to the "Last Minute Cruise Bargain Myth." You will NOT get the best price on a cruise at the last minute. Last April we were telling everyone to grab the Alaska bargains while they still could, and we were right. You won't find those bargain prices now.
One week in April we saw sail dates in June at $349 and lower; $299 and even $249. Princess had a ship with $299 cruises for sale for a month or more. Keep in mind that July and early August are peak season for Alaska, so the May/June discounts are already history. But there were peak season dates at $399 a few months ago, but now those same cruises are in the $800 range (inside) and $1400 for balcony cabins.
Even as late as September - which is very late in Alaska - the super discount prices are already gone.
Cruise ships may be filling up at the last minute but not because last minute prices are any bargain. People may be booking later than usual, but it is for other reasons; to see if they still have a job, if their kids still have jobs, how the stock market is doing, how the real estate market is doing, etc.
But the best prices are still being found anywhere from three to six months ahead, even more. Even if saw a last minute bargain now you would pay more for airfare. And chances are still good the same price was available earlier. The cruise lines are used to seeing guests book late now, and they don't want to incentivise such behavior - it makes it very difficult for them to plan ahead.
Can you still find an Alaska bargain? Yes, compared to 2008, but nothing like what we saw in April. The best deals I see now are a balcony cabin on Norwegian Sun for $799 pp. (Aug 5) - other dates have lesser category cabins at higher rates.
Holland America Amsterdam is sold out except for a few suites. The Ryndam has an inside cabin for $539 pp August 14. The Veendam has inside cabins for $442 in August but a balcony cabin is $1200 and up. September 19 is $1073 for a Zuiderdam balcony cabin. Norwegian Pearl, a ship that had cruises for $299 is now at least $899 pp (inside) in August and $699 in September. Carnival Spirit has a balcony cabin on September 13 for $959 pp.
The last minute booking discount is a myth. Just like the airlines, once a ship reaches its critical mass they no longer need to give cruises away. And that's today's cruise booking lesson.
CruiseMates, one of the 25 Best Value Travel Sites
Cruisemates is the most useful cruise-review site.
We especially like its advice columns, which are
written for people of different ages and interests.