Welcome to shoulder season, a time of price drops, promotions and generally fewer crowds onboard your cruise ship. Whether you're looking to book now and cruise last-minute or save for a sailing next year, September and October (and parts of November and December) bring a wealth of deals that the cruise lines hope will fill cabins during low season. The following tips are some things to watch for in the coming months and to keep in mind when booking your next off-peak cruise.
1. Know Your European Off Seasons
Europe is a safe bet for low-season savings, but pleasant weather lingers in many of its regions throughout early autumn; you won't see real bargains in the Mediterranean, for example, until late November and early December. If you're looking for a cruise to Europe, autumn is the time to head north. Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia and the British Isles) provides many bustling but less-travelled ports that will cost you more to explore in the summer months. If you can stand packing a few extra layers to prepare for chillier weather, then you might be able to snag deals in these cooler regions.
On the rivers, Christmas market cruises dominate the end of November through December, but a European river cruise in early to mid-October can still be found at a reasonable discount.
2. Book During Hurricane Season
Set apart from holidays and high seasons, you can still book a warm-weather cruise for less during September and October. Bermuda, Hawaii and the Caribbean remain top tourist destinations, but all see price dips in shoulder season, partially because it's also hurricane season. Consider buying travel insurance and being flexible with flights and other plans if you're booked on an itinerary affected by hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 through November 30.
3. Travel to Certain Regions in Autumn
September and October are prime for saving in Europe and the Caribbean, but for other destinations, such as Canada/New England, this early autumn period is the most expensive time for tourism. Occasionally, you can find last-minute deals on leaf-peeping itineraries, but keep in mind that if you are planning a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay, many properties book up well in advance.
4. Take Advantage of Seasonal Value-Added Options
Choice isn't just a trend; it's here to stay. While not all sailings will see significant price cuts, you can count on most major cruise lines to promote their version of value-adds well into shoulder season.
By late August and September, international cruise lines will be looking to offload what's left of their current inventory (prior to January) with price reductions or incentives like discounted airfare. Meanwhile, cruise lines are also looking to secure bookings for as much of the following season as possible, offering advance-booking promos that promise onboard credit, hotel stays or early-booking specials if you book a sailing months in advance.
Many value-add promotions -- like those of Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line -- often offer a choice of year-round perks like complimentary Wi-Fi, drinks packages and dining or shore excursion credit. Offers might change based on availability or seasonality, but you can expect to see more of the same summertime specials extending into autumn.
5. Book Before or After Repositioning Cruises
A tip for finding shoulder season deals is to look for repositioning cruises and book around them. If a ship is relocating from Asia or the U.S to Australia in late September, find a cruise departing just after it arrives in Australia in mid-October. Just be sure to sail before the busy school holiday period begins. If a ship is moving from Europe to the Caribbean in early November, check out cruises in late October in Europe and mid-November in the Caribbean. These sweet spots can score you the best deals and the smallest crowds, both onboard and in the ports.