How to Choose a Cheap Cruise

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Cruising is one of the fastest-growing segments of today's suffering travel industry. Hard times for the travel trade spell lower prices for the budget-minded passenger seeking a great deal. Packages offering a wide range of activities and destinations are now easy to find.

Inquire about theme packages that are tailored for your lifestyle (single, golden years, gay and lesbian). If it's going to be a family affair, ask about money-saving family discount packages. Most cruise lines offer something for everyone.

Look for departures close to home. Many cruise line companies are adding departures from new ports to drum up more business, which cuts airfare expenses for you.

Book early--or late. Cruise lines are eager to make bookings far in advance and to fill up last-minute cancellations. If your schedule is flexible, you may find even hotter deals at the last minute.

Use a cruise-only travel agent. These agents have access to the best deals on the lines they do the most business with. A good agent will also recheck prices close to the departure date and refund part of your money if the rate has gone down. Some fares (often called fax specials) are so low that the agents aren't allowed to publicize them; you have to ask if they're available.

Budget for gratuities to shipboard waiters and service personnel. Ships often have suggested amounts depending on cruise length.

If you've got some time on your hands, book a slow boat to China--on one of 150 freighters worldwide that accept passengers. Voyages last for 21, 45, even 90 days, cost $50 to $100 per day, and offer many amenities. Visit FreighterWorld.com.

Tips & Warnings

  • It's wise to purchase cruise insurance to protect you and traveling companions. (See How to Get Travel Insurance.)
  • Stick with your favorite lines; many offer special discounts for repeat customers.
  • Review sites such as CruiseCritic.com and CruiseMates.com.
  • Port fees are often not included in advertised prices and can add significantly to your cruise cost.

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