OpinionLast-Minute Cruises: 7 Biggest Myths About Booking a Cruise at the 11th...

Last-Minute Cruises: 7 Biggest Myths About Booking a Cruise at the 11th Hour

Are last-minute cruises a dream come true for cruisers looking for a vacation on the cheap?  As long as you can travel at a moment’s notice can you really jump on a cruise ship with a last-minute booking?

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Norwegian Cruise ship in port in Nassau, Bahamas
Last-minute cruises can provide great cost and destination opportunities, but what myths do you need to watch out for? Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

We will tackle some of the biggest myths about last-minute cruises in this article and answer some of the most common questions regarding short term cruise travel plans.

We all love a great deal.  And a great deal on a cruise is hard to resist.  And while you CAN get a great deal at the last minute, the truth of the matter is you’re often better off booking well in advance of your cruise sail date.

But if you truly want a last-minute deal on a cruise you will want to at least make sure you’re aware of some of these commonly believed myths.

 

How do last minute cruises become available?

Cruise ships need to sail at 100% capacity.  If a cruise date is nearing and not every cabin has been booked, a cruise line may cut prices to attract passengers to the sailing.

Even though the prices are lowered cruise lines make more money from onboard spending.  We have actually heard from a cruise line CEO that spending per passenger goes up when a ship is fuller.  So more people equals more revenue for the cruise line.

Onboard spending includes everything from excursions to beverage purchases and spending in the casino.  This is a big revenue driver and helps make up for the lower cruise fares offered at the last minute.

7 Biggest Last-Minute Cruise Myths

 

Myth #1: You Can Book a Cruise the Day it Sails

Sky Princess cruise ship in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

There was a time when you could show up at a cruise port, suitcase in hand, on the day of embarkation and book your cruise.  Those days have long passed.

While the DHS requires a final passenger list at least an hour before the cruise ship leaves port, cruise lines have to submit a passenger manifest to homeland security 3 days before the cruise.

There is much debate on how this regulation affects cruise lines and if they actually can sell a ticket within this 3-day window.    But in most cases you won’t be able to book a last-minute deal if it’s within 2 or 3 days of the embarkation date.  There have been some cases in which cruisers were able to book very close to the sail date, but as a general rule you will want to go outside that 2 or 3 day window.

When we talk about last-minute cruises in this article we are talking about booking a cruise that sails anywhere from a week to a couple months from the book date.

In the following point we will examine if last-second travel will provide a better deal or not.

 

Myth #2: Last-Minute Cruises Are Always Cheaper

If you think you will get the best deal possible by waiting until the last second to book, you could be mistaken.

Sure, there are many times a last-minute cruise deal offers the cheapest price, but this isn’t always the case.

Cruise lines do not want to condition cruisers to book last-minute and get rewarded by waiting as long as possible.  This would make it almost impossible to make sure ships are sailing at maximum capacity and provide consistency in bookings.

While you can sometimes find a great deal on a cruise that leaves in a week or two, more often than not a cruise will have two periods of time in which the lowest prices can be found.

First, you will find that as soon as a cruise line opens booking for a cruise some of the best prices will be made available.   Cruise lines want to sell as many cabins as possible right off the bat.

The second time bookings may see a convenient drop in price is when final payments are due, anywhere from 60 – 90 days before a sailing.  If a significant number of deposit payers decide to get their money back and not take the cruise you may see a nice last-minute deal pop up.

Related: What are the cheapest weeks of the year to book a cruise?

 

Myth #3: Cruise Ships Always Have Empty Cabins for Last-Minute Deals

Norwegian cruise ship showing balcony cabins and passengers
Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

One of the risks you take in trying to book a last-minute cruise is finding all the cabins are booked.  This is especially true if trying to nab a last-minute deal in the busy summer months or to more popular destinations.

Remember, cruise ships sail at maximum capacity.  In fact, they often sail at 105% to 115% capacity.  How is this possible?  100% capacity is based on two passengers per cabin.  But some cabins will have three or four passengers which allows for this percentage to go above 100%.

Related: Worst cabins on a cruise ship

 

Myth #4:  If You Wait Long Enough You’ll Find a Great Deal

Based on the last point, you might wait too long and find that a cruise ship is completely full.   You might also find that prices on a cruise have gone up.

The cheapest cabins on a cruise are often sold out well before a sailing.  Savvy cruisers who cruise often will want to get the best rate on a low-cost cabin.   As a cruise date gets closer it is actually less likely for the price to drop significantly outside of the “final payment date price drop” I mentioned earlier.

Repositioning cruises can be an exception to the rule.  These are one-way cruises that allow cruise lines to move cruise ships to new regions for the season.  Because of the more obscure itineraries and routes there is not as much demand for these sailings and you will often see last-minute price drops.

But again, if you wait too long the price may go in the opposite direction you were hoping for.

 

Myth #5:  You can still get the cabin category and ship you want

This goes along with myth #3 as well.  Even if a cruise ship has cabins available for booking two weeks before the cruise date, the cabin you want may not be available.

In fact, if you wait too long you may find slim pickings for the cabins that are still available for booking.  So, if you are set on booking a last-minute cruise just be ready to accept whatever cabin is still empty.

For this reason, you may also find higher prices on last minute cruises since the cheapest cabins sell out fastest.  You may get a decent deal on an aft balcony cabin but still pay more than you had planned.

You see, booking a cruise at the eleventh hour means you should not be too picky about the cruise ship, itinerary, or cabin itself.

Newer and more popular cruise ships are less likely to see any cabins available the last couple weeks before the ship sails.  So be ready to find more older ships and off-season itineraries for those great deals on last-minute sailings.

 

Myth #6: You can always just cancel and get your money back

Unlike booking in advance where you can simply put down a deposit, going last-minute means you’ll have to make the full payment right then and there. No holding back!

Here’s the deal: Once you hit that “buy” button, your cruise is locked in. But here’s the catch. If you change your mind and decide to cancel, don’t expect a generous refund. In fact, you’ll only get a fraction of what you paid, and if you bail on the cruise less than 30 days before it sets sail, sorry, but there won’t be any money coming back to you.

So, if you’re up for some spontaneous adventure and can commit to the plan, last-minute cruises can be exciting. Just keep in mind the nonrefundable nature and cancellation policy before you take the plunge!

Related: Cruise travel insurance: why you really do need it

 

Myth #7: Last-minute cruises are only for the budget-conscious

Deal seekers aren’t the only ones who like to search for last-minute cruises.  For those with all their documents at the ready and who love to be spontaneous it’s a great way to live with a little impulse.

There are a few websites I will mention later that help in finding these last-minute deals, and I know some who check them regularly on the off chance that a favorite destination pops up.  This is for those who keep an extra suitcase always packed and ready for travel and whose schedules are flexible enough to take to the seas whenever the mood strikes.

While I like booking a cruise at least a year out in advance, I’ve taken my fair share of cruises that I had booked just a couple weeks before the sailing.  Even if I don’t get a rock-bottom deal, sometimes you just need a quick getaway.

 

What are the risks of booking a last-minute cruise?

When you book a last-minute cruise your fare may be nonrefundable.  This is especially true if you are taking advantage of the “final payment price drop” and it’s within 30 days of the cruise.  Since the window for final payment has passed you not only have to pay 100% of the cruise fare, but you are not able to get a refund if you decide to cancel the cruise.

If you do plan on booking one of these late-stage cruises make sure you at least have some cruise travel insurance ready to go.  It won’t necessarily get you a refund if you cancel for any reason (unless that’s in your contract) but it helps prepare for the unforeseen in these last-minute situations.

Limited availability of excursions and reservations

Another risk of booking late is that some of the more popular excursions that the cruise line offers may be sold out.  Additionally, some of the specialty restaurants that are in high demand will have their time slots filled up.  Pretty much anything that can be reserved in advance of the cruise will see a higher probability of you not being able to enjoy it.  This isn’t a big deal to some, but I thought it should be mentioned.

Symphony of the seas things to do

 

Should I book a last-minute cruise if I have to fly?

This is one of the biggest factors to consider when looking at last second cruises.  While you might be able to score a great deal on a cruise vacation, getting last minute flights can be another story.  The extra cost of the flight to the cruise port could easily negate any savings from your cruise deal.

However, if you’re able to drive to the cruise port you can remove this variable and just focus on the cruise savings you want to enjoy.

 

Where can you find last-minute cruises?

Many cruise lines have a page on their websites dedicated to last-minute cruise deals.   We listed below some links to cruise lines that offer such deals.

 

Other websites to easily find last minute cruises

  •  Cruisewatch is probably my favorite go-to source for last-minute cruises.  I love the interface, tracking, and easy filtering.  You can also use Cruisewatch for price drops and you can pick a particular cruise to track pricing if you’d like.  One of my favorite features is to sort by price per night. The site also shows the likelihood of a price going up or down in the near future.
  • iCruise makes filtering by price, ship, or cruise line very simple.  They also have a last-minute cruise deal page that is sorted by various cruise ports.  Many of these cruises will depart between 1 and 3 weeks but sometimes you will find shorter dated cruises there as well. I like that they sort by cruise port because if it’s truly a last-minute thing you will want to drive to the port, as I mentioned before.  So just search under the cruise port closest to you and look for those daily deals.
  • Cruiseline has a dedicated last-minute cruise page as well on their website.  You can then filter by low to high, cruise length, or even price per night.  You can get free price alerts if you find a sailing you’re interested in, making this a great tool to have.
  • Vacations to Go has a dedicated page for last-minute cruise travel but does require sing-up for you can use their 90-day ticker that tracks some of the best deals on upcoming cruises.  Some of the listings on their deal page will only last for a few hours to a few days.

Be sure to check out our Cruise Price Drops page as well for the latest deals.

 

Final Thoughts

A last-minute cruise might not be exactly what you were expecting.  It might seem like a good deal, but make sure you factor in the other costs that could be higher when traveling with no time to spare.

If you’re not picky about the ship, cabin and itinerary, or you’re even willing to book a multi-leg flight to sail last-second, go for it!

Related: How to cruise more often and take as many cruises as possible

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J. Souza
J. Souza
Jon is the co-founder of Cruise Fever and has been on 50+ cruises since his first in 2009. As an editor, 15-year writer on the cruise industry, and avid cruise enthusiast he has sailed with at least 10 cruise lines and is always looking for a great cruise deal. Jon lives in North Carolina and can be reached at [email protected].
OpinionLast-Minute Cruises: 7 Biggest Myths About Booking a Cruise at the 11th...
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