Is Now the Best Time to Book a Cruise?

Right now might be the best time to book a cruise. Wait. What?!

We know, it doesn’t make sense at first glance. Between the health crisis and not knowing exactly when cruise lines will sail again, there is a ton of uncertainty in booking right now.

Cruise ship docked at island

Add to that the fact that no one knows exactly what cruising will look like when it does return.

There have been some cruise lines announcing changes, which include measures such as social distancing, more cleaning around the ship, and more medical resources.

Questions remain, however, about many details — including recommendations for masks and what will happen with healthy passengers if another person on the ship gets sick.

But like an investor who takes advantage of uncertainty in the stock market, it could be that right now marks a great time to book a cruise.

In fact, there are actually some good arguments that it’s a great time to buy. But that’s only if you have flexibility and are comfortable sailing when cruises do come back.

Here’s what’s working in your favor right now…

There Are Decent Cruise Deals Out There

When the pandemic hit, it seemed a no-brainer that cruise prices would plummet in an effort to fill up ships. However, that actually doesn’t seem to be the case. While some prices have dropped, others have actually risen.

In fact, Royal Caribbean recently said in a financial disclosure that their prices have slightly increased.

Even so, for deal hunters, there are a number of inexpensive cruises out there.

A quick search of Carnival shows dozens of sailings (three and four-day trips) running under $130 per person. In fact, some short sailings are even priced under $100. Norwegian has trips starting at $149 per person, including week-long cruises priced at $400.

We’ve even found Alaskan cruises for next summer starting around $350 for a five-day trip, and in the $500-$600 range for a week-long sailing. Those are low prices for this normally pricey itinerary.

Not every cruise is a steal, but there are definitely some deals out there — including cruises that sail well into the future once the pandemic is hopefully past us.

Cruise Ships Might Be Cleaner Than Ever

Of course, there is a big worry about getting sick when cruises start back sailing, just as there is a worry about getting sick anywhere that there are groups of people.

But if this virus continues to be with us year after year — as many experts have predicted — then there might not be a more sanitary time to sail than right after cruises get back sailing.

Cruise lines are still finalizing details, but there is no doubt that big changes are coming to sailing. Among the things announced by some lines already:

  • Medical grade air filtration on the ship
  • Temperature screenings for all passengers and crew
  • Ending self-service food stations (buffets)
  • Increased sanitation of all areas of the ship
  • Social distancing on the ship, including in places like the pool and casino
  • Masks required of the crew while interacting with passengers
  • Increased hand sanitation stations
  • Fewer staterooms available for booking to decrease crowd sizes

In addition to these changes, expect the staff to be vigilant about cleanliness. But your fellow passengers should be more cognizant of things like hand-washing and social distancing on the ship right when cruises return.

No, it will never be as safe as simply staying at home, but we think it’s reasonable to expect ships to be their most hygienic right at the start when everyone is on high alert.

Cruise Lines Are Offering Friendly Cancellation Policies

In normal times, cruise lines have some fairly strict cancellation policies. While it varies from line to line and the length of your cruise, you can normally cancel up to 90 days before your cruise to get your money back.

From there, the penalties for cancelling can grow quickly. Cancel less than 30 days before your cruise and your entire fare could be lost.

In the face of this crisis, however, some cruise lines have eased up on those penalties. Royal Caribbean, for example, lets you cancel up to 48 hours before you sail for a credit on a future sailing. The only requirement is that you book the cruise before August 1, 2020 and that it sails before May 1, 2022.

Norwegian offers a similar program, which applies on all cruises through November 30, 2020.

While these programs have been extended since they were first put in place, there’s no telling if they will be extended again. Booking sooner rather than later will actually give you more flexibility if you decide that you don’t want to cruise closer to the sail date.

If a Trip Is Cancelled, You Should Be Compensated Well

While cruise lines have said they plan to return to sailing soon, previous return dates have been moved and more cruises cancelled. Until a cruise actually leaves the dock with passengers on it, we can’t be 100% sure when trips will begin sailing again.

The good news is if you book a trip and it’s cancelled, the major cruise lines are being generous in their refunds for passengers. Typically you can opt for either a full refund or cruise credit that’s worth more than what you paid.

Carnival, for instance, offers a 100% cruise credit, plus hundreds of dollars in onboard credit for rebooking a cruise. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are offering 125% cruise credit for future trips if you rebook instead of opting for a refund.

According to financial reports, about half of passengers are choosing to get the credit and half are choosing a full refund.

Only Book If You’re Comfortable

There’s no doubt that there’s less certainty about booking a cruise right now than in normal times. If you’re someone with health problems, or concerned about getting sick, there’s no harm in waiting to decide to book. There will still be plenty of opportunity to sail in the months and years ahead.

That said, many people can’t wait to cruise again. Cruise lines have announced that their booking statistics show a strong appetite for sailings. With everything from more passenger-friendly cancellation policies to higher cleanliness standards, a number of good deals and even generous offers if your cruise is cancelled, there’s actually a lot to like about reserving your trip in the near future.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but those who are willing to take advantage have a number of benefits in their favor.

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