Looking for the best website to book your cruise?
We wouldn’t be surprised if after a little bit of searching, your head is spinning a little bit.
Think of all the options you have to consider — the length of your trip, the cruise line, the ship, the date, ports of call, and more. And that’s before you even decide on which website to use to book your cruise.
Cruising is big business, and that’s why you have dozens of websites at your disposal, all competing for your travel dollars.
From the major cruise line websites like Carnival.com to major travel portals such as Orbitz or Expedia to lesser-known sites that specialize in cruises like AvoyaTravel.com, it can seem like your options are nearly unlimited… and overwhelming.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be stressful to book a cruise.
To help you out, we detailed the pros and cons of the best websites to book your cruise below. Before we get too far, however, there’s something you should know about price shopping for cruises online.
Cruise Buying Tip: Prices Are Often the Same Across Every Site
If you are worried about finding the best price for your cruise, there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is that cruise prices are usually the exact same across every single website you search.
Below are the results of a search we recently did for a July 2023 Carnival cruise from Miami aboard Carnival Horizon, with prices listed for each website:
As you can see, they all have the exact same rates. That means you don’t have to run yourself ragged trying to find the best deal.
The bad news? If you’re a deal-hunter, there isn’t some magic website that has cruise fares for dramatically cheaper than everyone else (that we’ve ever found). But there are differences on where you book.
That’s because some sites can offer perks like onboard credit or even a direct phone number to call to talk to someone with any questions you might have before you cruise.
So should you just find any random site and book your cruise? We’d suggest not. Below we lay out the advantages and disadvantage of booking with each different type of website.
For more on getting the best deal on a cruise, see our 10 Rules to Getting the Best Deal on a Cruise here.
Booking Direct Through Cruise Line Websites
It used to be that if you wanted to book a cruise, you’d visit a travel agent or call up the cruise line. You can still take those routes, but the cruise line websites make it simple to book your trip.
Every major cruise line allows you to book online and do everything from find a cruise to make upgrades, to pay for the trip. In other words, you can book your spot on the ship completely online at any time of the day.
Specific cruise line websites include:
Each of these cruise line websites will allow you to be as narrow or as broad with your search as you wish. You can search all cruises, or search for trips on a specific ship, leaving a specific date, and from a specific port.
Advantages: The good thing about booking directly through the cruise line then there is no third-party company to deal with should there be an issue with your trip. Want to make a change or get a refund? You don’t have to worry about any sort of mix-up between the cruise line and another website. While this is rarely an issue, it could happen.
Disadvantages: The main drawback of using a cruise line website? It’s like going to a buffet and restricting yourself to only the salad bar.
Cruise line websites only have cruises from that line, so you are limiting your options of prices, ships, dates, and itineraries. In other words, if you’re looking for the absolute best deal or the most flexible schedule, you aren’t likely to find it searching only one cruise line website.
If you are loyal to one specific cruise line, then that’s ok for you. But if you want to see all your options, it’s better to do a search on an “aggregator” website that will search all the cruise lines for that perfect vacation.
Bottom line: Know which cruise line you want to sail? Then going directly to the cruise line site is a good idea. Just know that if you want the cheapest deals or the most available cruises, then opening your search to more lines is ideal.
Booking on Aggregator Websites
While aggregator websites sound complex, they are actually just search engine for travel bookings. In fact, you’ve likely searched on these sites before for a hotel or a rental car. The sites include the big names that you’ve seen advertised heavily on TV and the Internet:
Just like searching for a hotel room, you can search these websites for a cruise across all of your options. This means being able to search across all the lines at once. They also give you the ability to narrow searches to specific dates of cruising, length of trip, destination, port of departure and more.
One thing to note is that many websites in this space are actually owned by a single company — Expedia. For instance, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, and Orbitz.com, are all part of the Expedia family.
That means you’re going to find the same prices across these sites, along with similar search functions.
Advantages: There are two main advantages to using an aggregator website. First, they allow you to search across every cruise line.
So if you want to sail from Miami, you’ll see all the options from the port for every cruise line. That gives you a better chance of finding something that matches your budget and schedule versus just searching one line.
In addition, while aggregator websites will almost always have the same prices you’ll find everywhere else, they often offer perks you won’t find on the cruise lines websites.
For instance, a cruise might be priced the same as another website, but will have an offer of free onboard credit as an incentive to book through them. These perks usually aren’t huge, but are a nice to have.
Disadvantages: The drawback is that booking through third-party websites introduce a “middle man” into your cruise booking. The vast majority of the time that creates no issue.
However, if there is a reason where you need to change your booking or get a refund, then it could be a little more complicated than booking directly through the cruise line.
So should you use aggregator sites? We think so as they can help you look at every cruise available to find one that fits. Smart cruise shoppers use them to look at all their options and see what sort of incentives they have for booking through their site.
Bottom line: Not sure which cruise line you want? An aggregator site will search them all at once, allowing you to sort by price, date, and more.
Booking Through Specialized Cruise-Travel Websites
In addition to the large cruise aggregators, there are a number of smaller websites focused solely on cruises.
These sites include:
These websites are similar to the large aggregator websites in that they can help you search through every cruise out there to find the best deal. The difference? These websites focus solely on cruises.
With a focus on cruising, they are able to better serve cruise passengers — including having staff that you can call directly to help you book.
In other words, these sites are more akin to having your own travel agent to help you with the booking process compared to only a website.
That’s a big help if you’re not entirely sure about which cruise you should book. As well, these sites often have deals and incentives to entice you to book.
Advantages: Like the larger aggregators, the niche booking websites offer the ability to search across multiple cruise lines to see all of your options. As well, many of these sites also offer their own special incentives such as onboard credit, free gratuities, or low deposits for booking through them.
In addition, these sites feature their phone number prominently for those who wish to talk to a person about their reservation. You don’t always find that with the large aggregation websites.
Disadvantages: While booking through these sites is largely the same as through the cruise line or an aggregator, we’ve found the incentives can be somewhat confusing.
For instance, one recent search promoted free gratuities on trips booked through the site, but we couldn’t find any mention of this once we actually started the booking process. Digging further, the incentive applied only to certain cruises, despite being heavily promoted.
That’s where having the phone number to call an agent of the company directly is a big help in getting things explained.
Bottom line: Sites like these offer the benefit of searching multiple cruise lines and the help of an agent you can call to help you book.
Booking Through Costco Travel
Are you a Costco member? If so, then you can book cruises online through the store. In fact, the offers are good enough that it’s usually worth it to become a member for a year just to book a cruise.
You can book online at CostcoTravel.com
Costco is well-known for its low prices, great deals, and customer service. Buying a cruise through the store might not enter many people’s minds, but it can save you big.
Like other cruise-buying websites, Costco offers rates that are in line with what you’ll find anywhere else. However, the big difference is that Costco offers special incentives to book through their site. This includes Costco Shop Cards — a gift card to the store.
Advantages: While the deals change from day to day on aggregator websites, Costco’s incentives are simple and straightforward. If you book through them, then they offer Costco Shop Cards. The amounts can be high as well.
For example, we found a cruise offering a $45 Costco Cash Card for booking the cheapest stateroom for just $409. In other words, that deal is like getting 11% off the price of your cruise. The cash increases substantially with upgraded cabins.
Disadvantages: First, in our searches, sometimes Costco’s pricing seems to jump around quite a bit. So you’ll see one price, click through, and then another price appears. Even so, sometimes that works in your advantage with seeing lower prices than you thought. Sometimes it doesn’t, but the Costco Shop Card more than makes up the difference.
The other disadvantage is that you need to be a member of Costco to book. An annual membership costs $60. In addition, the Costco Shop Cards are only valid at the store. It’s not the same as actual cash.
Bottom line: Costco can offer great cruise deals if you are a member, but not everyone is.
Final Recommendation for the Best Websites to Book a Cruise
Costco Members: If you are a Costco member, then we suggest CostcoTravel.com as the best website to book a cruise. It’s the largest and simplest incentive we’ve seen for booking online. Prices are competitive, but the cash back offers provide a lot of value. Just be sure to compare the total price there with what you find on other sites before booking.
Non-Costco Members: If you aren’t a Costco member and don’t want to join, then we suggest looking first at the specialized cruise travel sites to search all your options and find the cruise you want.
If the site offers a good incentive for booking through them, then know that you’ve found a good deal. If the incentive isn’t that strong or you don’t want to go through a third-party to your reservation, then booking directly through the cruise line is your best bet.
FAQ About Booking Cruises Online
How do I know if a website is legit to book a cruise?
There are dozens — if not hundreds — of websites that you can use to book your cruise. Frankly, not all of them look professional, so it is understandable you might question the legitimacy of a website or their deals.
We suggest you stick with the websites mentioned here or other well-known spots.
Above all, remember the age-old rule that if something sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Be wary of any websites advertising cruise deals that are significantly less than the same cruise priced elsewhere.
What about booking last-minute cruise deals on websites?
It makes sense that if a cruise cabin is about to sail empty the price would drop to fill it up. In reality, this doesn’t usually happen. In fact, cruise lines consistently have occupancy rates above 100% — meaning that more than two passengers are in some cabins.
By waiting until the last minute you aren’t likely to find great deals, but it will mean that you have fewer cabin choices. It’s best to book earlier compared to later.
What if I book on a website and the price drops?
Cruise prices can fluctuate. It’s possible that if you book one day, the next day the price may go down. The good news is that the price is unlikely to move much (unlike airfare).
So what do you do if the price does change? In that case, you’ll want to contact the website that you booked through — not the cruise line (unless you booked through the cruise line’s website). For example, if you book through CostcoTravel.com, then contact them first for any price drops you see.
Have more questions about the best website to book a cruise? Let us know in the comments below.