The problem: we want the best deal, but we all want it at exactly the same time for Europe cruises.

From Australia to America, everyone wants best-value cruises – during the peak season.

So when demand is highest, we want the cost of our holiday to be at its cheapest. Doesn’t make sense. right?

But many of our readers – perhaps you? – have a big advantage. You’re not forced to take your break during school holidays or during the hottest months. And that’s a BIG advantage.

By cruising in Europe during the shoulder season rather than peak, you can end up saving yourself upwards of $5000, according to the experts.

As well as financial savings, you’ll also beat the crowds, avoid the worst of the summer heat and have more availability for dining, hotels and activities.

Shoulder season travel means travelling outside the peak European months of June, July and August and rather opting to travel in April or May and September and October.

Katrina Van Der Merwe, Flight Centre Cruise Specialist says she’s seeing more and more clients start opting for shoulder season trips. 

Shoulder season cruising

“I have a number of clients who have travelled to Europe in the past and are now looking at shoulder seasons to return. 

“People who travel in the shoulder season have less competition, due to the work and school schedules of others. Many people don’t have the privilege of taking advantage of the shoulder seasons. If you’re one of the blessed few, grab hold my friend! 

‘Enjoy Madrid with fewer crowds. Eat gelato in Rome. Drift down a canal in Amsterdam. Hike the Highlands in Scotland. And send me a postcard!”

Van Der Merwe offers some of her favourite shoulder season spots.

“A few tips would be to do Venice in their spring – April and May. Rome is HOT, so consider May or September. Germany has the most exquisite cherry blossoms – which rival Japan – in April. Madrid in autumn will also knock your socks off with the fall leaves, as will Scotland and Poland in September/October.”

Sharon Summerhayes from Deluxe Cruise & Travel says she’s starting to see just as many Aussie clients travelling in shoulder season as peak season.

“I have more clients that have just headed to Europe over the last couple of week than did in the peak of June/July/August.  The same went for April/May earlier this year.

“I highly recommend shoulder season for cruising, especially the Med as the weather is fantastic, you’ll save money on all your travel components and the sites will be less crowded.”

Virgin Voyages ship sailing through the ocean.
Save big on your next European cruise.

Don’t wait around 

Just because you travel in the shoulder season doesn’t mean you can wait until the very last minute to plan Europe cruises. Due to increased flight prices, Van Der Merwe says you’ll still want to be booking in those flights well ahead.

“You used to be able to wait until the very last minute and still find fantastic deals on flights. This is NOT the case anymore. The airlines aren’t discounting flights just because there’s a seat open.

“Flights can be booked 11 months in advance. Book as early as possible to find the availability you want at the lowest prices. Cruises are much the same. There are a great number of EarlyBird discounts – take advantage!

“Last-minute deals aren’t going to be there as the demand for cruises is huge. I have ships that are sold out for next May, and it’s only September.”

Flight savings on Europe Cruises

Even if you’re searching for shoulder season cruises and the prices aren’t looking too different, Van Der Merwe says flights are where the big savings are. 

“European cruises are always popular, so you may not save by booking in the shoulder seasons. Where you will save though, is on flights

Flights right now are on sale from Australia to Europe with at least 2 of my major airlines showing availability in May for around $1900 per person return. You won’t find those prices in July or August when the demand for flights is at its peak. 

“For two adults, an agent could bundle together flights, a night’s hotel stay pre-cruise, insurance (please don’t travel without it!), a weeklong cruise, and maybe 2-3 nights’ accommodation at the end, for under 10K. Of course, this would be with advance planning, not last minute, and for travel during a shoulder season.”

The celebrity magic carpet.
Celebrity is a popular choice for Europe cruises.

The numbers breakdown

To compare two Europe cruise holidays, one in May and one in July, here are all the numbers you need, based on two cruisers heading from Sydney to Barcelona to jump on a seven-night French Daze and Ibiza Nights itinerary with Virgin Voyages. 

Flights 

Per Skyscanner, to fly return from Sydney to Barcelona in May for those cruise dates is as cheap as $1929 per person return. Whereas to fly with Emirates return in July for the Virgin cruise, comes out to $3353 per person return. 

Hotels 

Assuming the couple want to stay in a hotel two-nights before and two-nights after their cruise, four-nights at the four-star Ilunion Les Corts Spa Barcelona will set the couple back $1135 in May and $1819 in July. 

Cruise 

The cruise itself starts from $3770 in May, but rises to starting from $4322 in peak season. 

Total savings

The shoulder season couple will pay $3858 total in flights, $1135 for their hotel and $7540 total for their cruise, equalling $12,533 for their vacation. The peak season couple will pay $6706 total in flights, $1819 for their hotel and $8644 total for their cruise, equalling $17,169. This means in the shoulder season, the holiday is $4636 cheaper, on other European cruises you may save even more This is before factoring in cheaper meals and activities that are readily available when crowds aren’t overflowing. 

How about a different cruise?

Even if you’re looking at different dates or cruise lines, you’re still likely to see big savings. Ms Summerhayes crunched the numbers on a Celebrity Cruise.

“I’ve done a comparison between a 12 Night Celebrity Apex Northern Europe cruise departing Southampton on the 8th July 2024, versus an 11 Night Celebrity Apex Northern Europe cruise departing Southampton on the 7th September. 

“For September, the cruise itself is $4000 per couple cheaper, airfares are $800 per couple cheaper and hotels are around $150 a night cheaper.  You can save over $5,000 per couple cruising Europe in September versus July.”

The Aquatic Club at Virgin Voyages.
How much could you save on your Virgin cruise?