Across the world, the cruise industry has been getting back to full swing – Norwegian Cruise Line is returning to the US West Coast, Aurora Expeditions is resuming operations in Antarctica and Viking Cruises have started sailing from Fort Lauderdale for the first time. Royal Caribbean expects to have carried one million passengers by December, and much of the Carnival fleet is at sea.
However, as positive news continues to elude Australian cruisers, many are unsure when they can finally feel confident enough to book a cruise and know they’ll sail.
Cruise Passenger has spoken to leading cruise travel agents about when to book, overseas or domestic and when to get the best deal.
Here are their answers:
When should you book internationally?
If you’re looking to head overseas, Sharon Summerhayes, Cruise Specialist and owner of Deluxe Travel & Cruise, says you should feel confident booking right away.
“People should feel confident now. Once our borders are open (NSW/VIC) as of next week, we can cruise anywhere in the world, just as I will be!”
Michelle Levins, Director of My Cruise Concierge says the bookings are rolling in across the globe.
“Now that international borders are opening up we are seeing clients booking for 2022 in Europe and USA, and certainly planning larger trips in 2023.”
Craig Bowen, Managing Director at Cruise Traveller, leading Australian small ship cruise specialists, is also saying now is the time to go for it if you’re looking to book overseas.
“We have seen significant increases in bookings for our long haul destinations in the past few weeks with most of our major partners already having resumed operations, or planning to in the first quarter of 2022.”
“The domestic markets in each of these destinations such as USA, Canada & Europe is extremely strong which whilst fantastic for the cruise companies who have had an incredibly tough 18 months, is creating availability problems for us – so the message is definitely to not hold back – if you want to go, get in and make a booking.”
When should you book domestically?
As far as booking domestically, the question becomes a bit more complicated – but there’s still hope.
Mr Bowen says: “In many parts of the world cruising has already resumed and will continue to increase over the coming months.”
“Whilst in Australia this is ultimately going to be determined by the Federal & State Governments rulings on foreign flagged vessels operating here, all of the recent Government relaxations for both lockdowns and international travel, along with the necessary increase in vaccination levels, to me indicate that this approach will flow over to the cruise industry in the first half of 2022.”
“We are already in the past few weeks since these announcements seeing a significant increase in enquiry and booking activity for travel in the second half of 2022 & right throughout 2023.”
Ms Levins recommends next summer as a solid lock-in.
“CLIA have been working together with the government for the safe resumption of cruising. Once approved then the summer season 2022/23 will go ahead, perhaps even earlier.”
However, Ms Levins also notes that Coral Expeditions have been operating successfully in Australia and says there’s still some great itineraries up for grabs.
“Queensland itineraries are starting in late November 2021 and there is still availability for their Ultimate QLD Christmas Expedition, a special 14-night expedition on new Coral Geographer that showcases the remarkable diversity of Queensland. Built into the cruise is a private jet excursion deep into the Queensland Outback, and a sailing escape to a postcard-perfect Whitsundays beach.”
How to score a deal
Ms Summerhayes says the best way to get a deal is snap something up on season release.
“The best time to book is upon the season release, especially for cruises over busy holiday periods. Demand drives price.”
“There are a few cruises that historically you’d wait for a ‘deal’ close to departure, but these norms may not be back for a while until things really have got back to normal for a period of time.”
Ms Levins adds: “Seasoned cruisers book early for the best prices and cabin choice.”
“Some agents also have additional availability that they can offer closer to the date with competitive pricing that is cheaper than what cruise lines are offering.”
For smaller ships, Mr Bowen says right now scoring a deal is tough and your main worry should be availability.
“The small & boutique products that Cruise Traveller specialises in has always had different booking trends than large ships, simply based on smaller inventory.”
“With the pent up demand from basically two cancelled years means that more than ever that the main priority is to be able to secure a cabin on the voyage that you want rather than worrying just about the price.”
“These are quality, not price driven products.”
How far ahead of your cruise is ideal to book?
While at this point you might just want to get on any cruise as fast as possible, the agents did offer some guidance on how far ahead you’d generally want to book.
Ms Summerhayes says: “12-18 months generally. But again, it depends on what the cruise is. Something like Japan Cherry Blossom cruises get snapped up over 18 months in advance. World cruises – 2 – 2 ½ years in advance.”
Ms Levins suggests a similar timeframe.
“We encourage our clients to book their cruise a minimum of 18 months in advance, we plan their itinerary around their cruise so their full itinerary is ready to go when availability appears for flights and accommodation. However we can always accommodate last minute bookings.”
Mr Bowen explains the difference for smaller ships.
“Again, this is different with small ships. If special deals are offered they are as early booking incentives – so again don’t hold back waiting for a cheaper price – you might end up paying more to wait or even worse – simply miss out on the voyage of your dreams.”
Final warnings and tips
Ms Levins says now more than ever it is important to go over the terms of your bookings and check the travel rules of each country you’ll visit.
“Ensure you have checked all border restrictions including transit points. Many companies are now requiring double vaccinations.”
“As the rest of the world is travelling we have found Europe 2022 season is booking quite heavily.
Mr Bowen has the scoop on small ships.
“Small & boutique product availability is tight for 2022 and in some destinations into 2023.”
“This is not limited to long haul either, with iconic local destinations such as The Kimberley very heavily booked for 2022 & demand strong for 2023.”
Mr Bowen understands reservations but overall sees things as very much looking up.
“Obviously you have to be comfortable in being ready to travel again – however the protocols in place by both the cruise lines & the destinations and the strong focus on increased vaccination levels is clearly giving a large part of the cruise market the confidence to make the commitment to get back on board.”
“We have all been held back for too long and it is very exciting for our guests, agents & cruise partners to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ms Summerhayes warns that Hawaii is selling fast and to remember agents have the best deals.
“Hawaii-Sydney with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean in October 2022 are on their way to selling out.”
“Some of us agents have much better deals so don’t go booking them online. I have cabins for over $2500 cheaper than online. A cruise specialist can save you so much!”
Ms Summerhayes herself is heading to LA to board the Norwegian Bliss next week and offers some final words of wisdom: “Book two cruises.”
“There’s nothing worse than coming home without another cruise to look forward to!”