Cheap last-minute cruises are yours to be had if you're a flexible traveler. Do you keep a bag packed, maybe even by the door? Are you an experienced cruise passenger who knows what to look for? Are you a potential first-time cruiser who will not try out this vacation experience unless you can get a great deal? If you're even partially in one of these profiles, then last-minute cruising may be for you.
Research the cruise lines, ships and destinations closest to where you live. You'll have the most flexibility if you can show up at almost a moment's notice, and that does not include a cross-country airplane trip. If you find a couple of destinations that interest you, pack a bag with toiletries and extra clothing that's suitable for those destinations. Put a luggage tag on it, and put it in your closet. If you find a cruise you want leaving tomorrow, there's no last minute panic. Just grab your bag and go, knowing you've saved yourself hundreds of dollars, if not thousands.
Look for a "repositioning" cruise. Most cruise lines have more cruises than ships. There are winter cruises and summer cruises, and they're rarely the same. For instance, summer cruises may head for destinations like Alaska, Canada or New England, while winter cruises might feature locations like Mexico, the Caribbean or South America.
However, that ship needs to be moved, or repositioned, from New England to Mexico if it's going to make its winter routes. Cruise lines used to just sail the ship to the new location and start the new round of travel, but then someone got wise. What if people were willing to pay for a one-way cruise? Andpositioning cruises started. You'll need airfare back to your departure location, but most times the savings on the cruise will more than offset that. These cruises are, of course, offered in the "shoulder" seasons, between the winter and summer peak periods.
And speaking of shoulder season, that's another great time to find a bargain, even if you want a more standard round-trip cruise. Summer and winter are the busiest travel and cruising times – but that could mean your ship will be crowded. Try the shoulder season between those points, when there is lower demand, which equals lower prices.
Act fast. That should go without saying for a last minute cruise, but we'll say it anyway. When cruise lines are approaching departure date with a few empty cabins, they lower prices to put an extra body in a bunk. But they're only willing to do that so long. And sometimes the ship will leave without you, or someone else will snap up that deal. This is getting more difficult to do, since cruising is becoming more popular, but if you're persistent, deals can be found.
Find a travel mate to go with you. For last-minute cruises, this can be difficult. Another option is to ask the cruise line for a share rate. This will give you a cabin mate of the same gender, although probably someone you do not know. Still, it's a chance to make a new friend, assuming you hit it off. If not, well, the ships are huge and you're only likely to run into each other when brushing teeth.
Use the standard travel websites to check for last-minute bargains. Most have tabs or an icon for last-minute deals, and some of these will include cruises. Then check the web sites for cruise specialists, like CruiseCritic.com or CruiseMates.com.
With pre-planning, flexibility, and a quick mouse-click finger, you can find cheap last minute cruises that will make your vacation even more relaxing.