9 Cruises That Are Best To Book In Advance

9 Cruises That Are Best To Book In Advance

These are the 9 cruises that are best to book in advance. Find out why

When they’re booking a cruise, many people are looking for the best deal, so they’ll time when they book based on when they think they’re going to get the best prices. For many people, the key time to get some of the lowest cruise prices is within 90 days of the cruise itself, because that’s when people have to pay the final balance and the cruise lines then might start to discount prices to clear the cabins they still have left, so they can sail full.

Other people will book really early on, because when itineraries go on sale 18 months or two years before, that’s when you can get some of the best deals.

However, there are nine cruises where I strongly recommend you book as far in advance as you possibly can.

New ships

The first cruise you should book way in advance, in fact as soon as it goes on sale, is a brand-new ship or even a new cruise line entering the market. I’ve been at naming ceremonies of Seabourn ships, for example, where I’ve met people who have been on every single maiden voyage of a Seabourn ship. There are quite a few people who aim to travel on new ships, so whenever a big, new ship comes along, for example when Celebrity launched Edge and Apex – a whole new class of ship – or a new cruise line, like in 2020, when Virgin Voyages launched with Scarlet Lady; or Ritz-Carlton launching a new cruise line, there’s a lot of interest in being the first person to get on board, and you’ll often find that it gets sold out within minutes or hours of going on sale.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

Final voyages

The second one is the absolute opposite of that: when ships are going out of service. One of the most famous and hardest to book was when the Queen Elizabeth 2 went out of service and sailed into Dubai, and that was completely full. But also, recently, as Saga Cruises got rid of all their old ships and brought in an entirely new fleet, the final cruises of those ships completely sold out and were impossible to book.

Special event cruises

Another area where you really want to book way in advance is if there is a very special, one off event, or a themed cruise, which are becoming more and more popular. Some of the most famous, for example, include ships which sail to Monaco for the Grand Prix because, of course, it’s a huge event, and very expensive to stay in Monaco. There are limited amounts of hotels so cruise lines will go there, moor outside and build packages around the Grand Prix. You’ll often find one-off cruises to any big events, whether it’s golf events, or other sporting events get sold out very quickly.

You’ll also find some big anniversaries: D-Day commemorations or even special concerts where they get big stars on board will sell out very quickly, as well as ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ themed cruises, where they’ll have really big names or the judges onboard. These big, special events with famous people are hugely popular. I’ve been on various cruises, for example I took my mother on one where different opera singers were performing, and that was very hard to get tickets for and sold out really quickly.

Cunard do quite a few where they might get all the three ships coming together in a particular part of the world to commemorate a special anniversary, and these things are really popular because there’s such a sense of event – people want to be a part of it.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth in Nagasaki Japan

Short seasons

Another area where I strongly recommend you book in advance is for cruises that have very short seasons. These often tend to be expedition cruises: one example is going through the North East Passage which has a very short season, in fact, it’s a once a year opportunity. This is a very difficult area to go through, and very few cruise lines offer this cruise, so when they do, they’re sold out immediately they go on sale. Even for Alaska, which has a pretty short season, running from May to about September/October, you really want to book in advance. There’s not a big window and there’s some cap on capacity there too.

If you want to go to Antarctica, you pretty much have to go between November and the end of February/March time; and if you want to go to the Arctic, you’re really talking June, July, and August. These short seasons are combined with the fact that many of these cruises have small ships, making demand even higher. So, for example, when I went to Antarctica, I booked 18 months in advance.

My next Antarctica trip, I booked almost two years in advance to make sure that I could get on the ship, in the right cabin at the right sort of price. If you want to go to the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, there’s lots of choice so it becomes less critical.

Glacier Bay Alaska on Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam

Glacier Bay Alaska on Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam

World voyages

Another key cruise to book way in advance is if you’re thinking of doing a world voyage. World voyages normally go on sale two years or sometimes even more in advance of sailing when initially they will put the entire world voyage on sale. As time goes on, they start to chop it up into smaller segments. If you want to go on a world cruise, you’ll find that the very best cabins sell out the quickest as there are a limited amount and people booking the whole thing often spend a lot of money to go.

For example, I’m looking at potentially doing a full world voyage, having already done half of one, and we’re looking at two to three years in advance, because if we’re going to spend up to three months on a cruise ship, we want to make sure we get absolutely the right cabin, in the right spot on the ship. We want to make sure that it’s perfect.

So, I strongly recommend you book way in advance to secure exactly the right ship, and the right cabin – it’s got to be absolutely perfect because you’re spending a lot of time there. So, for world voyages, definitely book those way in advance.

The right cabin

Linked to that is if you’re really fussy about the cabin. For example, I really like to choose my cabin and where it is on the ship, so I book most of my cruises a long time in advance. I’m quite particular about the cabin I want, and if you’ve watched any of my videos about choosing a cabin, you’ll know that I have very specific things I like to do, and sometimes if you book a little bit ahead, you can still get them at a better price.

But if there’s a specific type of cabin you want, for example, if you’re looking for an accessibility cabin, there are not always loads of those onboard a ship, so you want to make sure you book those early. If you’re a solo traveller, many cruise lines have very few solo cabins, so again, you want to book ahead because there may only be a handful of those on board and you want to make sure that you get those really quickly.

Again, if you’re perhaps travelling as a family, and you want to have a family cabin, there are not always loads of those on a ship, so book those way in advance.

Festive cruises

If you want to go away during the Christmas and New Year Period, it’s important you book early. This is partly because it’s an extremely popular time to go cruising. For example, I have been a number of times on a Cunard Christmas cruise – they cruise the Caribbean every single year, and they’ve been doing it for decades. It goes out of New York, around the 21st, 22nd of December, and comes back to New York around the 3rd or 4th January. I met people when we first went on that cruise, that had been doing it since they were children, and they’re now in their 20s. Their family and extended family go every single year, and they book those as soon as they come on sale.

Again, even if you’re sailing on different voyages around about the world at festive times, you need to look ahead. If you want to go on a European Christmas cruise, there’s not a great deal of choice. If you want to go to the Caribbean at Christmas, you may find there’s more choice sailing out of Miami, or Fort Lauderdale.

But really, if you want to go at Christmas, it’s a really good idea to book those in advance. Particularly if you’re travelling with extended family and you want to get cabins close to each other, or interconnecting cabins.

cruise booking in advance

European river cruises

Another area to look at is river cruising in Europe. There is more and more capacity available for river cruises. But generally speaking, they’re sold out well in advance. For example, I’ve been looking at much shorter notice, say five to six months in advance, and have found it really hard to book in peak season.

The season really runs from around March/April to October and there are some Christmas Market cruises, but if you want to go at peak time, you’ll find with the big, popular lines, it won’t be easy to book, so with river cruising you want to plan way in advance. And that may change over time as more capacity becomes available, but again, plan ahead to get the ship, itinerary and time you want.

Queen Mary 2 pets

There are very few options for going cruising with your pet. So, this is one area you have to book way in advance. I have a whole video about cruising with your pets, but one of the best ways is doing a transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2. They only have around 22 kennels, and they are very, very popular. Plus, of course, they’re not doing transatlantic crossings all year round. So, it’s something you need to look at booking way ahead of time. Cunard actually recommends between 18 months and two years in advance to make sure that you’d absolutely get a kennel for your pet.

So, they’re the nine main cruises that are best to book in advance. I have loads more videos packed full of cruise tips and advice, so if you found this helpful, why not watch one of those right now.

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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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