Booking Your European Cruise

St. Tropez<br />
Cruise ship for the coast of St. Tropez, France

St. Tropez
Cruise ship for the coast of St. Tropez, France

Once you know the region of Europe you would like to cruise, what type of ship is best suited to you and how long you would like to cruise, you can identify several cruise companies that can provide a similar experience for you. Before you book your cruise, take the time to research all of the ways you can get the best price for your cruise. This may involve talking to multiple booking agents or cruise company sales representatives, but it could save you as much as 50% off your total European cruise price.

How to Save Money Booking Your Cruise

Summer is the primary European cruise season, although the season technically lasts from April to November. The summer months are considered high season, during which time you are less likely to get a discounted rate. The months of April, May, October and November are considered shoulder season, and discounted rates abound. Some cruise lines do operate in December, and feature special holiday-themed cruises, which may also have discounted rates. Generally the first trip of the season posts lower fares, as the staff and crew are just “warming up” for the season. Here is a brief list of other ways to save money when booking a cruise:

  • Early Bird Specials – When you book your cruise early, as much as 10-12 months in advance, you can take advantage of early booking discounts. You will also have your pick of the cabins, which is a definite plus to some advance planning on your part.
  • Last-Minute Specials –When you book your cruise in the last weeks before the ship’s departure date, you can also get deep discounts. Cruise companies want to fill their empty cabins and they know how much they need to earn per cabin in order to make a profit. That number is dramatically lower than the list price, and much lower than the final price most passengers pay. One drawback to booking your cruise late is you are at the mercy of fluctuating air transportation rates.
  • Third or Fourth Passenger – European cruise companies offer significant discounts for the third or fourth passenger staying in the same cabin with you. This is great for families, wedding parties and others who don’t mind sharing a cabin for a reduction in price. You can total the price of all four cruise package fees, and split the final booking price three or four ways.

Reading the Fine Print When Booking Your Cruise

Booking your cruise successfully is all in the details. You really do need to take the time to make sure you have thought of everything that you might want to do while on your cruise in order to find out what it might cost.

One of the major appeals of cruise travel is they are inclusive. Your lodging, meals, most entertainment and non-alcoholic drinks are included in the price. However, there are scores of additional fees that may not be routinely included, but could be negotiated if you know what to ask. Make sure to inquire about all ground transportation fees, port charges and taxes when booking your cruise.

How to Book Your Cruise

You can book your European cruise directly with the cruise company, with a travel agent or booking company, and in very few cases, you can book your cruise online. There are budget and logistical advantages to working directly with the cruise company for all of your travel details. As mentioned before, you can get impressive discounts when you book directly with the cruise company, as well as cabin upgrades and other freebies.

Many European cruise companies offer packages that include air fare or discounted air fare to the ship’s embarkation city. Aside from the benefit to your pocketbook, choosing to book your ground and air transportation with the cruise company allows them to keep track of your whereabouts, and they are more apt to accommodate an unforeseen delay if they have arranged the transportation for you.

When booking your cruise through an authorized travel agent or booking company, you may have access to special two-for-one deals, air travel class upgrades, and other perks that only a travel agent has been granted. Another perk to working with a travel agent is you gain the benefit of their experience. Jot down the particulars of your dream European cruise experience, and they will help you find the perfect cruise for you.

Booking Ports of Call Excursions

A European cruise is as much about the ports of call as it is about the onboard experience, if not more so. You have carefully chosen your itinerary, so why not see as much of each destination as you possibly can? After you book your cruise, you will receive information cruise materials via mail that will detail all of your options while at port. Some European cruise packages include shore excursion fees, but this is less likely on larger ships. Even if your cruise package includes these fees, you may still be required to sign up in advance.

While you may wish to wander the streets of Rome solo or with your sweetheart, organized tours do have their benefits. For example, tour guides share knowledge only the locals would know, as they are mostly residents of the port. Many European cruise companies have arranged shore excursions that would not be available to you on your own, with access to churches, museums, restaurants, wineries, ancient ruins, and locations outside of the port city limits.

You can also book shore excursions while onboard ship, but you may be subject to higher fees and/or the tour could be sold out. For this reason, make sure to inquire about opportunities at ports of call when you arrive at the ship. This way you can sign up before other passengers make up their minds about what they want to next.

It is important to note that most shore excursions are nonrefundable. You may want to choose one or two spectacular ports for a guided tour, and then explore the other ports on your own.