Your cruise is getting closer! You’re now (roughly) half a year from departure.
The first thing you will want to do at this stage, if you have not done so already, is to book your airfare. As discussed in the previous post, if you are flying overseas, you should already have accomplished this step, but airfare within North America and the Caribbean will often have better fares four to five months out. This is particularly true if you are using discount airlines like Southwest or Spirit Air. So if you haven’t arranged your air travel, do it now. Once you have booked your air travel, you should also reserve any hotels or rental cars you will need before or after your cruise.
But the big thing to focus on in this stage is your itinerary! Take look at the ports you will visit. Hopefully, you’ve been investigating and researching these ports, as I suggested for the 8 to 12 month timeframe, but if you haven’t, it isn’t too late to start. This is the prime time to book shore excursions!
I know, it may seem crazy to be booking shore excursions so far in advance, but if you leave things until 3-4 months out (or later) you may find that what you want is booked up. This is particularly true if you would like to make independent arrangements for private shore excursions and tours in each port. Private guides are fewer in number, and book up much faster than the shore excursions offered by the cruise ship. Yet even cruise ship excursions can often book up completely if they have limited availability or capacity.
If your ship is traveling in the Caribbean and visiting a private island, be aware that private cabanas on the beach are a popular, but limited option. If you want to book a cabana, you will have top be online the moment they become available for your cruise, and hope your fingers are fast enough! These cabanas are so popular that often cruisers with many past voyages on the same line will have a chance to book before others, and this is considered to be a big perk!
In order to know which shore excursions to book, you should have an idea of what sights you would like to see in each port, and how easy it will be to get there. Obviously, if you can walk or take a free shuttle from the port, there is no point in booking a tour! But if you will need transportation and a guide, then you will want to determine what kind of tour you will be taking, and make the arrangements now.
Private excursions usually require a deposit, and can be difficult to cancel (every tour operator is different; make sure you understand the restrictions when you book), but cruise line excursions can generally be changed easily. So if you’re uncertain and might want to change your arrangements later on, you may prefer to book through the cruise line. However, keep in mind that private guides can make changes: to the number of people in the party, to the list of sights you want to see, etc. As long as you’re still planning on going on their tour, they will usually do their best to be flexible.
If you book a cruise line shore excursion, the cruise line may require you to pay up front (this varies from line to line). If you are doing this, be sure to use the cruise line credit card that you (hopefully) applied for back when the cruise was booked! This will earn you points to use as onboard credit during your cruise.
This is also a good time to be social. If you are so inclined, join cruisecritic.com and check out the roll call for your cruise. You will have a chance to chat with others who will be on your cruise and get to know them in advance. You may also find some good tips about the ship or itinerary you have chosen. Many cruise lines have official parties for Cruise Critic members, and this is also the time to sign up for such events.
You will be surprised how quickly the time flies when you are socializing on Cruise Critic and booking your excursions!
Next time, I’ll talk about what to do when you are 1 to 4 months out from your cruise.