When it comes to booking a cruise, not much feels better than knowing you scored the best cruise price possible. Savvy travelers understand that getting the best pricing and perks means you have to be vigilant. But, if you’re willing to put in extra time and work, the payoff could mean you’re saving hundreds of dollars more than the folks in the next cabin.

The best deals come to those who are flexible, loyal to a specific line and who have a good relationship with a travel professional. While some people love last-minute deals, booking well ahead of time can give you plenty of opportunities to save. Follow these steps to save big on your next cruise.

Step 1. Book your next cruise while you’re on a cruise.

Cruise lines want you to sail on their ships again and again, and they’ll reward you for your loyalty. Devoted cruisers and big spenders get perks like free cocktail receptions, complimentary laundry or cabin upgrades, but even first-time cruisers can score big if they book more cruises while still at sea.

Most cruise lines have programs that reward you with onboard credit, reduced deposits or discounts if you book while you’re sailing. Generally, the rewards and conditions are better if you book a specific sailing, rather than simply an unspecified “future sailing.” Celebrity Cruises, for example, offers up to $500 in onboard credit if you pick your ship and sail date, while you’ll get up to $200 if you choose to commit later. Onboard credit can be used for virtually anything, including gratuities, so the savings go straight to your bottom line.

Booking onboard? Find out how to score extras and discounts.

Step 2. Keep an eye out for the big sales.

Your work isn’t done just because you’ve booked. If you’ve locked up a sailing early and given yourself the luxury of time, you have a lot of built-in flexibility and can take advantage of sales that cruise lines run periodically throughout the year, such as wave season deals. Many cruise lines allow you to combine an onboard booking with at least one other offer, so if you see a great deal, you could be eligible for better pricing and even more perks such as drink packages, additional onboard credit or prepaid gratuities. Cruise lines also have flash sales throughout the year, and those are famously great opportunities to snag cruise add-ons.

Check out Cruise Critic’s deals page for the latest cruise line sales.

booking with a travel agent

Step 3. Transfer that booking to your favorite travel agent.

When your chosen cruise line is having a sale with perks you like, transfer your booking to a travel agent you trust. This way, you can keep all the benefits from your original onboard booking, gain access to the current cruise line and agency sale perks, and have someone manage your booking so you don’t have to. Yep, you read that right. Not only can you double-dip on some cruise line deals, but travel agencies might even offer further perks — additional onboard credit, for example — and work with you to access price drops and cabin upgrades. One caveat: Some cruise lines give you a limited time frame in which to transfer your booking, usually 60 to 90 days after the onboard booking.

Read our tips for finding a travel agent who fits your style.

Step 4. Monitor your cruise pricing daily, or let someone do it for you.

With most lines, if a price drops, you can get the lower price all the way up until you’ve made your final payment. Cruise fares change a lot more than you probably realize, and sometimes low rates last for only a few hours at a time. Some travel agents will monitor prices for you and alert you to drops, for a fee. There’s also power in numbers. After you’ve booked a specific sailing, sign up for a Cruise Critic Roll Call. Often, Cruise Critic members will share information on when a price falls. If you learn of a price drop, contact your travel agent right away to get the new lower rate. If you’ve already made your final payment and come across a price drop, it doesn’t hurt to contact the cruise line; cruisers have told us they’ve received upgrades or onboard credit even after that last payment.

Follow these four steps, and you can board your next cruise feeling confident that you got a great deal. Here are a couple of additional ways to save, if relevant to your booking.

Book with a group.

Booking a cruise with a group can lead to some nice savings. While the perks vary from line to line, most companies will reward large groups with discounts and incentives. If you’re the leader of a group, you could end up with a free cruise, or you can spread the wealth by sharing the discount with the rest of your party.

Refer a cruiser.

Some travel agents will offer a small onboard credit if you refer a new client to them. Similarly, Crown and Anchor loyalty program members receive onboard credit ($25 per cabin) for referring new-to-Royal Caribbean cruisers.

 

By Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor

 

====================================================================

Is a Cruise Drink Package Right for You?

Whether or not to buy a cruise drink package when you sail is one of the most common questions that appears on the Cruise Critic forums.

Sometimes passengers balk at the price tag, which can seem steep when you are making a bulk payment as opposed to paying for each drink individually. Others worry that they won’t get good service from bartenders if they have a package (or conversely, be considered “partiers” by other people).

Here are some reasons you might want to consider buying a cruise drink package, as well as times when buying a package isn’t a smart idea.

A Cruise Drink Package Is a Good Deal If…

canned soda

You like knowing your bill ahead of time.

Sure, it can be painful when you pay a few hundred dollars for drinks before your cruise even starts. But once you’ve gone ahead and paid, you have the luxury of being able to order drinks at most bars and restaurants without having to worry about your final bill.

If you’re still undecided before you board, keep in mind that you can usually buy a package during the first couple of days — but it won’t apply retroactively to those first few margaritas you downed during sailaway.

You like sodas, specialty coffee drinks and bottled water.

People who are new to cruising often don’t understand that almost all drinks besides basic tea, coffee and tap water carry a charge. That means that if your daughter has a Diet Coke habit or you enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice in the mornings or a latte in the afternoons, you’ll have to pay up. Cruise drink packages can cover all of the above, as well as nonalcoholic mocktails, if you don’t go for booze.

Also, don’t forget the bottled water. If you have a lot of shore excursions in a hot climate, such as the Caribbean or Eastern Mediterranean, you will want to bring some water with you on shore — and when you’re on a set tour, you might not have time to stop at a local convenience store to get your own. A package makes it easy to grab a bottle on your way off the ship, without worry.

You like convenience.

Sure, some cruise lines allow you to bring on your own soda or bottled water (although Carnival has banned bottled beverages — any drinks carried on must be in cans). And almost every cruise line allows you to bring at least a bottle or two of wine onboard. But sometimes, it’s just not logistically easy to do, especially if you’re flying into a foreign country or don’t have a rental car to get to a store. Having a drink package means you can skip the annoying runaround.


A Cruise Drink Package Might Not Be a Good Deal If…

Patron brand tequila

You prefer a specific brand or type of drink.

If you’re someone who must have Patron in your margarita or won’t drink house wines, then you might want to examine drink packages to see if they are a better deal. Many drink packages will cover cocktails or wine up a certain amount; if your drink is more expensive, you either have to pay full price or simply make up the difference.

Note: The cruise lines don’t always make it easy to find out exactly what drinks onboard cost. Your best bet to see if your favorite cocktail makes the list is to check the cruise line’s website or ask the question on the Cruise Critic forums for the line you’re sailing.


A Cruise Drink Package Isn’t As Good a Deal if…

bar drinks

You prefer a bottle of wine at dinner.

Most cruise line drink packages apply to wines by the glass. That’s great if you’re someone who likes to match wines with your appetizers and entrees, or like a different type of wine than your dining companions. But if you prefer to order a bottle of wine or want a larger selection, keep in mind that while some drink packages offer discounts on bottles, many do not. (Some cruise lines have drink packages that ONLY cover wine at dinner. This might be your best bet.)

Your cabin mate has different drinking patterns than you.

Some — but not all — lines require both adults in the cabin to purchase the same package. If you like to drink Scotch, but your wife is a teetotaler, you’re better off buying drinks separately. Keep in mind that most bartenders and waiters will only serve you one drink at a time — and will refuse to serve you if you are caught sneaking a glass to a companion.

Some alcohol is already included.

River cruises usually include beer and wine at meals in the fare, as do premium cruise lines such as Azamara; the latter also includes some types of cocktails. Unless you’re someone who really needs brand-name alcohol, what you already have might likely suffice.

You just don’t drink much.

There’s no way to get around it. The absolute best way to determine if a drink package is best for you is to get out that calculator and tally up how much you would spend without the package. In general, if you think you’re going to order five or so alcoholic drinks a day during your trip, a package is worth considering.

By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor

Elon Musk Wants To Fly You Anywhere On Earth In Under An Hour

Right now, the quickest way to get from, say, New York to Siberia involves at least a few plane tickets and a lot of layovers. But if Elon Musk has his way, travelers won’t have to rely on airlines to get them to the other side of the world — they can just hop on a rocket ship and be there in the same time it takes to get a pizza delivered.

Speaking at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk revealed his plan for a rocket ship dubbed “BFR” that he says could fly travelers anywhere in the world in under an hour. By all appearances, at 30 feet in diameter, this would be a big frickin’ rocket, indeed.

The way Musk sees it, if SpaceX — the aerospace company he founded — is going to colonize Mars, and make us a “multiplanet species,” they might as well improve life on this planet, too.

“If we are going to places like Mars, why not Earth?” Musk asked while onstage, saying that if BFR is a success, travelers could get from New York to Shanghai in 30 minutes.

The BFR would have a maximum speed of 27,000 km/h, and accommodate 40 cabins that could carry about 100 people at one time, Musk said. After his on-stage appearance, he added in an Instagram post that fares would cost about the same as an economy airfare.

“Fly to most places on Earth in under 30 mins and anywhere in under 60,” he wrote. “Cost per seat should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft. Forgot to mention that.”

The BFR would also be able to make trips to the Moon and Mars, carry satellites into orbit, and ferry cargo and crew members to the International Space Station.

Although Musk originally to use a rocket called Red Dragon for unmanned missions to Mars, the new plan is land the first unmanned BFR on the planet in 2022 and then send crewed rocket ships out there in 2024.

Travel: Netflix Offers Its Streaming Tech to Airlines

If you’ve ever tried to get any work done or stream video on your own device during a flight, you know just how terrible and unreliable in-flight wi-fi can be. Thankfully, however, internet connections on airlines may soon see vast improvements across the board as Netflix has announced that its partnering with airlines to upgrade their internet bandwidth. Rather than bring its own platform to flights’ on-board entertainment systems (as its done with the likes of Virgin America), the move will instead see Netflix providing airlines with its own bandwidth technology — the same tech it uses to stream video on the likes of your laptops, tablets, and smartphones. According to Netflix, it believes it can save airlines around 75% of the cost of their bandwidth while offering even better performance. Naturally, Netflix hopes passengers will take advantage of the improved costs and speeds to stream more movies and shows, making it a win-win for airlines and the video platform alike.

Though it remains unclear when exactly the technology will begin rolling out, the partnership will also likely see an increase in Netflix’s subscriber base: Netflix plans to offer subscribers free access via their devices while non-subscribers will be offered a free 30-day trial.

Florida Keys Will Officially Reopen To Everyone October 1st

If you had to delay a vacation to the Florida Keys because of Hurricane Irma, you’ll soon be able to follow through on your plan to visit Ernest Hemingway’s polydactyl cats: The Keys will officially reopen to tourists this weekend — which isn’t just good for visitors, but for the local economy as well.

Although officials originally targeted Oct. 20 as the date the Keys would welcome visitor back, that date has been moved up by a few weeks to Oct. 1 because the Keys have completed most of the infrastructure repairs that needed to be done after Hurricane Irma swept through on Sept. 10.

Almost all power and water have been restored in the area, officials say. Cellular service is working well, although restoration of Comcast cable television and internet is lagging behind other utilities.

Tourism is a really big deal in the Keys, so getting this kind of infrastructure fixed was vital to welcoming visitors again.

“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” Monroe County Mayor George Neugent acknowledged in a statement. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”

In the meantime, many hotels and attractions have returned to business as usual. Key West International Airport is open to commercial flights once again, while Florida Keys Marathon International Airport is processing general aviation and charter flights again. And on Monday, the Port of Key West welcomed its first cruise ship since the storm.

“Being a tourist-based economy, we need our visitors to come to town, and that is our primary economy,” said Key West Mayor Craig Cate. “The people need to go back to work, and this is a huge part of our recovery.”

Your Olive Garden Pasta Pass Could Come With a Trip to Italy

Beginning today, Olive Garden lovers will once again get the chance to purchase the Never Ending Pasta Pass, which—for $100—sends one on an eight-week, pasta, breadstick, and salad quest. Fifty lucky people will also have the chance to go to Italy for just $100 more.

How it works is this: Starting today, September 14th, at 2 pm ET, Olive Garden will release 22,000 boring, regular Pasta Passes and 50 exciting Pasta Passports to Italy. The Passes give you eight glorious (I guess?) weeks of “unlimited servings of pastas, sauces and toppings from the Never Ending Pasta Bowl® menu,” along with unlimited breadsticks, soup and salad. The Passports—which cost $200—get you all of that, plus a one-week, all expenses paid trip-for-two to Italy. The sale will last just 30 minutes, though I’m sure everything will sell out before that half hour is up. If you happen to snag a Passport and need a plus-one, just remember who told you about the Pasta Passport to begin with.

Travel: Experience ‘Game of Thrones’ Locations In Real Life With These Airbnb Rentals

Want to experience the world of Game of Thrones without having to worry about spending the night somewhere dark and full of terrors? Of course you do. With some assistance from Airbnb, we found rentals in Croatia, Spain and Northern Ireland that will allow you to live out your wildest Game of Thrones fantasies (well, within reason) in close proximity to the real world locations that set the stage for the show.

Dubrovnik, Croatia: King’s Landing

Founded by refugees of Epidaurus in the 7th Century, Dubrovnik, Croatia is a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with gorgeous architecture, high walls and enough old world charm for a king. All those things are why this is one of the perfect host locations for King’s Landing, the epicenter of the Seven Kingdoms and the (until recently) Lannister empire. Even without the CGI rendered buildings of the show you’ll feel like you’re in the heart of everyone’s favorite fictional capital as you take the King’s Landing Dubrovnik tours around the city, soak up some sun by the Adriatic Sea or just enjoy the comfort of one of these two great Airbnbs.

Midsummer Night’s Dream Historic Villa

Surrounded by the historic Dubrovnik gardens with amazing views of the St. Lawrence fortress and the Adriatic Sea, this 18th Century historic villa situated above Old Town Dubrovnik is secluded and private while still being less than ten minutes from all the action, including the beach and the Adriatic Sea. Make sure to bring a portable battery charger because you’re going to be taking a lot of golden hour shots.

Villa Mediteran Dubrovnik

With accommodations for up to 12 guests the Villa Mediteran Dubrovnik checks all the boxes when it comes to living in the lap of luxury. Chiseled stone construction. Large garden terraces. Mediterranean vegetation. Proximity to Old Town and the St. Lawrence fortress. It’s the perfect spot for a king or queen to overlook their dominion… from the comfort of their air-conditioned, wifi-equipped and modern villa.

Girona, Spain: King’s Landing/Braavos

From the 11th century Girona Cathedral to the sprawling alleys of the Medieval Quarter, it’s no wonder that the impressive architecture of the Spanish city Girona is heavily tapped as a filming location for Game of Thrones. Whether you’re adventuring towards the massive cathedral up the same steps Jaime Lannister rode or doing your best “girl with no name” interpretation of Arya escaping the Waif, the Gothic architecture and surrounding landscapes will transport you to a different time.

Casa Mercè

A short two minute walk from City Hall, La Rambla and the monumental center you’ll find Casa Mercè, a recently renovated estate from the middle of the 1800’s with an interior as cool as any huge NYC apartment and an exterior that will leave you feeling like you’re spending time in Qarth. It’s beautiful, charming and perfect for larger family with enough space for up to eight guests spread out over four bedrooms.

Apartment in the Shadow of the Cathedral

The name says it all with this one. Remember those steps we just finished talking about? They’re literally outside your window. The square looks a little different than it does in the show because it’s not actually seaside, but that doesn’t stop this location from being breathtaking. With room for up to three guests in two bedrooms, this spot right on the square is perfect for a small traveling group and is one of the the cheaper Airbnb stays on the list.

Northern Ireland, United Kingdom: Castle Black/The Iron Islands/Winterfell

In addition to having absurdly beautiful landscape shots just about everywhere, Northern Ireland is home base for the Game of Thrones production team. The enormous Paint Hall studio in Belfast–originally a part of the Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built–isn’t open for tours when they’re filming interiors for Winterfell, Cast Black, the Great Sept of Baelor or Dany’s throne room in Meereen, but you will find plenty of exterior locations, many with tours, that you can visit. Start with one of these two off-the-grid Airbnbs.

18th Century Irish Stone Cottage

The 18th Century Irish Stone Cottage has everything you could ever ask for in rustic, old-fashioned bed and breakfast vibes. Whatever Tullyquilly Cottage lacks in imposing size it makes up for in modern amenities (wireless, underfloor heating, outdoor hut tub!) and a quaint, countryside location that just so happens to be less than hour from a hunt for the three-eyed raven in the haunted forest at Tollymore Forest Park or Winterfell tours at Castle Ward.

Restored Linen Mill with Waterwheel

Near the northern part of Lough Neagh in the heart of County Antrim (which Belfast is part of) you’ll find Old Stone Mill, a spacious, three level property with 4 bedrooms, space for 8, a functional waterwheel and a host that knows where all the best breweries and Game of Thrones tours are. It’s close to the Giant’s Causeway, Magheramorne Quarry (Castle Black, Hardhome, King’s Landing), Castle Ward and plenty of good golfing if you want to hit the links in between adventures.

Travel: Solar Eclipse Stay

As you might have heard, August 21 will mark the first total solar eclipse seen across the US in almost 100 years. This Solar Eclipse Stay is the ideal way to experience it. You’ll start by spending the night of the 20th in a geodesic dome in rural Oregon, joined by an astrophysicist and a professional night sky photographer. The next day, as the Moon prepares to pass between the Earth and the Sun, you’ll take to the skies in a private jet for a truly unique view of this rare celestial event. Not available for purchase, one lucky winner will get to enjoy the experience courtesy of Airbnb.

Get Paid to Drink Whiskey and Travel the World

Grant’s Whisky is looking for a global brand ambassador, which is a fancy way of saying they’re looking for someone who will travel the world convincing people to drink their whisky. Which means the traveler is also going to be drinking a lot of whisky. The application process has three parts, the first of which is easy. Simply make a three ingredient cocktail that uses Grant’s whisky and post a picture of it with the recipe on Instagram or Facebook. The second part is a whisky mixer in Speyside, Scotland, where the distillery’s 20 favorite applicants will come and bump elbows with Grant’s higher ups. If you make it through that, you’ll be sent off on one of three separate global treks involving three different destinations to help the company plan events and sell whisky. Each of the destinations will net you a suitcase of Grant’s, so even if you don’t get the job, you’re going home with one hell of a souvenir.

These Are the Winners of National Geographic’s 2017 Travel Photography of the Year Contest

National Geographic has revealed the winning images for its acclaimed Travel Photographer of the Year 2017 competition. Taking the throne is Mexican photographer Sergio Tapiro Velasco whose stunning photo dubbed The Power of Nature features an erupting volcano with a perfectly-timed lightning strike. A panel of judges rummaged through over 15,000 photo submissions from photographers in approximately 30 countries. Categories for the contest included: “Nature,” “People,” and “Cities.”

“When I looked on the camera display, all I could do was stare,” Velasco told Nat Geo. “What I was watching was impossible to conceive, the image showed those amazing forces of nature interacting on a volcano, while the lightning brightened the whole scene. It’s an impossible photograph and my once in a lifetime shot that shows the power of nature.”

Take a look at select images below and head over to Nat Geo’s official website to view the full list of winners.