“Wave Season” Promises Cruise Bargains and Bonuses

Make the most of the cruise industry’s biggest annual sale, running from January through March.

Scenic view of cruise boat

by NEA Member Benefits

You may have heard the term “wave season” before and shrugged it off as something of interest to surfers, perhaps. Think again: Wave season, which traditionally runs from January through March each year, will have you surfing, all right—deal surfing. You’ll find heaps of hugely discounted and perk-loaded promotions that are released by most cruise lines at this time of year. Think of it as an extended Black Friday event for the cruise sector, but one that lasts three entire months or more. (In recent years, the cruise industry has been introducing wave season deals even earlier and having them last beyond March. Start watching for pre-sales in December.) 

These chilly winter months are the best time of year to fantasize about and book a great-value cruise vacation. Wave season deals combine upfront savings with loads of perks, too—plus prime pickings for the robust inventory on tap for the year ahead.

What’s the deal with wave season?

So, just what kind of deals can you expect as wave season rolls in? Keep in mind that while cruise promotions can run at any time of year, the competitiveness among cruise lines trying to out-value each other as they vie for potential passengers makes things quite beneficial to you during wave season. Expect aggressive cruise fares that are chock-full of bonuses, all paired with a lengthy booking window. You’ll get discounted cruise rates, of course, but also look for special promos such as 2-for-1 fares and free sailings for kids.

Other incentives abound as well. You might see ads for freebies such as cabin upgrades, onboard credit (to be applied to certain shipboard purchases such as salon appointments or shore tours), prepaid gratuities, beverage packages, specialty restaurant dining, shore excursions, spa treatments or even included airfare.

Family sitting on the deck of a cruise ship
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

You can book a wave season cruise anytime during the first quarter of the year (or even earlier, depending on the cruise line’s sale terms), but you don’t need to sail during that same timeframe. The sailings that are on special span mainstream, luxury, expedition and river cruise companies alike. You can usually book any itinerary that takes place during the upcoming year—and sometimes even into the following year. That means you can book the perfect cruise vacation for spring, summer and beyond. Of course, it’s totally possible to find a great deal on a last-minute sailing, too, so it’s not too late to consider a cruise for winter or spring break.

How to make the most of wave season

So, how do you “ride the wave” and get the best bang for your buck? First, research different cruise and travel sites to become familiar with the non-sale price of the cruise that you’re interested in. That way, you’ll know how significant the proposed savings truly are. You should also be actively deal hunting, skimming through and cross-comparing promotions from both your favorite cruise lines and travel sites, such as NEA Travel Cruises, which might feature different value-adds and discounting. Remember with NEA Travel, you can also use NEA Travel Dollars in conjunction with special promotions for even greater savings. 

Two tourists paddleboarding in front of a cruise ship
Photo courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises

Look for wave season deals that offer perks such as:

  • Reduced deposits
  • Discounted cruise fares
  • 2-for-1 cruise fares
  • Airfare included from certain U.S. gateways
  • Kids sail free
  • Third and/or fourth passenger in a cabin sail free
  • Cabin upgrade
  • Pre-cruise overnight hotel stay for free
  • Onboard credit, which can be used to pay for shore excursions, spa treatments and other shipboard purchases
  • Beverage package
  • Specialty restaurant dining package
  • Gratuities
  • Free internet access
  • Shore excursions discounts or inclusions
  • Spa treatment inclusions

Nearly every cruise line will offer some type of wave season deal. Start by researching special offers from Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Costa, Cunard, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Windstar Cruises.

Keep in mind that having an experienced travel agent who specializes in cruise travel on your side can help you navigate the myriad offerings and pin down just the right fit for your unique cruising preferences. And, remember, travel agents cost you nothing. Their service is free to you; the cruise line pays a commission to the agent whenever they book a sailing on behalf of a client. The price you pay for the cruise will be the same, or lower, than what you could get by booking on your own at the cruise line’s website.

You can find a travel agent and also learn about promotions from many different cruise lines at Cruise Lines International Association, a trade association for the industry that helps promote wave season.

Don’t fret if you don’t find a deal that fits your budget. Cruise lines host plenty of short-term promotions and last-minute sales throughout the year. Oceania Cruises routinely offers its OLife Choice promotion on its itineraries, where cruisers get free unlimited internet onboard plus their choice of one perk, including free shore excursions, a beverage package or shipboard credit to spend as you wish (on a shore excursion or spa treatment or in the ship’s casino or boutique, etc.). Celebrity Cruises also often offers bonuses—high-speed internet, a beverage package, prepaid tips or onboard credit—to consumers looking to book a cruise.

Keep a keen eye out for cruise line deals since these promotions aren’t typically announced ahead of time. Sign up for your favorite cruise lines’ e-newsletters and follow their social media pages to stay up to date on current offers.

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