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5 Ways to Cruise to Europe on a Budget

Slash costs without sacrificing comfort on your next sailing.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Ways to Cruise to Europe on a Budget

Mediterranean cruise

Clever tricks, such as strategically timing when you book your vacation and arriving in your departure port a few days early, can help you maximize savings.(Getty Images)

There's something magical about cruising through Europe. With plenty of history, culture, culinary hot spots and inspiring scenery, Europe's versatile cities and towns offer many charms. But there is a catch: Taking in Europe's many splendors by sea can come at a steep price tag. Not only is the cruise fare for European sailings typically more expensive, but excursions and airfare are also costly. Still, with a bit of planning, research and savvy spending strategies, a European cruise can be within reach for the price-sensitive traveler. Use these tricks to cut costs on your next voyage and always be on the lookout for the latest cruise deals.

Book Early

One of the easiest ways to get the best cruise rates is to book early, says John Drabkowski, CEO of vacation deal site Red Hot Cruises. "Cruise lines always introduce a low fare when the new itineraries are announced, so booking a year or two in advance will always result in a great deal," he says. "Additionally, there are usually different price options in each cabin category [i.e. interior, ocean view or balcony] which are provided on a first-come-first-serve basis. The longer you wait to book, the harder it is to find the best price per category because other cruisers will beat you to the punch," he says. If you want to score savings on an itinerary for the summer of 2017, now is the time to book.

Pick an Economical Cruise Line

European cruises are port-intensive and on a seven-day voyage, there can be as many as six port stops. With more time on land, and less on board, it's best to spend vacation dollars wisely. "A Carnival cruise is already the best value in cruising and this certainly applies to Europe," says Vance Gulliksen, senior public relations manager with Carnival Cruise Lines. "When you consider all that's included in your cruise combined with the terrific itineraries and great shore excursions it makes the value even greater," he adds. Carnival Vista, the line's newest ship, is a great option for price-sensitive cruisers seeking ample onboard entertainment thanks to its new features, such as the first IMAX at sea, the line's first brewery and kid-friendly public areas, like Family Harbor, a new dedicated family zone on Deck 2. Plus, parents and children have room to relax at the exclusive Family Harbor Lounge, a secluded space designed as the ultimate family hangout with large-screen televisions, games and complimentary breakfasts and snacks. There is also a family concierge to make the most of the trip.

Time it Right

According to Lauren Macleod, vice president of cruise vacation planning site Onboard.com, the key to cutting costs is planning a cruise during the sale seasons, which span from January through March (known as wave season) and a week in October. Booking your cruise at off-peak times is a great way to snag better pricing, especially for those with more flexible options to travel, she says. "Consider going during non-prime times like September and October versus June, July and August," Macleod says. She also says being flexible can help you land the best deals. "The dollar is stronger than ever, so this summer is a perfect time to do a (relatively) last-minute European cruise," she says.

Slash Flight Costs by Arriving Early

It's no secret flying across the pond can be expensive for the budget-minded traveler. A prudent trick is flying in a day – or two – early into cruise's port city to save on airfare and also factor in unexpected air delays and jet lag. For example, if your cruise departs from Barcelona over the weekend, you can take a Wednesday night flight from a top hub in the U.S., arrive Thursday morning and enjoy a couple of days in the city prior to your sailing. As for lodging, budget boutique hotels across Europe, like Casa Camper in Barcelona, make trimming accommodation costs easy. Plus, there are plenty of affordable restaurants, like the rooftop terrace at Batuar at the Cotton House Hotel, an Autograph Collection property, which make saving on meals a cinch.

Factor in Add-on Perks

Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of cruise reviews site Cruise Critic, says cruise lines will offer different types of add-on perks that can help to save on other cruise costs, such as drink packages, onboard credit and shore excursions. "An add-on perk that can be especially helpful to those cruising in Europe is complimentary shore excursions. By taking advantage of included shore excursions, you'll save on the extra costs generally associated with exploring the various port cities and towns, and will also have the added convenience of not having to book individual excursions in various countries on your own," she says. "The beauty of cruising through Europe is the convenience of unpacking once, but visiting a number of different destinations, and included shore excursions help to keep that experience seamless – while also helping to save a significant amount of money," McDaniel adds.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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