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Think locally, hire a pro, and consider the Northwest or Normandy to save big on a sail

Dancers on a makeshift stage perform for passengers on a beach just south of La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur. Cruises to Baja are the least expensive from Southern California.
(Alan Solomon / MCT)

Shopping for a deal on a cruise is a lot like shopping for a deal on a hotel room: You know there are great bargains out there, but you’re not sure how to find them.

Of course, you don’t want to pay more than necessary. But if you spend too much time analyzing every bit of information, you might be left standing on shore when you should be sailing off into the sunset.

We spoke with three cruise experts and asked for insider tips on how to score a bargain-basement price on a high-end vacation. Here is their advice.

Think local ports

“The absolute best buys for the money for Southern California residents are Mexican Riviera cruises,” said Bob Levinstein, chief executive of CruiseCompete.com. “You can drive to the port and save the airfare.

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“Seven-night sailings tend to cost less per night, but the least expensive sailings are the three- and four-night Baja cruises, which can still be booked for under $300 per person.”

If Mexico isn’t for you, try a Pacific Northwest cruise from ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach or San Diego.

“There aren’t a lot of Pacific Northwest sailings, but several do depart from L.A. and are reasonably priced,” Levinstein said.

Another possibility: Alaska. You’ll have to take a short flight or a long drive, but “there are a lot of good values out there on Alaska sailings at the moment,” Levinstein said.

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If you’re interested in the Caribbean, check out sailings from Galveston, Texas, as well as those from Miami.

Hire a pro

Find a travel agent or travel counselor, as they are sometimes called, said Wes Rowland, founder and president of CruiseExperts.com.

“You need a professional who knows their stuff, someone who will say to you, ‘If you can just go two weeks later, you’ll save $500 a person.’ That’s something you can’t learn electronically.”

Often agents who specialize in cruise deals have inside knowledge about specific destinations and also know about industry fluctuations that might result in bargains.

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Here’s an example from Rowland: “Everyone wants to go to Iceland right now; it’s very popular and very expensive.

“I would say to a client, ’If you can wait a couple of years and go somewhere else this year instead, you’ll save a lot of money.’ ”

Another current example involves river cruises in Europe. “There’s space on specific cruise lines in Normandy [France],” he said. “You can get that for half-price this year — literally two-for-one pricing.”

Read newsletters

If you don’t mind filling up your inbox, many cruise lines offer weekly online newsletters. Rowland does too; his CruiseExperts publication is called Inner Circle.

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“We sift through all the deals we get daily and put it all into a weekly email,” he said.

CruiseCritic.com, which also offers members insider information in a weekly email, has Price Drop, a deals tool that tracks price fluctuations.

Percentages highlight how much the price has changed in the past week. You can search by various factors, including destination, departure date, cruise line and cabin type.

Know when to buy

“Cruise fares fluctuate frequently, quite like airfare, so timing your purchase right is key to saving on your trip,” said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of CruiseCritic.com.

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“Today, the real perk in buying early — in addition to tempting fares and a wide selection of cabins and sailings — is that cruise lines are now adding complimentary packages to early purchases.

“By booking early, you can often take advantage of value add-ons like complimentary drink packages, cabin upgrades and onboard credit, which can help to save hundreds on those added costs associated with cruising.”

travel@latimes.com

@latimestravel

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