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Why booking a cruise far in advance may be the only way to get exactly what you want

Mike and Katrina Tschida love to travel, rambling across the globe to play polo in Buenos Aires, go on nature walks in the Galápagos Islands and ride the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul.

Earlier this year, the Long Beach couple cruised to Antarctica, where they camped out and kayaked in the land of penguins and icebergs.

“Several cruise companies go there, but some don’t even let their passengers go ashore,” Mike Tschida said. “We wanted something that offered adventure options.”

The cruise company they chose was Poseidon Expeditions even though they had to wait more than a year for an open cabin.

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But it was worth it, they said. They got to spend a night on the ice and snow and paddle through the spectacular polar landscape.

Many people wait until the last minute to book a cruise. But sometimes the only way to have the experience you want is by booking far in advance, as the Tschidas did.

Here are some instances when its makes sense to do so.

Holidays. “In general, to get the best deals, you should either book early or book last minute,” said Bob Levinstein, chief executive of CruiseCompete.com.

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“Book early if it’s a busy time of year, such as Christmas or other holidays.”

Cabins may cost more at those desired times, and so will airfare. You’ll want to buy both as early as possible to save money.

School breaks. Be sure to buy a cruise early for those times when parents or grandparents will be traveling with kids, said Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of CruiseCritic.com.

“Spring break, summer vacation, winter holidays — you’ll want to purchase your cruise as soon as you’re able,” she said. “By booking early, you’ll have your top pick of things like sail dates and cabin types.”

Cruisers can also sometimes take advantage of beverage packages and on-board credit, perks that are offered to entice early booking.

Group travel. If your family is planning a reunion cruise or your high school drama club is thinking about a European river trip, be sure to make arrangements early. You don’t want the vessel to fill before everyone has had a chance to book and make airline reservations.

Special rooms. Singles searching for those hard-to-find solo rooms or disabled passengers seeking a room that is wheelchair accessible should begin looking early.

“Cruise lines offer a limited number of accessible cabins,” McDaniel said, “so book as soon as you can to snag one.”

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The same advice holds true for passengers looking for unique cabins, such as those with premium views or oversize balconies.

“If you have your heart set on one of these cabins, don’t wait,” McDaniel said. “If you do, you could end up missing out.”

Exotic cruises or inaugural sailings. If you would like your next cruise to take you to an unusual destination, such as the Marquesas or Galápagos Islands, book well in advance. Ditto if you’d like to try out a ship on its first cruise. Although things don’t always go smoothly on a first sail, you do get an unblemished product and, of course, bragging rights.

But sometimes it also makes sense to book late. Levinstein said you should do so if:

►You really want a bargain.

►You’re not very particular about where you sail or what ship you take.

►You don’t care whether you can drive or take a short flight to the port.

One more tip: “Cruise prices often drop in the two weeks after final payments are due,” Levinstein said.

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“If you’re interested in a specific cruise sailing, check to see when the cruise line requires final payment.

“Each cruise line has a final payment deadline that’s based on the length of the cruise — it can vary from 60 to 120 days.

“Once passengers who booked … are locked in, prices are often lowered to fill remaining berths, and deals on specific cabin categories can come and go very quickly, so it’s smart to pay attention.”

travel@latimes.com

travel@latimes.com

@latimestravel


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