Great cruise deals are easy to find year-round. However, wave season is the peak time for cruise lines to offer onboard credit, free upgrades and other incentives. The review is integrated with How to find the best UK cruise deals.

Cruise industry's wave season is actually a sales period which has historically taken place between January and March each year. Wave season deals appear as early as December's first week. The idea is that mainstream, luxury and river cruise lines have an early opportunity to display their very best offers for the year to come. Major sales are offered during this time frame, so savvy shoppers can take advantage of the promotions to get the best deal on their cruise vacation. 

Wave Season

Wave season originated from the recognition that a big percentage of travelers book their cruises in the early months of year. The combination of an empty calendar for the new year and cold winter weather gets vacationers thinking about sunlit island getaways, the best time to cruise and the voyages to plan.

Bookings take off. 

To benefit from such a "cruise-booking state of mind", cruise travel agents and cruise lines offer extra incentives, ordinarily including reduced cruise fares and free perks in the hopes that such promotions will be the final urge travelers need to book these cruise vacations.

How to Get the Best Wave Season Cruise Deal?

Wave season cruise deals are for cruisers who want value for money - an upgrade to a better cabin or free onboard credit for spa indulgencies. Fares are usually discounted, but don't hit rock-bottom at the time. Wave season is not the only way to get cruise promotions. If you dream of a dirt-cheap fare (one of those less-than-$79.99-per-night sales) you'd better wait for a last-minute deal. 

If you have been observing cruise pricing, you may have noticed that sales like "choose-your-own-bonus" appear year-round from lines like Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Holland America. The sale periods occur in regular intervals, but may be advertised more during holiday seasons. The difference between such deals and wave season offers is that wave season cruise deals typically include a longer booking window and the most bonuses.

3 Tips to Find the Best Wave Season Cruise Deals

  1. Figure out the rough cost of your voyage. To know if you are getting a good deal, you have to know first what the average fare you would normally pay is. Do research on typical prices for the itinerary you wish to book. Remember that a 14-night Mediterranean sailing will have a higher base price than a 7-night Caribbean trip. And don't just think about fares. If you are curious about free upgrades, you'll have to know the price differential between oceanview and balcony staterooms. If it's the onboard credit you are interested in, try to figure out how much you might spend on drinks, excursions or spa treatments. If you're hoping to get free airfare, look up the price of airfare between your hometown and the homeport city.
  2. Read the fine print to evaluate the sales. Be active as you look for sales through your favorite travel agency or the cruise lines. Read the fine print because the perk or discount being advertised may not apply to the specific cabin category or itinerary you are interested in. Remember to check expiration dates. Some cruise lines give only a couple of weeks to take advantage of the wave season offers, while others give a few months. These easy steps will let you evaluate how good this year's promotions are. A good tip is to compare cruise line promotional fares with the same cruises sold through a travel agent. Often, agencies boast with additional incentives above the offers of the cruise lines. One cruise line, for example, might offer free airfare and 2-for-1 cruise fares on select Europe voyages. But another might pamper with perks like a welcome bottle of Champagne, onboard credit, spa and shore excursion credits. Just call and ask in case you don't see any promoted discounts. Agencies may sometimes offer better prices and perks than those listed in promotional materials or on their websites.
  3. Compare the offers. Now that you've got all the needed information, compare cost benefits. Would you choose one agent's cruise fare discount or another's onboard credit? Is the free upgrade on one cruise line more expensive than a regular balcony room on another? Are the wave season deals good enough to make you book now, or do you need prices to fall further before you make a deposit? If your numbers work out, you've made an informed decision: time to book now!

2016-2017-2018 Wave Season Cruise Deals

Azamara Club Cruises
  • "More to Love" promotion - 3 inclusive packages of up to $3,220 pp for 2016 and 2017 if booked through February 29. The "Like" package, included in every Azamara cruise experience, comprises a wine and cheese platter, premium beverage package, shore excursion credit and free Internet. If you pay an additional $600 for "Adore" package, you receive all "Like" amenities, plus a dinner at the chef's table, top-shelf beverage package and spa treatment. The "Love" package will cost you $1,400 but you'll receive all above, plus the experience "Nights in Private Places", including a private dining experience, personal butler and outdoor accommodations under the stars.
Carnival Cruise Line
  • Get up to 20% off fares, reduced deposits and free price protection on select sailings through April 2018 if booked in January. With its Carnivaldays promotion, Carnival offers "new deals for the new year, all month long". Each week the line promotes a new deal, with everything from free upgrades and onboard credit offers to 20% off cruise fares. The promotion offers a variety of itineraries and dates at more affordable fares.
Celebrity Cruises
  • Receive 2 free perks on almost any voyage with the "Best Offer Ever," for savings of up to $2,150, if booked through January 31. Choose from $300 onboard credit, free prepaid gratuities, a classic beverage package for two and unlimited Internet when you book an ocean-view or higher cabin grade. Itineraries include Hawaii, the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Australia.
Crystal Cruises
  • Get 2-for-1 luxury cruise prices from $1,845 if booked through February 29. During January and February, with "Crystal Exclusive Journeys" promotion, travelers can save up to $5,435 per person. If you are interested in exploring Australasia, cruising the Northwest or visiting Antarctica, this is a great opportunity to book.
  • Cunard's "Ultimate Upgrade" promotion offers free drinks, free gratuities and free upgrades on select 2016 voyages for Grill Suite bookings through February 29. This is best for vacationers looking to book a transatlantic cruise or luxury itineraries with added perks in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Iberia and the Canary Islands, Canada and New England.
Holland America
  • Take advantage of up to 10% off shore excursions, cruise savings up to 25% and free cabin upgrades, when you book with the "View & Verandah" promotion through February 29, or discounted shore trips through March 15. Holland America Line is known for its around-the-world itineraries.
MSC Cruises
  • 2-for-1 balcony rates on select 7- or 10-night Caribbean voyages departing during the period April 23, 2016-March 25, 2017 if booked through February 28. On select voyages, kids 12 years and younger sail free. If you're looking for a cheap warm-weather cruise from Miami, this is the opportunity to capitalize on low fares during peak times. 
Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Choose from 4 free offers on select 2016 and 2017 cruises, including free specialty dining, unlimited beverages, free Wi-Fi and shore excursions if booked through April 10. Receive all 4 offers when you book any Suite or Haven cabin. 3rd and 4th passengers sail free on select voyages. "Free At Sea," the Norwegian's rebranded deal, is applicable to the newest ship of the line, Norwegian Escape and if you're looking for a new ship with some added benefits, that's the deal for you.
Oceania Cruises
  • Earn free perks with Oceania's "OLife Choice" promotion and reach a total bonus of up to $20,200 if booked through March 31. The line offers free perks on over 260 itineraries. Enjoy free, unlimited Internet, and choose from three other offers, including an onboard credit, free beverage package and free shore excursions. Cruises include South America and the Amazon, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and range from 1 week to 90 days.
Princess Cruises
  • Save up to $1,000 per stateroom, and receive up to $600 OBC with the "Twice as Nice" sale if booked through February 29. Princess Cruises fares start from $549 per person. The best part about the deal is that all stateroom categories qualify for onboard credit: interior and ocean-view receive up to $300 per stateroom; balcony, mini-suite and suite bookings receive up to $600 per stateroom. An added bonus is that the third and fourth guests sail from $199 per person.
Royal Caribbean
  • "BOGO Further" promotes up to $300 onboard credit and buy-1-get-1 cruise fares if booked through February 15. Select Greece and Italy sailings receive complimentary beverage packages for two. Royal Caribbean is taking advantage of wave season to promote another version of its popular, buy-1-get-1 sale. The promotion is combinable with other onboard credit offers, as well as the select beverage one, for even greater perks.
  • Pay reduced deposits on 2016 and 2017 cruises, and get up to $1,000 OBC and complimentary veranda suite upgrades with "Signature Savings Event" if you book any voyage departing during the period May 1, 2016-April 30, 2017. On select Europe sailings Seabourn offers $200 OBC per suite, as well as $1,000 OBC for premium and penthouse suites.
  • Receive up to $1,500 onboard credit and 10% off on select voyages if booked through February 29. Silversea is adding more amenities to its itineraries departing in October, November and December 2016. Receive 10% off your cruise price when you book one of 35 sailings, including Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. New bookings also win up to $1,200 onboard credit. Venetian Society passengers receive full $1,500 onboard credit offered. 

If the wave season cruise deals are not tempting enough, or if you are not ready to book yet, please don't agonize. Cruise lines will offer plenty of 3-day, extra-value or last-minute sales throughout the year and you will easily find great deals. However, unlike wave season, you won't know when such sales are coming.