4 warning signs a cruise deal is too good to be true (2024)

You'll find cruises advertised all over the internet, television, and even in the mail, but not every offer is as good as it sounds.

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There's nothing wrong with trying to get a good deal on a cruise. After all, we all want to save money and if you can really net a fantastic price, then you get the satisfaction of conquering the low price challenge and a great vacation in one.

The problem is there are sometimes deals that look really good, but in reality, are a problem. They could be a scam, or it could be simply setting you up for disappointment. In either case, you'll be upset and wish you could do it over again.

If you run across a really good cruise price and can't believe your luck, keep these lessons in mind.

Free cruise offer mailers

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The saying "nothing is free in this world" holds true with cruise bookings too.

Obviously if you earned a free cruise through the casino or maybe you reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society, then you are indeed getting what you agreed to.

What I'm referring to here are offers for a free cruise in exchange for something, like attending a seminar or signing up for a vacation club.

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They usually come with a free cruise postcard in the mail. It's addressed anonymously with no return address, and of course it's completely unsolicited.

These are notorious for high-sales pressure opportunities to lure you in with the promise of a "free cruise" to get you to buy a timeshare or some other investment. Suffice to say, these are a really bad idea because of the issues associated with false pretenses and getting sucked into a major cost. There are so many stories of victims who sought a free cruise, but ended up with timeshares and travel clubs they never wanted.

The other free cruise we see offered a lot are giveaways, either online or in the mail.

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While Royal Caribbean does sometimes offer a free cruise giveaway, they are very limited and it's more likely what you're seeing is a scam. This is especially true on Facebook, where you see a post advertising if you like a post or join a group, you'll be eligible for a free cruise.

And then there's the old school free cruise giveaway you might have seen at a pizza parlor or other restaurant where you fill out a card and drop it in a box for your chance to win. Not only are you not winning a free cruise, you're signing yourself up for a lifetime of spam calls.

If you see an offer for a free cruise, be extremely skeptical. My advice is completely ignore it, but if you wish to learn more, be sure to ask questions and search the internet for more information about the company or opportunity so you can determine if it's a scam. Never attend a timeshare presentation or travel club in the hopes of receiving a free cruise gift.

A great price on an old ship

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I've had so many friends reach out to me and tell me about a great price they got on a Royal Caribbean cruise for their family, and it's largely because they booked an old, small ship.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with Royal Caribbean's older ships. They offer classic cruise vacations, and plenty of people enjoy them. But they might be the wrong cruise vacation for you.

Read more: Why you shouldn't avoid older and smaller cruise ships

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While it's true some of the lowest cruise prices are often found on Vision or Radiance Class cruise ships, you should be very aware of what you're getting with one of these ships, and more importantly, what you're not.

Older ships lack the bells and whistles found on Royal Caribbean's newer ships. If you've seen a Royal Caribbean television commercial lately, pretty much all the fun things you see there are not on these ships.

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This is primarily a problem for families who may be expecting waterslides and lots of top deck activities to keep their kids (and even parents) occupied.

Read more: 15 free things to try on your next cruise

No matter which Royal Caribbean ship you pick, be sure to look up what features and amenities it has so you're clear on what you can expect onboard.

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Not all Royal Caribbean ships have a Broadway show, waterslides, laser tag, or bumper cars. If there's a particular activity you absolutely want on the ship, double check the ship has it before you book. Don't book a cruise purely based on price.

Cruise ship cabin upgrades

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Royal Caribbean offers passengers the opportunity to bid for a stateroom upgrade, with the promise you could pay significantly less to move up to a larger cabin.

When you look at the prices to bid, it can be very tempting to roll the dice on upgrading your cabin, but before you do, you'll want to keep a few things in mind.

When you bid for an upgrade, you're basically telling the cruise line if an unsold cabin is left, you'll take it for that price. Just because you can place a bid, does not mean there's actually a cabin to upgrade to.

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More importantly, you're giving up a few things with the upgrade that you might not like later.

First, you can't pick your cabin location if your bid is selected. This means you might end up with a cabin all the way forward, which might be a problem if you're more susceptible to motion sickness. Or your room might be under a public venue that is really noisy. If you're traveling with friends or family and want to be near each other, there's no way to do RoyalUp and remain near them.

Another reason to think twice before bidding to upgrade your cabin is it's going to cost you money, and that's additional money from what you originally booked. If your vacation budget is tight, skip the upgrade and save that money for shore excursions, restaurants, or drinks onboard.

Read more: 17 ways people waste money on ships

A very low advertised cruise fare

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When you start price shopping for a cruise, it's so easy to find a great rate advertised, but keep in mind there are lots of extra costs that you can expect later.

Travel websites selling cruises usually advertise the base fare, which sounds like a great price. The problem is that is far from the out the door price.

Many times these prices omit taxes, port fees, and travel insurance. When you actually get to the point of booking the cruise, you'll notice the final price has gone up much more than what you first saw.

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As an example, our staff booked a $99 cruise fare. While each person did pay $99, they total cost was $486.50, or $234.25 per person.

Read more: 11 cruise fees you should know about before booking

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The good news is is this practice might be going away. Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines announced due to a new law, they'll be included port fees and taxes in their advertised prices.

The change goes into effect July 2024, but that doesn't mean third-party websites will do the same.

When you look at the price of any cruise, be sure to account for these extra costs you're going to have to pay.

4 warning signs a cruise deal is too good to be true (2024)

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