The best time of year to take a cruise to 6 of the most popular destinations

cruise port canaveralShutterstock/John Wollwerth

  • When you're booking a cruise, you can save money and beat the crowds by timing your trip strategically.
  • Generally, the cheapest time of year to travel will be when the weather is less-than-perfect in your destination.
  • Here's the best time of year to travel, financially speaking, to six of the most popular cruise destinations.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Cruise vacations are already a value-packed way to vacation, but you can gain even more of an edge by planning your travel strategically.

When it comes to planning a cruise, experts say that timing is everything. If you're OK cruising in less-than-perfect weather, you may be able to save a bundle and beat the worst of the crowds.

"For the most part with cruise timing, the least expensive - and least crowded - times to cruise will be when the weather isn't necessarily ideal in your destination," Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, told Business Insider.

With that in mind, we asked experts the best times of year to travel to some of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, including Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean.

Here's what they said.

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Alaska

Alaska

If you're looking for a prime Alaska experience, McDaniel says you'll want to cruise in the summer months — June through August. Because Alaska is such an outdoors-focused destination, primetime is the best time to go for the warmest temperatures.

"But if you're looking for thinner crowds and lower fares, look to cruise in May or September — just be aware that you might find some tour closures due to being out of peak season," she said.

June, July, and August are the most expensive months to cruise, so you'll find bigger savings and better booking options if you choose a shoulder-season excursion in May or September. According to a post from AARP, the price varies by cruise line (some may offer no price break at all), but deal hunters can find savings of 20 to 35%. Airfares may dip a bit in September to Seattle and Vancouver as demand decreases. Use apps like Skyscanner or Kayak to monitor prices.

Mexican Riviera

Mexican Riviera

While the Mexican Riviera is a year-round destination, McDaniel said the best deals can be found in the fall.

"Just be aware that this falls during hurricane season — so the weather can be a bit more unpredictable," she said. "If you're not interested in cruising during hurricane season, and are looking for more dependable weather, early spring is a great time — weather is dry and temperatures are warm."

Timing your trip beyond just the weather should be considered. For example, if a spring trip is your pick, and if your voyage does happen to fall during spring break, crowds tend to be younger and a bit more rowdy.

Caribbean

Caribbean

For the lowest fares, book a Caribbean cruise in the fall — once kids have gone back to school.

"The one caveat is that you'll be traveling during hurricane season — so cruising in the Caribbean is best for those who are looking to save on your cruise vacation," McDaniel said.

Also, if you sail during hurricane season, be prepared to sail to ports that may not be on your original itinerary. According to US News & World Report, cruise lines can easily rearrange itineraries or can bypass a port based on weather conditions. Generally, there's no compensation for missed ports, shorter stays in ports, or a totally new itinerary.

Travel experts say to consider travel insurance. If you're sailing during peak hurricane season — September and early October — purchasing trip cancellation insurance can save you from forfeiting the entire cost of your vacation.

Mediterranean

Mediterranean

Summer is the most expensive time to travel the Mediterranean. So to save money, and escape huge crowds, book either at the start of spring, or wait until the shoulder fall season.

"September is spectacular in the Mediterranean, with warm days, cool nights, and far fewer crowds than you'll find in July and August," Molly Fergus, general manager of TripSavvy, told Business Insider. "If you don't want to sunbathe and swim, you can find even steeper discounts into October and November, when the weather cools down."

Hawaii

Hawaii

To secure the best deals, book your Hawaii cruise between Thanksgiving and Christmas, McDaniel said.

"Kids are back in school, making it a less busy time to visit," she said. That said, summer and fall are when the islands see the least amount of rain, so if you're looking to fully experience Hawaii, it might be best to book at that time, she said.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is seasonal, so the time you can actually cruise is somewhat limited to the spring and fall. Experts say to skip booking cruises that sail over holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter or Spring Break.

Instead, try to book cruises in April or November, when children are in school and the prices drop, McDaniel said. Be aware that Panama Canal cruises are "open-jaw cruises," meaning they generally start and finish in different port locations.

"While the pricing might, on the surface, appear low, you will likely have to account for some hefty airfare," McDaniel said.

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