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      June 20, 2019

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Best Cruise Vacations Better Business Bureau Reliability Seal

Book Your Next Cruise With Cruise Direct Today! What's the best way to plan and book a cruise vacation? Lots of travelers are turning to cruises for the best of all worlds: the excitement of exotic ports of call, the convenience of not having to change hotels with every new destination, and the delight of world-class dining and entertainment day and night.

In fact, cruising isn't limited to a particular group when it comes to popularity. Parents with young children may gravitate towards cruise lines that are known for their top-notch onboard clubs for kids, and young singles tend to choose sailings with tropical destinations - and unlimited drink packages! From casinos to spas and so much more, a cruise vacation has something for everyone.

Continue reading below reviews

Best Reviews

2019

Cruise Vacation Reviews

5 stars
Cruise Direct

CRUISE DIRECT Visit Site

TopConsumerReviews.com Best-In-Class Blue Ribbon Award Cruise Direct specializes in - you guessed it - cruises. (In other words, you won't be distracted by vacation packages, offers for hotel/car rental deals, etc.) From luxury Viking River sailings to spring break party adventures with Carnival and everything in between, this cruise booking site has it all across 17 different cruise lines.

Using the site is easy. If you already have something in mind - a particular set of dates to celebrate an anniversary, a dream destination you're finally able to visit, and so on - you can select that right on the home page. If you like the idea of a last-minute adventure, you'll also want to see the Last Minute Cruises link at the top of the page.

How does Cruise Direct measure up when looking at online booking sites for cruise vacations? In order to compare apples to apples, we looked at sailings for 2 adults on two of the most popular cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Disney, and compared the prices with competitor sites and the cruise lines themselves. We priced a relatively last-minute, 3-night trip to the Bahamas on Royal Caribbean and a 7-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary with Disney with a departure date almost 18 months in the future - since the best discounts are usually found very close to departure or as far in advance as you possibly can.

When it came to the Royal Caribbean sailing, we were initially excited to see a price that was $50 less than booking directly with RCL and included a 10% discount on shore excursions and a $75 onboard credit. But, when we went to select the interior stateroom that Cruise Direct said was available, we then got a screen saying that those rooms were actually sold out. Cruise Direct has a Best Price Guarantee, but that only applies to rooms that are available - which wouldn't help us with the interior "sold out" problem.

Our Disney booking fared better (pun intended). While the price matched what we found on the DCL site, booking through Cruise Direct got us a discount of 10% on shore excursions, a Disney autograph book, and a total of $125 in onboard credits. Those onboard credits could be used to pay down the gratuities, book a massage in the onboard spa, or even get souvenirs in one of the many gift shops - making it a great deal to book with Cruise Direct and not through Disney. Even Cruise Direct's competitors couldn't match the perks offered on this booking site.

We appreciate that Cruise Direct doesn't charge any processing fees; some of their competitors charge up to $25 in refundable fees just for booking a cruise, so that's another way that this company can save you money.

Cruise Direct also has an excellent reputation. From their "A+" rating at the Better Business Bureau to thousands of 5-star reviews and more than 500,000 customers served over their 15+ years in business, this booking site knows what it takes to help you get the perfect cruise vacation planned. If you have any questions, you can easily reach a Cruise Direct expert via online chat or toll-free number.

For the best prices and perks like onboard credits, you'll want to start your search for your next cruise vacation at Cruise Direct. They earn our highest ranking among cruise booking sites.

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4 stars
Expedia

EXPEDIA Visit Site

Expedia is one of the best-known online travel booking sites in the world. Whether you're just looking for a cruise or are making travel plans that require flights, hotels, and car rentals, you'll find it all with Expedia.

How does Expedia do when it comes to cruises? When browsing the site, you won't find it as smooth as some of the other sites in our review. For example, when trying to price our RCL and Disney comparison sailings, there wasn't a place where we could specify which cruise line we wanted on the main search page - only the desired destination and travel dates. Once we had searched under those parameters and gotten to our results page, we could then filter out the options we didn't want.

We weren't given any options for an interior stateroom on the last-minute Royal Caribbean booking, just oceanview and above. And, when we started browsing, we found an oceanview option for not much more than the interior - but when we returned a few hours later, Expedia was only offering oceanview staterooms that were an extra $415 per person: more than the original per person fare!

Also with that RCL booking, Expedia offered us an "exclusive deal" that didn't feel so exclusive: $50 of a shore excursion, at an additional price of $133 per person. The math doesn't come out very good on that one.

The sample Disney sailing came out much better. The fare was exactly the same as what was listed on the DCL cruise booking site, and Expedia added onboard credit of $125. We also got a $50 off offer on any shore excursion booked through a third-party tour operator, not on port adventures offered by Disney Cruise Lines. That's not necessarily a bad thing; the company providing the shore excursions is reputable, often much cheaper than booking with DCL's tour operators, and comes with an on-time back-to-ship guarantee.

Expedia doesn't charge any booking fees, and you've got the advantage of being able to reserve any necessary airfare, hotels, or car rentals on the same site. Expedia also has a decent travel rewards program, but you'll want to check the fine print to make sure which cruise purchases apply. And, during the checkout process, you can opt for travel insurance if you'd rather not book it through a third-party insurance site. At least at the time of this most recent review, Expedia used AIG Travel Guard as its provider, a very well-established, trustworthy source of travel insurance.

Expedia really shines when it comes to customer service. You'll get ample notifications of any details for your cruise booking, with easy access to toll-free numbers in the event of any hitches before or during your vacation.

When it comes to travel reservations, Expedia can be trusted to handle your booking with accuracy. And, with more perks for booking your cruise through their online agency, this company should be one you consider when planning your perfect sailing.

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4 stars
Orbitz

ORBITZ Visit Site

Orbitz is an online travel agency that is one of five - Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels and Hotwire, to name the other four - owned by the same company. Although there used to be significant price differences between Orbitz and, say, Expedia, for most travel purposes including cruises, you'll see the same quotes.

For example, when we tried to book our sample Royal Caribbean sailing, Orbitz didn't offer us any interior staterooms, not even with a guarantee. Given that Orbitz is an Expedia-owned company, it should come as no surprise when your browsing and cruise booking experience is exactly the same on both sites. We had the same navigational challenges, got the same offers, and saw the same options. Ditto for our sample Disney Cruise Line itinerary.

So, why book with Orbitz and not Expedia? We've had equally solid experiences with customer service, travel reservations, and such between the two sites. Ultimately, it all comes to the rewards program. If you've already booked a lot of travel with Orbitz, book your cruise through them so you can keep racking them up in the same place. Everything else is essentially the same - one-stop shopping for flights and hotels, etc. - so the rewards program is really the only consideration.

Orbitz also makes it a little easier to see "extras" on their site - look at the top and you'll find Event Tickets and Activities. You can probably hunt those up on the Expedia site too, but you'll have to look a little harder (mostly under the Things to Do tab).

Orbitz vs. Expedia? It's just a matter of personal preference, which is why the two cruise booking sites are tied for our second-highest ranking among the online travel agencies in our review.

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3.5 stars
Travelocity

TRAVELOCITY Visit Site

If you've read through all of the reviews in the Cruise Vacations category, you'll already know what we're about to say: Travelocity is one of four companies in our review (including Priceline, Orbitz, and Expedia) that are all owned by the same company.

What does that mean for you? Essentially, the customer experience across the sites is almost identical. When we searched for our Disney and Royal Caribbean sample itineraries, the pricing and the promotions were exactly the same.

The one thing we found on the Travelocity site that wasn't included on Orbitz and Expedia was a Price Match Guarantee - or, at least if they do offer it, it's not as prominently featured as it is on the Travelocity platform. According to the fine print, if you book your cruise vacation through Travelocity and find a lower fare within 24 hours, they'll refund the difference. Of course, the travel dates, cruise line, cabin and class all need to be the same, and the other fare has to be from a US-based website.

The one thing we found on the Travelocity site that wasn't included on Orbitz and Expedia was a Price Match Guarantee - or, at least if they do offer it, it's not as prominently featured as it is on the Travelocity platform. According to the fine print, if you book your cruise vacation through Travelocity and find a lower fare within 24 hours, they'll refund the difference. Of course, the travel dates, cruise line, cabin and class all need to be the same, and the other fare has to be from a US-based website.

Another novel part of the Travelocity site is their partnership with reality TV show The Amazing Race. Find yourself wishing you could take one of the fantastic cruises that the contestants win as a prize? You can - if you're willing to pay for it! Scroll down towards the bottom of the site and you'll find all of the travel prizes listed under "As Seen on The Amazing Race".

On the other hand, Travelocity doesn't offer a rewards program. If you only use online travel agencies occasionally, this probably won't impact your decision. But, if you are a frequent traveler, choosing an online agency like Expedia or Orbitz and sticking with it could lead to significant rewards down the line.

On the other hand, Travelocity doesn't offer a rewards program. If you only use online travel agencies occasionally, this probably won't impact your decision. But, if you are a frequent traveler, choosing an online agency like Expedia or Orbitz and sticking with it could lead to significant rewards down the line.

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2.5 stars
Priceline

PRICELINE Visit Site

Priceline became famous for its novel approach to booking flights and hotels: enter a destination and date, and you'll get a list of options...without knowing the name of the place until after you book! Of course, that approach doesn't work with cruises, but Priceline still wants to offer you a good deal.

Although Priceline is owned by the same company as Travelocity, Orbitz, and Expedia, we found a few differences when browsing for cruise vacations. Priceline's initial search gives you more filtering options, the most noteworthy being the ability to specify the desired cruise line right away instead of having to search first and then use the filtering options on the results list.

On the other hand, Priceline's fine print at the bottom of the site says that they charge a non-refundable administrative fee of $24.99 for each booking, which puts them below their sister companies who don't charge that extra fee.

When pricing out our Royal Caribbean comparison itinerary, we were surprised to see that Priceline still showed interior staterooms available. Unfortunately, when we tried to go through the booking process, we got an error message that said we would need to call Priceline's toll-free number for more help. We got the same error on the oceanview stateroom.

The promotion in place was a vaguely-worded "Get back up to $1000 in Cruise Cash!" The fine print said that we'd get up to that amount back after returning from the sailing, which could be applied towards onboard expenses. But, in our experience, once you've settled your onboard account on the last night of the cruise, you'd probably not be very interested in trying to get that credit applied. The promotion also didn't specify how Priceline would calculate that cruise cash, other than it would be "based on your net cruise fare". We had to go to a separate page (through a link on the main Cruises page on Priceline) that explained that our onboard credit would only be $25 on our Royal Caribbean sailing.

The sample Disney booking didn't offer any onboard credits when purchasing the cruise. The only perk was a waived deposit. The fare for the cruise was the same as everywhere else, including the Disney Cruise Line site. So, in this case, there'd be no reason to use Priceline compared with other sites that offered onboard credit, reduced fares, or even reward points towards future travel.

Priceline does offer the same Price Match Guarantee program and terms that we found on the Travelocity sister site.

In short, Priceline seems to offer few advantages over the competition, while adding in a few downsides like a $24.99 processing fee. The company has a good reputation, but when booking a cruise vacation, you'll probably find a better overall package - pricing, promotions, rewards - when booking your sailing with a higher-rated service.

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2.5 stars
Last Minute Travel

LAST MINUTE TRAVEL Visit Site

Last Minute Travel is part of the Tourico Holidays company, based in Altamonte Springs, FL. They offer sailings from Azamara to Viking and at least a dozen other cruise lines. This is also a full-service travel site, so if you need a flight to get to your port of departure, or a hotel to stay in when you get there or when the cruise ends, you can do it all on the Last Minute Travel booking portal.

Despite the company's name, this cruise vacation booking site failed to impress on our short-notice Royal Caribbean sailing. Their price was exactly the same as the lowest prices on other sites, although they did have the interior staterooms available for booking as a guarantee (while some of their competitors either showed interior cabins as "not available" or required customers to call for pricing information). There were no active promotions, so you wouldn't get any onboard credit or discounts on shore excursions.

Last Minute Travel pleasantly surprised us on the Disney sample sailing. They had two promotions in place at the time of our most recent review, Taxes Included and 7% Instant Savings, which brought the fare down to $230+ less than what we were quoted by the DCL site and by most of the competitor cruise booking sites we evaluated.

You may be wondering why Last Minute Travel only earned 2.5 stars when their fare was the lowest we found for that Disney sailing. At first, this looked like a solid choice for booking a cruise vacation, especially to save money; we found their "A+" rating at the Better Business Bureau as a good sign.

But, when we started reading experiences from actual customers/travelers, we weren't as impressed. There were more than a few cases where people made reservations through LMT, only to get to the airport or hotel and find out that there was no record of their booking. Can you imagine traveling all the way to your port of departure, only to find out there's a problem with your reservation and you won't be permitted to board? Of course, LMT's BBB rating indicates that they do a better-than-average job of handling issues that arise, but we would recommend that you check and double-check your cruise reservation in the weeks prior to your sailing.

At the end of the day, Last Minute Travel could save you a decent amount of money on your cruise vacation - but you'll have to decide if it's worth the possible risk of having complications with the reservation.

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2 stars
Cruises Only

CRUISES ONLY Visit Site

Cruises Only has one of the widest selections of cruise lines among all online booking sites, with 27 different companies to choose from. These run the gamut from popular-and-budget-friendly Carnival to the intimate-and-luxurious Regent Seven Seas.

Looking at our apples-to-apples comparison fares on Royal Caribbean and Disney, how did Cruises Only do?

When it came to RCL, we were shown no available staterooms in the interior category, just "Call for prices". That stateroom was still showing as available for booking on the RCL site itself - and, in fact, the price had decreased by a few dollars from the first time we looked it up. We were able to get Cruise Direct pricing on interior staterooms if we went farther into the booking process - where, lo and behold, the price exactly matched what we found on the RCL site. Unfortunately, many customers would stop at the "Call" indicator and look for a different cruise - or different cruise booking site.

Cruises Only didn't have as many hoops to jump through when looking at our comparison Disney sailing, probably because it wasn't a last-minute cruise. The fare was exactly the same as the quote on the DCL site, but only as a "guaranteed room" fare. That means that while Disney let us choose the exact stateroom we wanted for that price, Cruises Only gave us a guarantee of a particular stateroom level without letting us pick which deck or area of the ship (fore, midship, aft).

What about any perks for booking through Cruises Only? There was a bonus offer for an Amazon gift card on last-minute sailings, but the site didn't tell us exactly how much we'd get, only that after booking we'd get a link on the invoice to a form to fill out. Then, we'd get an Amazon gift card that "will not exceed 10% of cruise fare" that would be sent out within 30 days of the sailing. That's not as good as an onboard credit we could use on our cruise vacation, in our opinion - especially when competitor sites tell you upfront exactly how much you'll get.

There was a similarly vague promotion on the Disney sailing: Amazon gift card, unspecified amount, probably not received until after the sailing was completed. The Disney booking added the ability to make the reservation with no money down - a nice perk if you don't want to pay the upfront 20% deposit usually required to book a Disney sailing.

The fine print at the bottom of the Cruises Only site had another "surprise": a $24.99 processing fee on all bookings that's not included in the quoted price. This fee is non-refundable - so even if you cancel your sailing for some reason and it's early enough to get a refund from the cruise line, you'll still be out $24.99. The top-rated cruise vacation booking sites don't charge processing fees, putting Cruises Only even lower in our rankings.

Cruises Only, along with another cruise booking site in our review (Vacation Outlet), is owned by World Travel Holdings. When we checked most recently, the parent company had an "A+" rating with the BBB. But, there were more than a few negative reviews and complaints there, mostly regarding Cruises Only's fees and policies. Customers said that the company's representatives were almost rude when responding to issues. When you're paying for an expensive, much-awaited vacation like a cruise, that's the last thing you want when something goes wrong.

For all of these reasons, Cruises Only ranks at the bottom of our listings, along with its sister company, Vacation Outlet.

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2 stars
Vacation Outlet

VACATION OUTLET Visit Site

Vacation Outlet is a World Travel Holdings company, along with Cruises Only - another cruise vacation booking site in our review. The two sites are essentially mirror images of each other.v

That means that when we looked up the sample Disney and Royal Caribbean sailings, we got all of the same results in terms of availability, promotions, and pricing. And yes, that also includes the non-refundable $24.99 booking fee.

So, while Vacation Outlet says that their fares are "always at outlet prices", we definitely didn't find any sailings that offered a significant discount or advantage over other booking sites.

We were glad to see that World Travel Holdings had an "A+" rating with the Better Business Bureau at the time of our review. But, reading through the complaints and reviews registered at the BBB, we found a lot of customers who were frustrated by their experience with Vacation Outlet, especially if there was a need to cancel a cruise because of weather or other reasons. People also said that they were billed for different things that hadn't been explained clearly, and that the customer service representatives were less-than-courteous when handling the issue.

Compared with full-service cruise booking sites that offer one-stop shopping, and also with the higher-ranked services in our review that have a great reputation for customer service, Vacation Outlet just doesn't measure up. We recommend you choose a better-rated service when booking your next cruise vacation.

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Continued from above

While you might think that the best deal on a cruise is found by booking directly with the cruise line, you're more likely to get extra incentives if you purchase your cruise through an online partner company. The agents working for these companies know all of the most current incentives, like onboard credits or discounted shore excursions, and it doesn't cost you extra to get the help of an agent. The internet makes it especially easy to price the destinations and dates that interest you, get a ballpark amount, and then request a detailed quote - or even book your cruise right away! - with just a few clicks of the mouse.

If you're new to cruise vacations, you should be aware that there are costs to expect beyond the price of the actual sailing. Most initial price quotes don't factor in taxes and port fees, for example. Also, you're generally expected to pay a certain amount in gratuities - to the stateroom attendant who makes your bed and often leaves you with towels shaped into cute animals each night, and your wait staff in the dining room. Some cruise lines have suggested amounts, while others automatically charge your credit card on file for the gratuities they require from each guest.

Onboard, while many things are part of your all-in-one vacation experience, you should anticipate paying extra for alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, though some cruise lines have packages you can buy that include them. And, of course, if you want to take advantage of your ports of call for shopping, excursions like swimming with dolphins or taking a guided tour, you'll want to budget for that as well.

When deciding which site to use when booking your next cruise vacation, how can you tell which company offers the best service? Here are several criteria to keep in mind as you make your choice:

TopConsumerReviews has reviewed and ranked the best cruise vacation booking sites available today. We hope this information helps you find the perfect sailing for your travel party. All aboard!

  • Site Navigation. How easy is it to find the cruises you want? Are you provided with enough information to make your decision?
  • Selection. Does the cruise booking site offer a wide range of cruise lines? Do they offer options for the dates and destinations you want?
  • Pricing. Are the price quotes consistently lower than what you'd get when booking directly? If the site promises good deals, does the company deliver?
  • Full-Service Options. If you appreciate the convenience of one-stop shopping for your cruise along with any necessary airfare, car rentals, and so on, look for a cruise vacation site that lets you book those at the same time. You may even get extra savings for doing it.

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