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8 tips for saving money on a cruise vacation

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Recent images of a cruise ship limping back to port after an engine malfunction didn’t do the cruise industry any favors heading into the summer vacation season. And cringe-worthy accounts from passengers who had to make do without power or working toilets for five days may have turned some travelers off cruising for good.

But for those undeterred by the mishap that befell the Carnival Triumph in February, or several other headline-grabbing woes that afflicted some of Carnival Corp.’s other ships over the past year, this is a good time to save money on a cruise vacation, experts say.

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And it is not just Carnival that has had to discount its fares to coax back passengers. An economic slowdown in Europe has opened the door to savings on cruises that sail around ports in the Mediterranean Sea, says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, an online cruise reviews guide published by The Independent Traveler Inc. ‘‘A lot of Europe is feeling the pinch of the recession,’’ she says. ‘‘There are some low prices and there’s a lot of availability.’’

Here are eight tips for saving money on a cruise vacation:

1. Book early: The cruise industry touts offer-packed deals during its annual ‘‘Wave Season,’’ which runs from January through March. If you know exactly when you want to travel, say specifically in the summer when kids are out of school, it pays to book as soon as possible.

2. Avoid peak times: High season is generally during the summer and other times of the year when school is out. That includes spring break, around the December holidays, Thanksgiving, etc.

3. Sail old school: Another way to save: Select a cruise with an older ship. It may not have as many amenities, but it won’t have nearly as many of the cabins with balconies, which are pricier than the smaller, windowless interior cabins.

4. Look for repositioning cruises: Cruise lines move their ships from their rotation in one region to another every few months, usually as the high season in one region cools off and before the next destination heats up. Booking a vacation on one of these repositioning cruises can be significantly cheaper than a regular itinerary that hits several stops before returning to a home port. All told, you could pay from $35 to $65 per person, per day on a repositioning cruise, says Spencer Brown.

5. Look beyond price: Perks and incentives could end up making the trip a better value. But a key factor is whether the cruise you select is right for you. Experts recommend you read up about specific ships and their itineraries to get a sense of whether the cruise fits what you’re looking for.

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6. Target cheaper itineraries: The shorter the voyage, the less costly the cruise. If you’re looking for ultra-cheap, go for a three-day cruise, which tend to compete more on price.

7. Consider a travel agent: A cruise vacation has a lot of components to sort out, from air travel to the departure port, to offshore activities that often are not included in your cruise costs. Travel agents can help sort out the details.

8. Account for extras: The term all-inclusive is often associated with a cruise vacation, but in most cases, it is far from the truth. Here’s a tool to help add up potential travel costs when you book a cruise: www.independenttraveler.com/travel-budget-calculator.

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