T+L debunks five of the biggest cruise myths, from the best times to book to hidden charges and more.

With 14 new ships launching this year alone, there’s never been a better time to find a deal on a cruise. But saving money isn’t as easy as it sounds—and there are some big misconceptions floating around. To navigate the murky waters of an ocean-going vacation, you need to know some of the top cruising myths to watch out for.

Myth 1

The lowest prices are found online. You’ll actually get better value through travel agents who specialize in cruises. They often receive advance notice of unadvertised deals you won’t find on the Web. “Agents can get you a lot of extras, like onboard credit for purchases and free shore excursions and drinks,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of cruisecritic.com. To find an agent, browse T+L’s A-List of specialists at TravelandLeisure.com/awards.

Myth 2

Book last minute for bigger discounts. Because of the current economy, passengers are booking later, according to Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group. That’s the wrong approach. “Earlier is definitely better,” says T+L A-List agent Ruth Turpin of Cruises Etc. Travel, in Fort Worth, Texas. “If you book early, you’ll get the best airfare, choice of cabin, and discounts.”

Myth 3

You won’t spend much time in your cabin, so get the cheapest one. That’s a false economy. The price difference between a dark, tiny, inside cabin and a larger one with an ocean view may be minimal, but the choice can have a significant impact on your trip. Beware, though, of outside cabins that have an “obstructed” view; you could find your window blocked by a lifeboat.

Myth 4

Cruises are all-inclusive. On most ships, except luxury liners, your out-of-pocket costs for things like bottled water, wine with dinner, drinks at the bar, and shore excursions can add up. And airfare is rarely included. Specialty restaurants, which more ships are adding, usually charge an extra fee. And don’t forget housekeeping tips—around $10 per person per day.

Myth 5

A low-price cruise is a better deal than a luxury cruise. Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, says his company’s sailings in 2010 will include most liquor and wines, shipboard gratuities, unlimited shore excursions, round-trip airfare, and two-for-one deals. True, Regent charges more than most lines—from $450 to $650 per person per day—but for a realistic comparison, factor in the price of a suite on a midrange line plus out-of-pocket onboard costs, fees, airfare, and surcharges.

More Money-Saving Advice for Cruisers

  • Plan your own shore excursions and save a bundle; ask your agent, or search destinations on our site. Caveat: If you’re late in returning, the ship is unlikely to wait for you.
  • Book spa treatments during port visits, when rates are lower. You can also get discounts if you wait to book last-minute, once on board, though availability may be limited.
  • Buying trip insurance (usually about 4–10 percent of the total trip cost) will save you money should you become unable to travel. Make sure the trip-cancellation provision includes nonmedical reasons.