As the summer chugs through the dog days, the last thought on your mind may be getting away from the cold weather when January arrives. But if you want to cruise through warmer climes as winter winds howl, now is the time to make plans.
"We always say book early to get the cabin you want, the ship you want, the itinerary that you want," says Christine Duffy, president of Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group.
Duffy says peak winter cruise season begins soon after the end-of-year holidays. "For people in the Northeast, where it is the dead of winter, it is a very popular time to cruise."
Among the most popular winter cruising spots for Northeasterners are the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. But veteran cruisers are expanding their horizons. Australia is becoming a hot destination because it's summer there when it's winter here.
You might get a better price by waiting a few months before booking your winter cruise, but Duffy says these cruises typically sell out each year, and as departure gets closer, the best cabins and itineraries often are no longer available.
Also, many of the most in-demand restaurants get booked early, as do prime times for spas and other amenities.
Another trend Duffy sees is grandparents cruising with their grandkids. "Cruising has become a multigenerational experience," she says.
She notes that virtually all cruise lines have become family friendly, with events to keep seniors, young adults, teens and children entertained. Family cruises are especially popular during spring-break time and the summer, Duffy says.
And for boomers still harboring antiestablishment feelings from their youth, many ships offer what Duffy calls "freestyle cruising," where there is no set dinner time and black ties are replaced with paisley shorts.
"There are still those options available for people who want that very traditional grand style of cruising, but there are also a lot more cruises where you have a much more relaxed, casual atmosphere," Duffy says.
For those who are considering a spring or summer cruise in 2014, Duffy says you might do well to wait until fall before booking.
Through its roster of travel agents, the cruise association is holding its annual World's Largest Cruise Sale from Oct. 20 to 27, when many cruise lines will offer special promotions. Participating agents will be listed on the association's website, cruising.org, where there also are links to specific cruise lines and special promotions.