With the vacation season underway, more Americans are gearing up for getaways in distant cities and destinations. While many prefer to travel by plane or even automobile, for others, it’s cruisin’ time.

But before you board that ship you need to do all you can to score a deal. After all, you’ll have much fonder memories of your trip if you know that you enjoyed yourself and was able to save some serious coin in the process.

Money expert Clark Howard says that booking cruises isn’t how it used to be several years ago. Back then travelers could find bargains pretty easily because the industry wasn’t doing too well. But that’s simply no longer the case.

For example, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class is very popular, but “those cruises have become very expensive for what you get,” Clark says. The Oasis offers patrons a mix of adventure (zip lining and other activities are available) and entertainment (musicals and stage plays are routine) but if you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck, it ain’t cheap.

1. Let the calendar save you money

Booking air travel by letting the sale determine the destination, he follows a similar course when it comes to cruises.

“There are certain cycles through the year when cruise lines have trouble filling all their cabins, and that’s when you steal the great deals,” he says. So where are the bargains located on the calendar? Clark says it’s usually before or after well-known travel times.

2. Don’t let cruise brand loyalty costs you more

Some people are stringently loyal to cruise line brands. But instead of giving you more options, that can absolutely kill your budget.

Look at things like experimenting with cruise lines you’re not that familiar with.

An example of that would be MSC Cruises, a small but expanding company that routinely sets sail from South Florida. “Their rates tend to be significantly lower than other mid-priced cruise lines because they’re trying to get established,” he says.

3. Go online & read the reviews

If you just listen to the promotional script that these cruise lines tell you, you’re likely to believe these companies offer a piece of heaven in the sea. Instead, you should seek a balanced (truthful) view of the cruise ship, and to do that, it’s best to read some reviews.

For last-minute cruise deals check out VacationstoGo.com. If you want to compare prices from multiple travel agencies, CruiseCompete.com is a good one as well.

Spend time on CruiseCritic.com, reading about a ship before you book on that ship. Additionally you can look closely at the various individual cabins to make sure you don’t get in a cabin that’s going to be a problem because it’s in a noisy area of the ship, for example.