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If you’ve never cruised before, this year could be the time to start, with cheap deals available as cruise lines battle to grab a bigger share of the fastest-growing sector of the travel industry.

Canny passengers can book into plenty of spring departures right now from about £60 per day: 12 nights on the Western Med on P&O’s flagship Azura, sailing from Southampton on April 4, is down to £599 on the iglucruise website.

The same online agent offers maiden voyages on Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas in May from £649, with a £599 lead-in for eight nights to France and Spain ex-Southampton on October 27.

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Richard Downs at says: “Although it’s more than year ago now, there is still a certain resonance from the Costa Concordia episode: a reluctance to book worked its way through last year and into 2013, and lots of cruises have been left on the shelf for the first two quarters of this year.

“The focus in the market right now is short-term, with only a few months until departure: average lead-in time on cruises bookings has probably come down from nine months to six, although if you have things you specially want to do or see, there are advantages to booking someway ahead of departure date.”

According to trade journal Travel Trade Gazette (TTG), lower prices in many cases are made possible by cruise lines reducing commission levels for agents: MSC Cruises was the latest to cut on January 9, joining a growing list of cruise companies including Complete Cruise Solution, Royal Caribbean (RCCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).

The journal says: “For every agent voicing protests against the cuts, there seemed to be another arguing how they would finally be able to compete on a level playing field with larger players and increased cruise business, selling the same products for the same prices.”

Shopping around, TTG found a 14-night Mediterranean cruise on P&O’s Ventura from May 4 from £1,099, including a choice of an additional onboard spend, free parking at departure port or free coach transfers.

Richard Downs says a big problem for cruise lines is persuading customers to commit themselves when they have so much to choose from.

“That is why cruise lines increasingly use celebrity appearances to boost sales,” he says.

“It boosts a feeling of genuine scarcity among the customers. If you know Alan Titchmarsh or Kenny Dalglish will be appearing, you don’t want to miss out.”