If you are among the cautious thousands who have waited until now to book a summer holiday, there is a far better choice of last-minute cruises than the cruise lines – with their "book now to avoid disappointment" warnings – would have us believe.
With more large ships on the Mediterranean to fill than ever, cruise line websites are showing some astonishingly cheap-looking fares, considering that full board, entertainment and activities are included. A week aboard new Italian ship MSC Preziosa (0844 561 1955; msccruises.co.uk) on a round-trip from Barcelona on 23 August costs £599 per person; while eight nights on American "fun ship" Carnival Sunshine (0843 374 2272; carnival.co.uk) sailing from Barcelona to Venice on 30 August costs £412pp. However, these prices are cruise-only, so high-season flights to Barcelona (at the time of going to press at least £180 return) and playing safe by staying a night pre-cruise could almost double the cost of your holiday.
For a one-click or one-call cruise, choose a round trip from the UK or a fly-cruise package. Prices and availability are correct at the time of writing.
An 11-night "European Jewels" cruise aboard Holland America Line's Ryndam (0843 374 2300; hollandamerica.co.uk) with children's clubs for ages three to 17, sails from Dover to Barcelona next Saturday. The cost, from £949pp, includes the flight back from Barcelona to Heathrow.
A week's fly-cruise package from Mallorca to Menorca, Corsica, Sardinia and Naples aboard family-friendly Thomson's Island Escape on 20 August costs from £704pp including drinks, tips and flights from Bournemouth or Aberdeen with Island Cruises (0871 230 2800; thomson.co.uk/cruise).
w Balmoral sails from Southampton to Spain, Lisbon and Gibraltar and back next Sunday. The 12-night voyage costs from £749pp (0845 421 3646; fredolsencruises.com).
P&O (0843 374 0111; pandocruises.co.uk) has a 16-night no-fly Baltic cruise from Southampton on Adonia leaving Friday for Copenhagen, St Petersburg and Stockholm, for £929pp. Meanwhile, a 12-night no-fly cruise to the Canary Islands on P&O's Oceana on 20 August costs £899pp.
There is no single supplement on the archaeology-themed "And God Created the Kornati Islands" cruise with Voyages to Antiquity (0845 437 9737; voyagestoantiquity.com). Small ship Aegean Odyssey departs Athens on 22 September, sailing for 12 nights to Venice via northern Greece, Albania and Croatia. The cost from £2,359pp includes BA flights from a range of UK airports, excursions, wine with dinner and tips.