Consumers are drowning in a sea of bad economic news. So are cruise lines.
Consumers, though, are under no obligation to spend their money, but ships do have to sail.
To fill their ships’ berths, cruise lines are floating deals and making offers you can’t refuse, said Jean Mallory, a cruise specialist at White Travel in Hartford, Conn.
“The rates being offered are so low,” she added, “that I cannot imagine how much longer the cruise lines can survive at these fares.”
In November, for instance, Norwegian Cruise Line was offering a four-night Florida-to-Bahamas sailing for as little as $99 total, Mallory said.
Carnival CEO Micky Arison acknowledged, “As expected, 2009 is shaping up to be a challenging year in the travel industry.” For 2009, he said, occupancy levels for advance bookings [for Carnival ships] are running behind the prior year, with ticket prices for these bookings also at lower levels.”
As a consequence, Mallory added, “It’s raining outrageous rate reductions and discounts.”
Cheaper fares and bargains come in many forms.
At Holland America, discounts come in three forms: 50 percent smaller deposit requirements on all cruises and Alaska cruise tours departing on or after May 1; 25 percent off the line’s standard Cancellation Protection Plan fees when purchased with a new booking for departures on these sailings; and, in general, lower fares.
Almost every cruise line has dropped its fuel surcharge to help lower fares. Just recently, all six Carnival brands–Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Cunard Line, the Yachts of Seabourn and Costa Cruises–have jettisoned fuel surcharges. Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises–have deep-sixed fuel surcharges for all sailings worldwide after Jan. 1. So has Norwegian Cruise Line.
Windstar Cruises, which operates a fleet of high-end motorized sailing vessels, is offering special family fares on summer European sailings aboard the Wind Surf. Families booking one full-fare stateroom on Wind Surf sailings that depart from June 7 through Aug. 30 will receive a second stateroom for family members on the same sailing at 50 percent off per person.
Passengers booking Regent Seven Seas’ World Cruise will receive all their shore excursions complimentary, which, according to White Travel’s Mallory, amounts to an approximately $10,000 savings.
Even sweeter deals are on the horizon, Mallory pointed out. Here are some of her favorites. (Prices quoted are per person, excluding ports charges and taxes. Fares may change without notice.)
Costa has a 17-night trans-Atlantic cruise starting at $310 aboard the Fortuna, departing Ft. Lauderdale March 15 and arriving on April 1 in Savona, Italy (the port for Genoa). Port stops include Nassau, Catalina Island, St Maarten, Guadeloupe, Barbados, Tenerife, Funchal and Barcelona. Keep in mind that with fares in the $300 range, the taxes and port charges can be as much as the fare.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s sweepstakes bargain is a 14-night Caribbean repositioning cruise from $319 aboard the Norwegian Dawn, departing New York on Nov. 1 and arriving at Miami on Nov. 15. Stops include ports in the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, Antigua, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Curacao and Aruba.
Holland America is putting Alaska sailings on sale, according to Mallory. Sail northbound on the Statendam on May 10, for example, for as little as $429. The line’s Alaska itineraries may vary, but most sailings offer The Last Frontier experience in Glacier Bay National Park, the College Fjords, Skagway and Ketchikan and conclude in Seward.
In booking a cruise, Mallory advised, read the fine print. Not all things may be as they seem. Two-for-one offers also bear scrutiny, she said, and increases in taxes and ports charges can “turn the deal sour very quickly.”
Check with a travel agent if you think a deal seems too good to be true. But bottom line, Mallory advised, is to act quickly.