Cruise Deals Aplenty This Wave Season, With Both Sizzle & Savings

September 21, 2009 at 10:30 am | Posted in Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, cruising, value in travel | Leave a comment
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by Marcia Levin

Costa Cruises is bringing its elegant "Atlantica" to the Caribbean -- and discounting big-time.

Costa Cruises is bringing its elegant "Atlantica" to the Caribbean -- and discounting big-time.

These days, if it sounds too good to be true, it must be an ad for a Caribbean cruise.

I’ve followed the cruise industry for many years, but thanks in part to oversupply and in part to the economic crunch, I’ve rarely seen the market so awash in high-quality yet good-value and even frankly cheap cruises, and I believe they’ll never be so readily available again. Whether early booking discounts, steep discounts or no extra cost for third and fourth guests in the same cabin, or last-minute Internet deals, the bargains are out there, and to expect to find even better prices in the future may be downright silly.

Bottom line: this season is pretty much an ideal time to choose to cruise.

Mix all the new cruise ships with their increased passenger capacity into a still shaky economy,  stir in the proliferation of drive-to “home ports” such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, Charleston, Norfolk or Galveston for good measure, and you’ve got the recipe for great seagoing values (case in point: Carnival’s Fantasy is scheduled to start five-, six-, and seven-day itineraries from Charleston as of May 2010.)

Whether you’re after a budget cruise for singles, a luxurious and romantic sailing to exotic ports, the right setting for a family reunion, or a short R&R getaway, there’s an option or three for you. Looking for a long itinerary, a quickie, or a transatlantic crossing? Or how about a theme cruise? A Euro-ship making its North America debut this season, MSC’s Poesia offers theme cruises focusing on everything from poesía (poetry) to cooking to baseball. On a comedy-themed January 30 sailing out of Port Everglades, the packed roster at Poesia’s nightly comedy club will keep ’em in stitches through the Caribbean.

One of the best bargains on the ocean right now is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Sky, on three- and four-day itineraries from the Port of Miami to the Bahamas, with prices as low as $199 per person. The ship underwent refurbishment last spring, updating many public areas and new food stations in its popular Garden Café. Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines both offer similar short, affordable sails from several Florida ports.

The weeklong cruise sector is also awash in value (not to mention sought-after — the average length of cruises in 2008 was just over seven days). Most cruise mavens expect Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas to be the most popular new kid in town. She steams into home base Port Everglades in late November with a dance card of alternate Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries and never-before-seen amenities, from a shop selling cupcakes to an onboard water theater, along with the usual crowd-pleasing RC features like rock climbing and flow riding. This one definitely promises something of a sea change, so to speak, in cruising; right now, seven-nighters start at $1,399 per person, based on double occupancy.

Another key new player in the seven-day market is the 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream, alternating Eastern and Western itineraries out of Port Canaveral from $599. In addition to the fleet’s first comedy club, it will debut the first outdoor laser shows on a North America-based cruise ship, melding the latest in splashy hi-tech with rock music to provide guests some unique and exciting nighttime entertainment.

Meanwhile, the 2,114-passenger Costa Atlantica, from the elegant European Costa Cruises and themed after the films of Federico Fellini, is visiting Port Everglades for the first time this winter, joining sister ship Costa Fortuna on weeklong Eastern and Western itineraries from an eye-popping $399. Another brand-new ship sailing from South Florida waters this season, albeit quite a bit pricier (nine days from $4,598), is Silversea‘s Italian-crewed Silver Spirit, with just 540 passengers; it makes its maiden voyage in January 2010 through the Caribbean, around South America, and up to Los Angeles.

Finally, besides MSC Poesia, a couple of ships will make their U.S. debuts at Port Everglades this winter. Seabourn‘s 450-passenger Odyssey (12 nights from $3,499) and Celebrity‘s Equinox — the one with the lawn on the roof — carrying 2,850 (10 nights from $999).

I trust I’ve made my point: For those who want and need to get away this winter and spring, there’s plenty of both deals and dazzle on the high seas. No matter what your budget, there’s virtually no excuse not to set sail in these next several months.

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