As a former resident of England and Northern Ireland, I've flown across the Atlantic too many times to remember, but I'm not boasting. No, I've spent too much time inside a too-dry, too-noisy and too-confining tube as I traveled back and forth across the pond.
Next month I need to go to Britain again, but this time, it will take 10 days instead of 10 hours. I'll transit the Atlantic the old-fashioned way, the civilized way. By ship.
I'm sailing from Miami to England, and the fare will cost less than $50 a day -- and that's single occupancy. Solo travelers often take it on the chin, financially speaking, because ships may charge you a single supplement equal to 100% of your fare. But in this case, if I had a companion, the fare would drop to $35.36 per person per day.
Cruise prices are lower than they've been in some time, thanks to the vagaries of the economy, but I'm also taking advantage of a one-way repositioning cruise, which offers even better rates.
In the spring and fall, cruise lines, including Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean and others, offer these "repo" cruises as their ships move from one port to another for the season ahead.
In my case, the Norwegian Jewel needs to be moved from Miami, its winter home for Caribbean cruises, to Dover, England, the starting point for summer sailings to the Baltic.
That same month, Norwegian Cruise Line also will move the Sun from Valparaíso, Chile, where the ship has been operating during summer in the Southern Hemisphere, to Vancouver, Canada, where its Alaska cruises begin.
As the ship sails north, NCL is offering an 18-night repo from Valparaíso to Los Angeles.
You'll find the cruises listed in the company's glossy brochure, but don't expect to find the real bargains there. An in-the-know travel agent can help with the hunt, or a savvy Internet user can find them online.
NCL's brochure, for instance, lists that 18-night voyage for $1,999. But in early February, I found several travel companies offering the same cruise for $1,099 per person -- and that included one-way airfare from L.A. to Santiago and a night in a Chilean hotel.
"They're phenomenal deals," says Crane Gladding, a senior vice president at NCL and a former travel agent. "On a cost-per-day basis, these become an exceptional value."
Such a cruise, however, isn't for everyone. As Gladding points out, passengers need to have a good chunk of vacation time if they intend to spend a couple of weeks at sea.
Also, the trips are one-way -- traditional cruises begin and end in the same port -- and that means buying a plane ticket to the port of embarkation and a plane ticket home after the ship has reached its destination. If you're the kind of person who likes a lot of shore excursions, this isn't the cruise for you. After leaving Miami, I'll be at sea a full week before seeing land again in the Azores, a string of Portuguese-governed islands nearly 1,000 miles west of the motherland.
"There are a lot of people who like 'sea days,' " says Sandra Badgley, a travel consultant for Montrose Travel in Montrose. "They don't want the ports. They want to enjoy the atmosphere onboard the ship, not the getting on and off. . . . They like that sea time."
Badgley says customers who have taken such cruises tell her they enjoy catching up on reading, making new friends or simply unwinding.
She adds that repo voyages tend to add extra activities, such as guest lectures and wine tastings, on top of the usual offerings, which include a spa, fitness center and cinema.
The stops are less frequent, but they're often in ports that cruise ships don't often visit. For example, NCL ships stop at Cádiz, Spain; Cartagena, Colombia; and Lerwick (Shetland Islands), Britain, only during repositioning cruises.
Next month, Royal Caribbean has an eight-night cruise from Colón, Panama, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with stops in Costa Rica, Colombia and Aruba. Cabins start at $50 a night per person. In September, Holland America will offer a sailing from Vancouver, Canada, to the Gulf of California. The 13-night trip concludes in San Diego, with cabins from about $85 a night per person. As Badgley notes, it's hard to find a hotel room for that price, let alone one with the meals included.
Despite the rocky economy, NCL's Gladding expects the Jewel to depart Miami fully occupied. The ship can carry nearly 2,400 passengers.
"People have really been looking for value to stimulate them in spending their money," he says. "Which is why we're sailing full in this type of [economic] environment."
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