Funny How a Discount Creates a Rush

Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears twice a month.

On two previous sailings aboard the 3-year-old former Royal Viking Queen, we never traveled with more than 50% or 60% of the cabins occupied, a pity since the ship's accommodations, food and service have been consistently outstanding.

But on an early February cruise aboard the same ship--a 200-passenger vessel that usually charges $700-$900 a day per person, double occupancy--the ship was full. A spokeswoman for the ship, which is now operated by Royal Cruise Line as the Queen Odyssey, said most of the Mediterranean sailings for the summer are sold out with a waiting list.

What happened? It was a simple matter of economics.

When Royal knew it would be taking over the ship in early January, the company announced a 2-for-1 fare sale on all sailings for 1995 booked before March 1. Among those who perceived this as a bargain were three couples from Liberal, Kan., all first-time cruisers who said they were having the time of their lives.

Now, with the March 1 deadline past, the line has just announced it will continue discounting the remainder of the 1995 cruises by cutting the fare of the second passenger sharing the same stateroom by 80%. In other words, in the Caribbean, passengers will be paying about $428 a day per person, double occupancy, for a suite-like cabin with separate sitting area, marble bathroom, walk-in closet and stocked mini-bar.

Some March departures in the Caribbean are still available at these prices, a spokeswoman for the line announced earlier this week. The sailings feature an underwater program with Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Santa Barbara-based Passage International, a team of divers who take a video camera down into a reef and beam live pictures and sound back to the ship's lounge where passengers can watch. The uplink includes the opportunity for the audience to ask the divers about the fish, coral and sponges they're seeing. During our February sailing, three underwater programs were presented with Cousteau as host, one off St. Kitts, one off Carriacou and one off St. Barts.

Prices for the 14-day April 6 transatlantic crossing from San Juan to Seville and the 14-day return from Barcelona to Barbados Nov. 15 will begin at $404 per day, per person, double occupancy, for the standard Queen Odyssey suites.

Any passengers booking 1996 cruises before Dec. 31, 1995, will be able to buy 2-for-1 tickets on all Caribbean, Panama Canal and transatlantic cruises, with Mediterranean sailings discounted 80% for the second passenger sharing the same cabin.

The only change Royal appears to have made on the vessel is to replace the Norwegian officers with Greek officers and to rename some of the public rooms.

While the fares are lower than before, ship revenue has more than doubled from the casino, bars, tours ashore, the photography concession, spa and beauty shop. Royal has started a tipping policy, requesting each passenger contribute $12 a day for pooled staff tips, either by having it added onto the bill or paid in cash at the purser's desk. Tipping of individual waiters is not feasible since the restaurant operates on an open-seating policy, with passengers arriving when they wish and sitting where and with whom they please.

The cuisine is some of the best available at sea, with everything cooked to order and a low-fat, low-calorie alternative menu offered daily at both lunch and dinner.

To get a free color brochure and 1995 or upcoming 1996 cruise schedules (the latter available later this month), call Royal Cruise Line at (800) 622-0538.

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