Buffeted by recessionary winds and swine flu fears, cruise lines are trying to entice passengers with prices and perks rarely seen in recent years: discounts off brochure prices of 70% or more, stateroom upgrades and hundreds of dollars in shipboard credits. And the cuts are in a range of cruise brands, from the modest to the high-end lines.
Here are some of the bargains we found recently. In many cases, you'll have to make your decision right now. And, as always, availability is limited and not guaranteed. Prices here are quoted per person, based on double occupancy.
The biggest bargains are for cruises originating at overseas destinations. Silversea, an all-suite cruise line of five ships with passenger capacities of fewer than 500, will cover round-trip airfares from nearly two dozen U.S. and Canadian cities for 2010 cruises booked before Dec. 31. "During the next year, we'll give 60% off published prices, plus free round-trip airfares on cruises to the Far East, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Africa and South America," said Brad Ball, Silversea's media relations director.
Silversea is touting a tab of $4,238 for a 10-day Cape Town, South Africa, round-trip sailing on the Silver Wind, beginning Jan. 23, and $4,918 for a nine-day Singapore-to-Hong Kong cruise on Silver Whisper, departing Feb. 5. Airport transfers, gratuities and free wine with meals are included in the price, but port and handling fees are not, which can add $100 to $275 to the tab. "It's the biggest savings incentive in our 15-year history," Ball said. "Booking early, though, is the key. Discounts decrease as the sailing dates approach."
Carnival is showing 70% discounts on previously advertised rates with bookings three to five months in advance. The lowest price for the seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise on the Carnival Splendor departing Feb. 7 from Los Angeles that we found was $429 per person if reserved at least five months in advance. That's about 60% less than previously advertised. If booked three months early, $349 can get you on the March 22 four-day Carnival Imagination eastern Caribbean cruise from Miami, a $500-plus savings. These prices don't include government fees and taxes, which can add up to $150 per person.
After booking, if you find a lower Carnival-advertised rate, the line's website promises that it "will honor it and adjust your cruise rate accordingly." If oil costs exceed $70 a barrel, it notes that a surcharge may be added.
Crystal Cruises, the upscale Japanese-owned line, has reduced stateroom charges as much as $3,000 per couple for most Mediterranean and Baltic Sea voyages reserved before Dec. 31, said Julie Dibble, the cruise line's media coordinator.
"Each passenger will receive a shipboard credit of up to $1,000 that can be used toward gratuities or shore excursions, boutique items, wine or spa treatments." The promotion is part of a 20th-anniversary celebration.
She cites the 15-day Dec. 5 Crystal Symphony cruise from Manaus, Brazil, to Buenos Aires with a discounted $5,025 starting price and $1,000-per-person shipboard credit.
Balcony stateroom upgrades are available on scores of Princess cruises. "Your savings can be between $220 and $1,100 on our Bonanza promotion, but bookings should be made by Aug. 31," said Karen Candy, Princess media relations manager.
"For the standard unobstructed ocean-view cabin fare, you'll get a stateroom with a balcony. That's where the saving comes in."
Examples: The seven-day Feb. 13 Mexican Riviera cruise on the Sapphire Princess is priced at $949 per person for a balcony cabin, a $320 savings, and the 16-day Jan. 3 Ocean Princess South China Sea cruise will cost $2,595, a $1,000 discount.
Costa Cruises has knocked the $1,884 price down to $449 for a Nov. 9 seven-day Venice, Italy, round-trip Mediterranean cruise on Costa Fortuna. "A 77% saving," said Dana Dominici, Costa North American public relations director. "Or $499 can buy you a 57% discounted berth on the seven-day Costa Atlantica Caribbean cruise leaving Nov. 7 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla."
The Yachts of Seabourn has discounted a 14-day Asian capitals and Vietnam cruise by half. The April 10 sailing on Seabourn Pride, which leaves from Singapore, is $5,999 per person.
Royal Caribbean International has been offering guests shipboard credits of $50 to $100 on fall and winter Caribbean and Europe voyages, company spokesman Harrison Liu said.
As an example, inside cabin rates on many cruises are less than $100 a day. The 12-night Explorer of the Seas sailing departing Cape Liberty Cruise Port in New Jersey on Feb. 14 has a $979 per guest bottom rate.