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A cruise ship trip can make some expensive destinations affordable

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Row of shops at the Creek street in Ketchikan, Alaska. The least expensive way to see Alaska’s glaciers, and cities such as Ketchikan is by cruise ship.
(Getty Images/Hemera)

Some of the world’s most exciting destinations are also the world’s priciest. But you can keep costs down by traveling on a cruise ship, where the tab includes accommodations, transportation, meals and entertainment. Some lines even throw in free land excursions.

“Cruise ships are essentially floating resorts, which bodes well for savings because costs are bundled into one fare,” said Brittany Chrusciel, destinations editor for CruiseCritic.com. “When land-based costs are particularly high — in remote regions or in countries with an unfavorable conversion rate to U.S. dollars — the value of cruising becomes even greater.”

Her favorite examples are Alaska, Norway and the South Pacific. Cruise expert Jaxson Maurer, owner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Sammamish, Wash., adds the Mediterranean, Canada/New England fall foliage, Japan, the Caribbean and Africa as among the floating values.

Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular destinations where you can save big by setting sail.

Alaska

The 49th state is known for marked-up price tags on common items such as milk, orange juice and gas — and you probably will notice some of that reflected in your restaurant bill, Chrusciel said.

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“However, the true savings of taking an Alaska cruise versus a land vacation lies in the transportation costs,” she said. “Rental car prices skyrocket during the peak summer months … and some major cities, like Juneau, can only be accessed via a boat or plane. Letting your cruise ship handle the journey in and out of Alaska’s various ports will save you money and, more than likely, a logistical headache.”

The price: As little as $539 a person, double occupancy, for a weeklong cruise on Royal Princess, Maurer said. From LAX, round-trip air to Vancouver, Canada, where many Alaska cruises embark, start about $340.

Norway

Seeing the fiords is a bucket-list experience, but a casual lunch with burgers and a local beer could set you back as much as a fine steak in the U.S., Chrusciel said. “Plus, visiting by ship allows you to take in the incredible views from an entirely new perspective than you would on land,” she said. “You can watch the fiords and a changing landscape right from your balcony.”

The price: As little as $1,099 per person, double occupancy, for a weeklong cruise on Holland America’s Rotterdam, sailing round trip from Amsterdam to four Norwegian ports. Add round-trip airfare from LAX to Amsterdam starting about $800 or more.

South Pacific

“Trade winds, palm trees, impossibly blue water and powdery white sand — oh, and over-the-water bungalows,” Maurer said. “The Tahiti experience in an over-the-water bungalow easily costs around $1,000 per night, not including food or airfare.”

Of course, “a cruise to the South Pacific isn’t a cheap purchase,” Chrusciel said, “but tends to be less per diem than land-based counterparts, especially when you factor in cruise lines that include flights.”

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The price: Maurer’s best buy starts at $5,799 per person, double occupancy, for a balcony room on a 10-night cruise, including airfare, on Oceania Regatta. The round-trip Papeete, Tahiti, voyage visits six beautiful remote islands in addition to Bora-Bora.

Caribbean

Vacationers often find bargain prices in the Caribbean, but cruise industry changes and stormy weather have caused rates to sink even lower. This is tough on the lines but a boon to consumers, who can now vacation for as little as $42 a night, said Marcus Stumpe, chief executive of Cruisewatch.com. “Even though you can find accommodations for reasonable prices, if you also add in the extra cost of flights, airport transfers, food and excursions, cruising is a better option.”

The price: Stumpe’s best buy is a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise aboard MSC’s Armonia, where rates start at $299 per person, double occupancy ($42 per night). Add round-trip airfare from LAX to Miami starting about $250.

Mediterranean

If Europe is on your bucket list, Maurer thinks your best bet is to jump aboard a ship with multiple stops in the Mediterranean. “Four-star hotels in iconic cities such as Rome and Barcelona cost more than $200 a night,” he said. “Then add the cost of food, entertainment and transportation. Compare those costs to this itinerary, which certainly gives you a much better bang for your buck in Europe,” he said.

The price: As little as $660 per person, double occupancy, for a six-night Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise that sails round trip from Rome visiting Nice, France, and the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Valencia. Add round-trip air from LAX to Rome starting about $730.


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