The Budget Cruise
It's not as expensive as you might think!
Booking a discount cruise helps eliminate the "vacation pocketbook guilt complex" and it is a big step toward a marvelous free-swinging holiday. One current Directory of 54 Cruise Lines lists a whopping 287 vessels with 13 new ships slated to enter the market in 1998-99 and does not including four new 2,000- passenger ships announced by Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Cruise brass insist the market is not over-indulged and only a small percentage of the population has set foot aboard a cruise ship.
Regardless, cruise lines have a selection of ships and ports of call that touch coastlines, rivers and canals throughout the world. Competition is stiff and cruise values are available for the careful traveler.
Begin by connecting with a travel professional on a first name basis who specializes in cruising and can recall details. Check credentials and longevity in the travel industry and speak with other clients they have booked on cruises.
Top cruise professionals stay abreast of the ever-changing and complex market and should be aware that in 1998 Crystal Cruises introduced shore excursions never before offered in Alaska, and Princess welcomes infants as young as six months aboard ships sailing in the Caribbean and Alaska.
They should discuss the features of a very large ship versus a small one and traveling time in terms of jet lag which can greatly affect the quality of the first day or two aboard. (There is no jet lag when traveling from coast to coast in the United States.)
If you have a flexible schedule, last minute bookings can be money savers, especially if you know the region you wish to cruise and how much you wish to spend. Shore excursions are add- ons and are carefully researched by the budget cruiser. Depending upon the size of the ship and where it docks at ports of call, passengers can often enjoy their own self-guided stroll.
Renaissance Cruises sounded a ship rocking bell in early 1998 when they stated that leisure travelers are both price conscious and prepared in making their own cruise decisions. They set travel agent commissions at $500 per cabin, the first cruise line to cut high commissions and pass on the savings to the consumer.
Renaissance believes that millions of vacationers are savvy enough to realize that agents are tempted to recommend high- priced, high-commission vacations because of the obvious profits. The line feels it makes good business sense to sell cruises at low prices directly to the consumer while still rewarding travel agents at a fair level.
LThe figures reveal that competitors are charging from $1,938 to $6,408 more for a comparable Mediterranean vacation because of the higher level of commissions offered travel agents.
Renaissance says that vacationers, if using a travel agent at all, often call agents with their decisions already made. The line has seen direct bookings increase dramatically, not unlike Dell Computer, Geico Insurance and Charles Schwab Investments.
The line is also offering discounts and amenities to AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), along with Carnival Cruises and Holland America Lines.
WHEELING AND DEALING
Enticing cruise deals are popping up like California wild flowers.
Delta Queen Steamboat Company, plying America's rivers with steam-powered paddle wheelers, is offering big savings on some 1999 cruises for those who book and deposit at least eight months in advance.
Civil War buffs can choose from six Civil War cruises aboard the 174-passenger DELTA QUEEN, a National Historic Landmark, or the AMERICAN QUEEN. If booking passage in selected staterooms with a $300 per person deposit at least six months before sailing you will receive free round-trip airfare. Passengers who pay in full within 48 hours of booking receive a five percent savings from the cruise fare.
Not to be overlooked, American Hawaii Cruises counters with "Whales in the Wild" cruises, January 2 through April 3, 1999. Book and deposit at least six months before departure and save $300 per person (maximum $600 per cabin) off the cruise fare or pay $395 per person on round-trip airfare between Honolulu and 100 U.S. gateways.
In another part of the world, Royal Olympic Cruises sells an early booking discount with two-for-one savings on reservations made at least 120 days prior to sailing. The seven-ship fleet including the 620-passenger STELLA SOLARIS and the 840-passenger OLYMPIC COUNTESS cruise the Greek Isles, Mediterranean, Baltic, Panama Canal and South America
For those looking at China, consider Regal China Cruises who sold special summer savings of 30 percent for Yangtze River sailings on German-built vessels accommodating 258-270 passengers. Regal also has a 50 percent discount for children ages 2-12 and 90 percent for infants under age two.
LOVE BOAT FINANCING
Princes Cruises has gone a step further with "Love Boat Loan Cruise Financing," where U.S. residents can spread the cruise cost over 24, 36 or 48 manageable monthly payments. The loan program coupled with their "2-For-1 or Better" holiday fares has pulled in new cruisers by the boat load.
Some restrictions apply on cruise line deals and are subject to change. Request from agents and cruise lines specific information on current and upcoming special sales promotions.
THE CRUISE GUIDE SAVER
When cruising in Mexico make sure you check the telephone rates before calling home from a port. According to AT&T, a number of alternative long distance companies have cropped up in Mexico, some charging more than $65 for a five-minute call from Mexico to the United States.
AT&T advises to confirm rates with the operator and direct dial international calls through your preferred long distance company.
AT&T maintains a list of hundreds of hotels around the world that customers can rely on to offer competitive rates and ready access to the AT&T network. For the list check out their Travel web site at www.att.com/traveler or call them at (800) 331-1140.
Best bet is to consider and online voice over IP service like Skype.com. Run it on your computer and you can get your calls for next to nothing. RESOURCES
Check Worldwide Cruises in Ft. Lauderdale, (800) 882-9000, who are well connected in the industry and noted for value offerings and cruise deals, and Golden Bear Travel, The Mariner Club in Novato, California at (800) 551-1000.