Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two for one offers from Star Clippers

If you aren't familiar with TravLTips, a bi-monthly publication chock full of first-person accounts of freighter and cruise trips -- with heavy emphasis on adventurous cruising, small-ship expedition-style cruising and the like -- you may want to check it out. And now is an especially good time, because if you sign up for a free trial membership you can take advantage of a very attractive offer from the Star Clippers tall ship mega-yacht cruise line. (With a 226-foot-high mast, the Star Clipper is said to be the tallest tall ship in the world and cuts quite a romantic figure.)

If you book a seven-night Star Clippers cruise in the western Mediterranean -- including the French and Italian rivieras and Corsica -- for the June 9 or September 1 voyages, you can receive the next seven nights free on the June 16 and September 8 itineraries. (The follow-up weeks hit more Riviera and Corsica hotspots plus Sardinia and Elba.) Rates start as low as $1,945 per passenger for what becomes a two-week cruise.

The major restriction is that you have to be a North American resident. Go to the TravLTips website, www.travltips.com, to sign up for your free membership (which gets you two issues of the magazine). You can then book one of these cruises or take advantage of many other special offers available through TravLTips.

Like to save money on cruises? Go to www.smartercruising.com to learn how to book the best deal, how to track down discounts, and how to save money onboard -- every time you cruise.

Sign up a friend, win a shipboard credit

In case you missed the New York Times' cruise travel section this past Sunday, here's an interesting -- and potentially beneficial -- strategy some cruise lines are using to sign up new passengers: offering shipboard credits to passengers who persuade newbies to book their first cruise.

For instance, members of the Crystal Society, Crystal Cruises' past-passenger rewards program, can win a $100 shipboard credit by talking a non-Crystal-cruising friend into booking a Crystal cruise (officially known as "Share the Experience"). Keep in mind, though, that Crystal is a highly upscale luxury line, so that $100 will only make a small dent in overall expenses.

Better yet, Regent Seven Seas Cruises (another luxury line) dangles the prospect of a $400 shipboard credit for passengers (called Regent Ambassadors) who recruit new passengers to cruise on its ship Paul Gauguin, which sails the waters around Tahiti. (The new recruits, meanwhile, receive $200 credits themselves.)

If you decide to book one of these cruises yourself, tell them Clark sent you!

For a wealth of tips on how to save money on cruises, visit www.smartercruising.com.

Daydreaming of a cruise? Try this site

If you're like me, you may be sitting at your computer right now thinking about how nice it would be to be onboard a cruise ship sailing some exotic sea. Where, you might be musing, are the lucky passengers aboard the Queen Mary 2 right now?

I happen to know they're in the far western Pacific, east of the Philippines. Meanwhile, the equally lucky passengers of Holland America's Rotterdam are enjoying the waters off the coast of Argentina. Those aboard the Dawn Princess are watching for marine life off California's Channel Islands. And passengers on P&O's Artemis are plying the waters of the Atlantic west of Morocco.

If you want to follow the progress of these and dozens of other cruise ships, go to www.sailwx.info and click on the Cruise Ship Tracker Feature. You'll be whisked to a world map showing where all these vessels are right now, whether it's the Eastern Caribbean or Sulu Sea. And if that doesn't get your cruise juices flowing, I don't know what will.

Want to save money when you take your next cruise? Go to www.smartercruising.com for a wealth of insider info.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Late breaking cruise deals from NCL and MSC

Are you ready to get away, now? Or at least book a getaway cruise in the next few days?

From now through Friday, February 23, you can snap up a springtime cruise in the Caribbean for not much more than a song.

Consider this deal from NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line) if you're ready to sail this weekend: Inside cabins are on sale from $349 per passenger and oceanview cabins are on sale from $399 on a seven-day roundtrip Western Caribbean cruise out of Houston. You could be in Cozumel and Belize within a few days.

You may also be eligible for shipboard credits ranging from $25 to $150, as well as free full coverage trip insurance.

If you need a little more notice, how about a 13-day repositioning cruise leaving April 8 from Santiago, Chile, through the Panama Canal to Miami, with inside cabins starting at $599 per passenger, and oceanview cabins from $699?

NCL also has other deals available to the Western Caribbean and Bermuda, leaving from New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia this spring.

The best way to take advantage of any of these is to book online or call a travel agent now. If your agent isn't familiar with this promotion, refer to promotion code PGSD1. Remember, you have to book these by Friday, February 23.

Meanwhile, if you book by February 28, the Italian line MSC Cruises is offering seven-night Europe cruises on selected departures in October of this year. Balcony cabins start at $1,145 per person (with advertised savings of up to $1600 per person). Another bonus: Kids sail free when they occupy the third and/or fourth beds in the stateroom. Ask for the "better than 2 for 1 Europe 2007" promotion.

If you want to skip the balcony and skip over to Europe any week between April and October, you can book seven-day Mediterranean cruises out of Barcelona (with stops in Tunis, Naples, and St. Tropez among others) starting at just $795 per passenger for inside cabins. Kids also sail free on these deals. And you have until March 31 to book, at least until all the staterooms are filled; ask for the Best Fare, Best Room promotion.

Other MSC deals currently available include 11-night Caribbean cruises out of Ft. Lauderdale during the next two months for $695, and 16-night transatlantic passages in March and April starting at $1,095, with kids sailing free in their parents' stateroom.

Call MSC at 1-800-666-9333.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Perks for cruise line shareholders

Here's one that comes courtesy of cruisecompete.com, an online bidding site where discount travel agents compete for your business.

Prospective cruise passengers who own at least 100 shares of stock in Carnival Corporation or Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. at the time of booking a vacation will be awarded special onboard credits, courtesy of the world's two largest cruise lines.

Carnival Corporation owns Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America/Windstar and Seabourn.

These cruise lines provide shareholders an onboard credit per stateroom of $250 for cruises lasting 14 days or longer; a $100 credit for sailings of 7-13 days; and a $50 credit for cruises lasting six days or less. Cruises must be booked by February 28, 2007 and completed by July 31, 2007.

In addition to Royal Caribbean International cruises, shareholders of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. stock also receive benefits on Celebrity Cruises (excluding sailings on the Celebrity Xpedition and any sailings offered under the Celebrity Xpeditions program.) Shareholders receive a $250 onboard credit per stateroom on cruises of 14 or more nights; a $200 credit for sailings between 9-13 nights; a $100 credit for cruises of 6-8 nights; and a $50 credit for sailings of five nights or less. Reservations must be booked no later than May 1, 2007.

To receive these benefits, Carnival and Royal Caribbean shareholders must provide a photocopy of their shareholder proxy cards or a current brokerage statement.

For more details on how to apply for this special benefit go to http://www.cruisecompete.com/shareholderbenefits.php.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cruising to Europe can save you money

If you're planning to travel in Europe this year, consider taking a cruise: it could save you money.

Here's how: with the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Euro and British pound heaving weighted against the dollar at the moment -- it will cost you about 1.3 dollars to buy one Euro, and nearly two dollars to buy one pound -- European land travel (hotels, restaurants, car and train travel, etc) will be even more exorbitant than usual.

But if you buy a European cruise in U.S. dollars, with most of your basic travel expenses already paid for, you don't have to worry about exchange rates (or the cost of currency conversion) -- and once you've paid for your cruise, the price won't change if the dollar continues to fall.

You might also want to consider booking a cruise tour -- a land-based extension of your cruise, which, again, would be paid in advance, in dollars. It could help take the sting out of the weakened dollar.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Bahamas mini-cruise with Imperial Majesty

Here's another mini-cruise that's definitely worth checking out: the year-round three-day, two-night Imperial Majesty cruises from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Nassau in the Bahamas. It's an ideal introduction to cruising for first-timers, and a fun getaway for anyone at bargain prices. Residents of (or visitors to) South Florida can drive to the dock, park for $12, and hop on -- with advance reservations, of course.

With rates starting at $179 per passenger (double occupancy) -- including plenty of shipboard food and entertainment -- it makes for a nice deal. (Most rates are in the $200-$300 range, depending on type of cabin.) Passengers get a full day in port in Nassau, where they have the option to join a paid Bahamas shore excursion or just hire a taxi to to go the beach, straw market, or aquarium.

Make no mistake -- you can spend more money on board on items such as spa treatments, casino gambling, and alcoholic beverages -- but these are all optional. There are also kids' programs onboard, and kids get a break in the rates as well. So do adult passengers who constitute the third or fourth occupants of a cabin.

One of the prime selling points is the grand old ship, the MV Regal Empress, a vintage wood-panelled, 1,200-passenger ocean liner with loads of character. While the Empress may be showing a few wrinkles, it was recently spruced up -- and since it's due to be retired permanently in 2010, now's the time to take it.

Friday, February 9, 2007

A tantalizing taste from Holland America

This week I got a tantalizing taste (literally) of a Holland America Line cruise to the southern Caribbean -- which would have been perfect except that the ship, the ms Noordam, never left the dock in freezing cold New York City. But it was planned that way. Along with some other travel writers from the area, I was invited to sample some of the ship's cuisine during the midday layover between cruises; when I arrived, at 10:30 a.m., passengers were disembarking from the cruise that just ended, and when I (reluctantly) left the ship at 2:30 p.m., a new group of passengers were arriving for the 10-day cruise that would leave later that afternoon.

Much of the four hours I was on the ship were devoted to eating. First we were treated to a demonstration in the ship's Culinary Arts Center, where two visiting chefs showed us how to whip up Juniper Breeze cocktails and delightful appetizers like Asian-spiced tuna ceviche and black tea-smoked scallops with espresso jelly. (Similar demonstrations are available on this and other Holland America cruises -- they've even built special kitchens for that purpose.)

We then adjourned for lunch in the ship's Pinnacle Grill, where we enjoyed the appetizers named above, as well as spinach salads, rack of lamb, and rich desserts.

And yes, it is tough being a travel writer -- at least having to leave a cruise ship right before it sets sail for warm Caribbean climes.

But it did remind me just how easy it is for many Americans to find a cruise port near home these days. For example, if you live in or near New York, as I do, you don't have to fly to Miami or some other southern port to embark on a Caribbean cruise -- you can just hop on the ms Noordam, which sails from here to the southern or eastern Caribbean from October till April.

The U.S. now offers at least 20 cruise-ship ports from the East Coast to the West and all along its southern perimeter, from Boston, Bayonne, and Baltimore to Gulfport, Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and points between.

When you start planning your next cruise, keep that in mind -- your nearest embarkation port may be only a short drive from home. And despite the cost of gas and parking, that may be a much cheaper and more hassle-free way of getting to your ship than flying.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Mini-Cruises: How to Get Your Feet Wet

If you're debating whether or not to invest in a cruise because you aren't sure it's for you, you might consider taking a mini-cruise to test the waters. In keeping with the general travel trend toward long weekend vacations, mini-cruises are growing increasingly popular.

Norwegian Cruise Line is offering a variety of West Coast mini-cruises coming up this year, starting with a one-day repositioning cruise from Vancouver to Seattle on the Norwegian Star May 4. You can snag an ocean view cabin on that one for $132. Even better, you can board the same ship in Los Angeles May 1 and sail to Vancouver over three days for $308 for an ocean-view stateroom and just $228 for an interior cabin.

To find these deals and others, go to www.richmond.cruiseshipcenters.com.

My new eBook, "Hot to Save Money on Cruises -- Part II: Tracking Down Discounts" comes with a free bonus book, "Go Mini-Cruising." You can order it at: http://www.smartercruising.com/trackingdowndiscounts/index.html