Monday, July 23, 2007

2007: a banner year for cruise bargains

2007 is proving to be a banner year for cruise bargains -- especially in the Caribbean, where demand has been soft since last fall.

It's not unusual this year to see week-long Caribbean cruises going for just a few hundred dollars, around $70 per day per passenger -- and sometimes as low as $50, even $40 per day per passenger.

Think about that: you can get your accommodations, food (as much as six meals per day!), entertainment, and of course transportation for the cost of a motel room or one nice dinner out in the U.S.

Yes, in all likelihood, you'll pay more than that by the time your cruise is over, especially for options such as organized shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, casino gambling and the like -- should you choose to indulge. And if you opt for more expensive cabins or suites than the more modest ones, you'll pay more as well.

But that's entirely your decision -- incredible bargains are there if you want them.

Industry observers have cited a number of theories why the demand for Caribbean cruises (and along with it, prices) has dropped.

One is that frequent cruisers are tiring of the Caribbean and are looking for more far-flung, less crowded ports. Another is that recent changes in passport regulations have convinced U.S. passengers they need passports to cruise the Caribbean -- even though the passport requirement for sea travel has been postponed till next year. And perhaps the lingering fear of hurricanes from fall 2005 kept passengers from booking Caribbean cruises last fall (though that doesn't explain the continuing slump this year).

With lots of "last-minute" deals available, though, bargain-conscious cruisers have been snapping up cabins for Caribbean voyages at prices up to 80 percent off brochure rates. Ironically, that means prices have been leveling off a bit recently and may even start going up again, due to the increased demand.

Tomorrow we'll examine more of this year's bargain cruising destinations. Some of them may surprise you.

St. Maarten photo by Dennis Cox/WorldViews

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