For the price of a week’s vacation a mere hundred miles from your own town, you can book a week on a Caribbean Cruise. (Prices right now are starting at $450 for seven days of sun, fun and relaxation.) That’s the message master cruise consultant Dianne Henry of Cruises Inc. in Catonsville, Md., offers to the surprise of many potential clients, she says.
In fact, cruising has always been a good value; when you tack on what it would cost to add in the onboard extras cruisers enjoy to a land-locked vacation, it becomes clear why. It's also a vacation that's easy to budget for, since most charges are included. For families who need to stick close to a particular dollar amount, cruising makes sense. Food costs are set, and many activities are included. But right now cruising is an even bigger bargain. Here's why:
1) The Economy Works For Cruising Families. The current economy has put plenty of travel bargains out there especially for families. An it's a trend experts expect to continue. "I think that moving ahead…there will be a push toward family travel," says Gabe Saglie, senior editor, Travelzoo." There will be a lot of deals with kids staying free, eating free... The [travel companies] are trying…to stop people from foregoing their family vacations." When it comes to cruising, this means deals like kids cruising for half price, or often just a tiny fraction of what an adult add-on would pay. Large ships are exceedingly costly to operate, so it behooves the cruise lines to fill them up as much as possible, in order to mitigate that overhead. After September 11, for instance, when many Americans were not travelling, some cruise lines charged existing passengers just a few hundred dollars to stay on the ship as it headed out on its next cruise. If they knew the rooms would be empty it made sense to fill them, even for a small amount of cash. The same holds true now, with many families cancelling or postponing trips.
2) Cruise Consultants Are Motivated Right Now. Cruise consultants note you won’t pay more if you book through them, and they're consistently able to tap into their contacts to get their clients perks such as wine and cheese nights, upgrades, etc. But right now, when special bargains and incentives abound, having a plugged-in helper who can steer you to the best values, has never been a better idea. Not all deals are made widely available, so it's great to have the inside track.
3) Cruising Costs Less Than in The Past. It's easy to get distracted by reports of climbing walls, elaborate pools and expanded fine dining options, and assume that cruising today is a more expensive option than it was in the past. In fact, the very opposite is true. Henry says she has watched amenities go up as cruise prices have fallen during the 23 years she has cruised. "Today I can put them on a bigger, better, nicer ship for less than I paid in 1985," she says.
4) Almost Everyone's a Cruiser at Heart...Now. There was a time when cruising seemed the pursuit of your grandparents, or the ultra rich. So unless you were into shuffleboard, or had the cash for a year-long voyage, you weren't the target market. That's no longer true. "People don’t know there are cruise lines out there for everybody," says Henry. Families traveling with children, multi-generational groups, young singles and even independent adventurers are finding there's a ship or cruise line that now caters to their travel point-of-view. Outdoorsy types who worry that cruising is only about midnight buffets and indoor stage shows are often surprised to learn there are ships centered around the activities they love, as well. The availability of many types of ships and cruise lines makes cruising a bargain for one very simple reason: It's not a good value if it's not the right vacation for you. As cruising works to suit the needs of many kinds of travelers, it becomes a better across-the-board deal.
How to Choose Your Trip: For the Caribbean minded, the first decision may be which of the three main cruise routes to take. There’s Western Caribbean, which generally includes the Cayman Islands, the Eastern Caribbean which includes the Bahamas, and Southern Caribbean which may include Puerto Rico. Prices range from hundreds to thousands, depending on multiple factors. Some cruises depart from Baltimore, which, depending on your hometown, might mean a lower airfare than would a southern port. To get started, take a look at this current promotion for Carribean Cruises: 7-day cruises starting at $450.