But don't quit your job and book a cabin just yet.
It turns out that a "lifetime of cruising" is really only one sailing every six months, starting six months after your April or May sailing. Since Regal Empress is scheduled to depart the fleet in October 2010, this means that winners will get to go on a total of ... (drum roll, please) four "free" cruises. And that's only if they time their sailing dates just right before the ship leaves service.
There is even more to the lengthy fine print -- to be eligible, you must book an April or May sailing this month (cruisers who booked a sailing on Regal Empress before April are ineligible). When it comes time to cash in your free cruise, you can only book a double-occupancy cabin and your companion must pay full price for his or her cruise. You and your cruise companion must also pay the applicable taxes and fees on your prize sailings, which are about $59 per person, per cruise. And no, two people who each have the "Cruise for Life" prize cannot book a cabin together unless one of them pays. Only specific sailing dates are eligible.
So is Imperial Majesty's so-called prize really a sneaky ploy to delude cruisers into thinking they've hit the jackpot (when they really haven't) in order to fill up cabins on their ship between now and its departure?
We called the number on the Imperial Majesty Web site and feigned interest in booking a cruise. When we asked about the "Cruise for Life" promotion, we were told about the double-occupancy requirement and six-month waiting period. We were not informed that there would be no free cruises past 2010.
When we questioned Imperial Majesty public relations spokesman Glenn Ryerson about the missing information, he mentioned a line in the contest rules that states: "The awards expire if and when the Regal Empress is no longer sailing as an Imperial Majesty Cruise Line ship." It seems the cruise line slipped this sentence in to cover its tracks when passengers learn that their prizes are only good for two years -- not a lifetime. That is, unless we get some proof that the apocalypse is going to occur sometime before October 2010.
So what about the passengers who aren't aware that Regal Empress' days are numbered or who don't usually book their cruises through an attorney? If they buy a cabin based on this promotion, they'll end up with only a couple of free (but not really free) cruises and a reminder that things that seem too good to be true usually are.
Prices for Imperial Majesty's two-night cruises range from $129 for an inside stateroom to $429 for an admiral suite, and do not include taxes and fees.
--by Caroline Costello