So the current pricing free-for-all may lead you to believe that everything's a bargain, but we're here to remind you there's always an exception to the rule.
The truth is that for all the micro-attention we're focusing on bottom-feeding deals there are some cruises out there that aren't so fiscally friendly. Here are a few interesting exceptions we've found along our travels:
New cruise ships: Some of the world's most innovative cruise ships are launching in 2009 and 2010 -- Oasis of the Seas, Carnival Dream, Norwegian Epic -- and there's already plenty of hype about these ships that will be like no others. And even though many of these ships are debuting in the Caribbean, don't expect to find dirt-cheap seven-nighters here. At press time, the per-person rate for an inside cabin on Oasis of the Seas' December 26, 2009 cruise on Royal Caribbean's Web site was $3,299. The January 2, 2010 sailing was not far behind, at $2,609 per person. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that these are holiday sailings.
In general, an inside cabin on a seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Oasis of the Seas will run you around $1,000 to $1,500 per person (though rates do dip as low as $750 off season, in fall 2010). Still, compare that to relatively new Liberty of the Seas, which is offering seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruises this spring for as low as $549 (and Southern Caribbean cruises on Royal Caribbean can be had for as low as $299!). And while travel agents caution that prices can and will change prior to launch, Anthony Hamawy of Cruise.com says he expects prices will go up rather than down for Oasis of the Seas.
Limited-capacity destinations: Destinations like Bermuda and Hawaii that have short seasons and only a few ships visiting aren't seeing the huge price drops that heavy-capacity areas like the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Alaska are seeing. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line is down to one ship in Hawaii -- and it's the only ship offering seven-night roundtrips from Honolulu -- so inside cabins run $899 to $1,299 per person, compared to prices as low as $429 for a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas and Florida.
Certain luxury sailings: With all of the crazy luxury promotions out there -- free shore excursions, up to $2,000 onboard credit, kids sail free, free airfare -- what isn't dropping by much is the base cruise fare. That's because "luxury lines are careful not to impact their perceived value," says Hamawy; the luxury lines simply refuse to drop prices too low. A recent SeaDream promotion touts seven-night Mediterranean cruises from $3,599 per person. That's actually not a bad price for the very inclusive, very exclusive line, but it certainly is anything but cheap.
Cruises departing 90-plus days out: OK, this is only half true. You can find plenty of deals for cruises this summer. However, the best and cheapest prices this year are found 30 to 90 days out because, as Bill Kraus of Cruise Club of America tells us, "More people are booking closer in, so we're seeing more last-minute deals." If you're flexible with your sail dates and itinerary choices, don't settle for an okay deal on a cruise departing in five months. Wait for a fabulous price on a cruise departing in two months.
Just plain pricey promotions: They're still out there -- those expensive cruise packages geared toward the wealthiest of travelers. Case in point, world cruises aren't getting any cheaper -- a recent Crystal promotion is offering $4,000 off world cruise cabins starting at $60,380 per person, and $10,000 off world cruise penthouse cabins starting at $115,115. Perhaps the stimulas plan will help?
--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor