While this is great news for Carnival -- its stocks went up, based on the announcement -- and a sign that cruise travel is rebounding, what does it mean for you, the cruise consumer? Here's our advice:
Book now for peak-season sailings. Carnival has shown its hand, so take advantage of the information. If you've been considering a summer cruise vacation, you might want to book it before March 22, when fares will increase up to 5 percent. Not a Carnival fan? Other cruise lines are likely experiencing the same strong bookings, and if they see Carnival raising rates, it's very possible they will hike fares, too. The best bet for anyone looking for a summer cruise on any cruise line may be to book sooner rather than later. Because even though a 5 percent fare increase is not that much (just $50 more for every $1,000 spent), the real concern is that cruises are selling out quickly. Wait too long and there may not be an empty cabin for you to book -- at any price.
Look for spring and fall deals. Shoulder-season sailings are almost always cheaper than summer cruises because fewer people have time off to travel, so ships book up more slowly. Carnival has not mentioned raising off-peak fares, so spring and fall cruises may be your best bet for deals in 2010.
Don't give up on last-minute deals. The signs indicate that fewer last-minute deals will be available for summer cruises this year. But you never know when one sailing might not sell out as quickly as others, or if the fare increases will backfire and the pace of bookings will slow down. If you don't have your heart set on a particular vacation, it can't hurt to wait for that one last-minute bargain to crop up.
And when you're looking for a great deal on a Carnival cruise, don't forget to check out the bargains on Cruise Critic's Carnival Cruise Deals page.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor