January 16, 2002
Big hot changes at Wal-Mart: Now you can pick-up that super size jug of Tide, a couple of Sony Playstations and oh, yes, a $4,000 Mediterranean cruise on Seabourn. Yes, indeed, America’s mammoth “always low prices” superstore chain has partnered with Carnival Corp’s World Leading Cruise Lines to offer vacations as well. Through the agreement, which actually is with the Web site (as opposed to in-store kiosks) Wal-Mart boasts, somewhat misleadingly, of offering “extraordinary cruise specials.” Er, not really. In our own quick-comparison of rates offered on Wal-Mart’s site, we found other travel-cruise related Internet operations offered comparable fares -- or better. A couple of examples: When we called Wal-Mart to check availability on a $599 Holland America Statendam Alaska sailing (only one date, September 1, was available at this fare) we got the price -- but the reservation agent neglected to add on those dirty little extras, such as port taxes and, well, tax. The real fare, it turns out, is $757.94 -- doesn’t look like such a bargain, does it? -- and Cruise411.com actually bested it with a quote of $723.34. It did beat out Cruise411’s 3-day Fascination price (Wal-Mart’s was $30 per person less) but lost out on a QE2 transatlantic (Cruise 411’s was $53 apiece cheaper). The point? Wal-Mart is just another entrant in the increasingly crowded dot-com world of virtual cruise agencies and it comes with a couple of handicaps. There’s no on-site booking mechanism so you still have to pick up the phone to make an actual booking. Plus, Wal-Mart’s offerings are limited to the six Carnival Corp. lines -- Carnival, Holland America, Seabourn, Costa, Cunard and Windstar.