A toxic combination of post-Costa Concordia, massive over-capacity in the market and the economic downturn has led to a rash of lines slashing their fares. And the deals are not just for last-minute getaways -- many are for trips before the end of the year.
For example, the £45 per night fare is for a £399 round-trip from Southampton to the Atlantic coast of Spain onboard Fred. Olsen's Braemar in December. The original price in the first edition brochure published last year was £839.
Even giants like Cunard are offering holidays for less than £60 a day with a 12-night cruise to the Canaries in November on Queen Mary 2 (pictured above) for just £699.
Even cheaper last-minute fares are available, for example an eight-night voyage from Southampton on MSC Opera. The two remaining departures this month are available for £499 on MSC's website.
The only catch is most prices are for less desirable inside cabins. A Braemar balcony cabin will cost another £200; on Opera the premium is £400.
Cunard's managing director Peter Shanks admitted the line had been forced to offer some deep discounts: “We are working with travel agent partners and our own customers on driving offers into the market. So for example we had a Jubilee Sale, and we are getting noticed by the customer, in any difficult market it's good to promote.
“We would prefer to sell everything at full price, but we are in a very difficult economic environment and we have to do what is necessary to fill ships.”
He added: “There are bargains to be had, they just might not be in the cabin category that you want.”
Hurtigruten's managing director Kathryn Beadle said: “We do have a different model to traditional cruise lines, but we are certainly not immune to prices dropping, it affects us. We take a long term view: it's easy to drop prices, but it's very difficult to put them back up.”
Even travel agents are beginning to get wary of the bargain deals.
James Cole, of cruise118.com told us: "Price cutting is a double-edged sword. It helps attract new-to-cruise customers, which is great for the long-term growth of the industry, but it educates the customer to wait and not book early, which then puts the cruise lines under pressure to drop prices.
"However, we have been in this position before, after the Gulf War and 9/11. Prices will build over the coming years and eventually return to pre-recessionary levels and more normal booking patterns."
Steph Curtin of bonvoyage.co.uk : "Consumers will spend longer hunting around for the best discount and will gamble on waiting until close to the sailing date. Cruise lines have got themselves into a vicious circle of saying they won't offer low last-minute rates but then finding they have to, because fewer people book early."
--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor