Book Now, Get Perks

October 27, 2008

If you've been listening to the news lately, maybe you're feeling hesitant about committing to taking a cruise next year. But here's a question: Would you be more likely to book if you could pay less up front? Or would you feel better if you could cancel your booking closer to the departure date if you were still feeling spooked by the economy?

That's what some cruise lines are hoping. As the economy continues to falter, several have gone beyond crushingly low fare sales and generous onboard credits to offer added inducements, such as reduced deposits and extended cancellation periods. Also be on the lookout for reduced deposit sales from travel agents -- they're asking the cruise lines to let them hold limited time sales because they think consumers are wary of plunking down large sums of money right now.

Now might just be a really good time to book an affordable cruise vacation without putting a lot on the line. Here are the most recent offers we've seen:

Norwegian Cruise Line: Through October 31, NCL is offering a fully refundable, reduced deposit on 2009 sailings. You only need to pay 50 percent of the regular deposit up front (Garden and Courtyard Villas and Owner's Suites are not eligible). Deposits vary by length of sailing; for a seven-day cruise, the deposit will be $125, down from $250.

Crystal: Crystal was the first to announce an entirely new policy of reduced deposits and extended cancellation periods. For all 2009 itineraries (except the full world cruise), the required deposit will be 5 percent of the cruise fare, rather than the previous 10 percent, and deposits for the 2010 world cruise have been reduced from 20 percent of the cruise fare (which would have amounted to around $10,000 per person) to $1,000 or $1,500 (depending on stateroom booked). Booked passengers can also cancel trips without penalty up to 45 days before sailing (formerly 75 days). And in a new move, Crystal has extended the time you have between booking your cruise and plunking down a deposit; it used to be you had to pay up the initial fee within three days, but now you get a week.

Windstar: Windstar is offering a reduced deposit for new 2009 cruise bookings made through December 15, 2008. The 50 percent reduction drops the required deposit from $750 to $375. However, the rest of the deposit is due by January 15, 2009.

Disney Cruise Line: Disney is offering a reduced deposit of 50 percent to cruise travelers who book online or with a travel agent. Deposits are now $100 (regularly $200) for five-night or shorter cruises, $125 (regularly $250) for seven-night cruises and $300 (regularly $600) for specialty cruises, such as Mediterranean and Baltic sailings. This is an ongoing promotion.

Azamara Cruises: Azamara's "Quest for Europe" promotion is offering reduced deposits on all 2009 Europe cruises. Travelers will only have to pay 50 percent of the standard deposit -- that's $250 for six- to nine-night cruises and $450 for nine-night or longer cruises, down from $500 and $900, respectively.

Holland America: HAL guests now have the option of purchasing a new version of the line's trip insurance policy, called Cancellation Protection Plan Platinum. With this plan, travelers will get a 90 percent refund of their cruise fare if they cancel their sailing for any reason up to the time of departure. The nonrefundable price of the policy varies based on the cost of the cruise itself. The standard version of the plan requires that guests cancel within 24 hours of departure and only refunds 80 percent; without a plan, HAL travelers can cancel without penalty up to 76 days prior to departure.

SeaDream Yacht Club: SeaDream has introduced a new cancellation waiver policy. For $50 per person (minimum of $100 per cabin), travelers can sign up for the "Cancel for Any Reason" plan and then be able to cancel their cruise up to 48 hours prior to departure for any reason at all. Here's the catch: You don't get your money refunded, but you are able to apply all payments (including cruise fare and government, port handling and service fees, but excluding the cost of the policy) to a future SeaDream cruise within 18 months of the written cancellation request. If the new cruise is less expensive than the original sailing, travelers will forfeit the difference in fare; if the new cruise is more expensive, travelers will be required to pay the difference.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor