The trick to finding cruise values is to think “contrarian.”
“Buy Low and Sail High,” is our cruise mantra. The best cruise values come on the ships with the lowest demand. There is little rhyme or reason to cruise pricing other than the lines’ ability to maximize revenue. Of course, you want to know something about the ship you are considering, newer ones fetch higher prices and deserve them, but the demand and value proposition still remains.
Just like with the stock market, if you didn’t book one in 2009 you missed the pricing bottom, but there are still bargains and prices are not trending any lower. Like the stock market, you watch for buying opportunities. If you check once a month you will only get a snapshot, but check daily and the price picture looks completely different.
For example: This summer Holland America Zaandam sails round trip 7-day Alaska cruises from Seattle every Friday. This cruise was as low as $349 in 2009, but the lines reduced the number of Alaska sailings by 144,000 for 2010 allowing them to maintain a 100% capacity without dropping prices drastically.
This year the price is $649 in May and September, the “shoulder season” bracketing the peak summer season, while the price is $899 in July. That could go even higher if the ship sells 90% capacity by May, but if it is still at 70% capacity in June the prices will drop (not likely).
West Coast Mexican Riviera cruises were just heating up in 2008. Royal Caribbean and Carnival each relocated two of their biggest ships to California, both too large for the Panama Canal so they had to circumnavigate South America. Then in 2009 the recession hit along with H1N1 fears and these cruises dropped as low as $199 per person.
Mexico still has not recovered much, but smaller ships are about to reposition to Alaska for the summer season which will reduce Mexico capacity in June. Add the demand of summer vacation for kids and while Carnival Splendor is priced at $439 for the May 2 cruise, the same cruise on June 13 is priced at $914. Nothing about the cruise changes – in fact the weather is better in May! It is all about supply and demand.
Other ways to save money on cruises include bringing your own wine, arranging your own shore tours, enticements such as ½ prices for kids, onboard credit, free upgrades and more. Cruises are great for kids because childcare is constant and free – so adults and kids both have great vacations. Some people think cruises are just for single people with more free time than charisma. Others envision floating senior centers with bland food and nurses on watch duty. Neither is close. Cruise ships are actually beautiful floating hotels with fun for all ages; but especially for couples and families.
“Cruise Virgin” is an actual industry term. Why? The most common remark after a first cruise is “If I had known how great it is, I would have started sooner.” Also, that first cruise clears up a lot of mystery and leads to another cruise in most cases by far.
Many cruisers become avid and sail repeatedly over the years. In 2010 over 13 million cruises will be taken by Americans, only 35% of them first timers. Many will bargain shop on the Internet and some will buy directly at cruise line web sites, but travel agents still sell 90% of cruises, mostly online but some brick and mortar, because all agent commissions are paid by the cruise lines.