Monday, September 8, 2008

Cruising Deals, Trends and Insider's advice

Cruising DealsKerri Fitzgerald, Marketing Director of Cruise Brothers says she is seeing some "absolutely amazing discounts" on cruises — like seven days on a new ship for $399-$499.

What are the hot trends in cruising? How will fuel costs affect the prices you pay? And what sort of stateroom do the experts book?

Kerri Fitzgerald, Marketing Director of Cruise Brothers, a leading cruise broker, offered her perspective:

Q: First up, the consumer issues: What will cruise pricing look like for this winter and into 2009?

A: What we are going to see ... in fact, what we are already seeing in the last month ... are absolutely amazing discounts. Most people buy cheap cruises a fair amount of time in advance. Then the downturn happened and people stopped buying or became more careful. So on our site, we have seen a lot more cruise deals and a greater variety of deals.

It's a fantastic value vacation. And that's not hyperbole. We're seeing $399 and $499 for seven-day cruises on new ships. That's crazy ... crazy good for the consumer.

Mexico cruises, especially those in the Mexican Riviera are going to be really hot this year. And South America.

Q: Will there be a fuel surcharge on top of those prices?

A: Yes, but in most cases it's fairly reasonable, usually $10 to $15 a day, and we are able to offer Mexico cruise specials that offer much more reasonable rates. It's different for every cruise line, so the challenge is to read the fine print. I don't see that going down just because gas prices are going down. I think we are stuck with that for a while.

Q: Say someone has done the basic West Coast cruises to Mexico and to Alaska. What's a good next cruise for them to try?

A: I think South America is a phenomenal destination that combines a bit of Alaska with a bit of Norwegian fjords with a bit of Europe. It's the most amazingly diverse cruise. One day you feel like you are in Paris, the next day you feel like you are in the fjords ... And I feel like the cruise lines are overexposed. So I think the pricing will be good in the shoulder season ... November and late February/March. Otherwise, I would suggest the Panama Canal, which is sort of a blend of history and Mexico/the Caribbean, so you get some beach time as well.

Q: What's on the horizon?

A: I keep saying Asia is going to be the next popular region for cruise travelers interested in more exotic destinations, and I'm curious to see if the Beijing Olympics will, via its coverage of China destinations, result in a boom. Cruising Asia really is a great way to sample the region for the first time to get a feel for the varied countries and cultures.

Q: What's the latest on homeporting?

A: Travelers do not want the expense of flying. So I think you're going to see more use of the regional ports. San Francisco is getting a little more traffic, and Los Angeles and San Diego are for sure. Cruisers will have more close-to-home options than ever before.

Q: You no doubt have to cruise alone sometimes for reviews. What are good cruise lines for the solo cruiser?

A: Two of the best are Crystal on the higher end, which offers specials where you pay 125 percent (instead of 200 percent, or double), and Fred Olsen, which is just now marketing to the United States. The Queen Mary 2 will be offering some good incentives to solo travelers.

And other lines do have sales.

Fred Olsen has this ingenious effort ... they actually have single cabins. They are sometimes the same size as a double, but with one bed. The idea is to make people who are traveling solo not have to look at this big empty bed.

Q: And what if the solo or senior traveler wants a little peace and quiet?

A: Then it's important to avoid kids ... because they will take over the ship. You want to avoid peak holiday times. That would be summer, spring break time between mid-February and April, and obviously the Thanksgiving and December holidays.

You can also pick longer voyages on ships that don't market to kids. Most families don't go longer than seven days. So pick a 21-day cruise. Or find a ship that doesn't have state-of-the-art kid facilities.

Q: How are theme cruises doing?

A: Theme cruises are enjoying a huge renaissance ... whether it's quilting or Three Dog Night you are interested in ... because it creates an instant community. That's a lovely way to find a community onboard.

Q: What kind of ships or cruises do you prefer?

A: I like smaller ships, meaning under 1,000 passengers. You have a decent spa and enough amenities and restaurants, but it's also cozy enough. I do not like ships with the fixed dining.

I love Oceania. I think it's my favorite line. The ships are roughly 700 passengers, and they go to really interesting destinations. I think they do the best job in the industry in terms of value.

Q: What's the best stateroom to book?

A: I think the best cabin has to be any cabin with a balcony. That's like a whole other room. There is nothing like sitting out having coffee in the morning, watching the sunset in the evening, opening the door and having the air coming through. That's something an on-land resort can't touch.