Published April 6, 2000
ready for a fall Caribbean fare war
By Laura Bly, USA TODAY
Faced with an armada of new ships, cruise lines are slashing prices on
Caribbean sailings this fall. They're trying to pre-empt hurricane jitters
and the trend toward last-minute booking with rates that start at less
than $500 per person, per week, including port charges - and are setting
the stage for what could be the region's biggest-ever fare
"Every year, cruise lines and travel agents contend it's a
buyer's market. This time, it's actually the truth," says Cruise Week
editor Mike Driscoll. He notes that companies are floating cut-rate
deals much earlier than usual, and he predicts that prices will drop below
last year's already-discounted rates for fall cruises in the Caribbean,
the world's most popular cruising ground.
Behind the bargains: a
classic case of supply vs. demand.
New arrivals such as Carnival's
Victory, Celebrity's Millennium, Holland America's Zaandam and Royal
Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas will all be based in Florida or San Juan
this fall, contributing to a pool of about 3.2 million Caribbean cruise
berths in 2000. That's up nearly a third from last year, at a time when
cruise stocks are slumping and predicted bookings will increase by less
than 10% worldwide.
Throw in a traditional dip in demand for
warm-weather autumn trips and memories of past hurricanes that snarled
flights and disrupted cruise itineraries, and "the Caribbean will go for a
song," says Anne Campbell, editor of the Web site
Though some Caribbean prices have plummeted this
winter and spring - inside cabins on NCL's Norwegian Dream were advertised
last month at an eye-popping $399 per person, per week for early April
departures - rates seem to be holding steady for the summer season.
Still, "we're seeing a tremendous amount of last-minute,
dump-the-space deals" for passengers who wait anywhere from a week to
three months before deciding on a ship, says Patrick Webb of Galaxsea
Cruises & Tours in Pomona, Calif. He adds that by supplying widespread
access to prices, the Internet is creating better shoppers: "Customers are
starting to look at cruises as a commodity, and prices are reflecting
Flexible, Caribbean-bound vacationers willing to play
chicken may score big by waiting, but even steeper discounts may carry
their own price tags - including higher airfares or sold-out flights to
and from home ports, particularly San Juan.
"In most cases, our
customers are spending more for a five-hour flight than they are for a
seven-day cruise," says Jacquie Hurst of Uniglobe.com.