11/26/99- Updated 01:05 PM ET


Christmas cruise bargains abound

By Kitty Bean Yancey, USA TODAY

The focus on year 2000 celebrations is giving holiday travelers an unexpected gift: Christmas and post-New Year's cruise bargains.

"In the past, you paid full price for Christmas," says Anne Campbell, editor in chief of cruisemates.com, a Web site devoted to cruise news. "I've never seen prices as low. There's a lot of discounting."

Upscale Crystal Cruises is offering a two-for-one deal on its Crystal Harmony, sailing Dec. 14 from Barbados for a 13-day cruise to South America. That translates to $3,425 for two in a down-pillowed stateroom (not including airfare).

The Holland America line has a Dec. 19-26 Caribbean cruise for $899 per person in an inside double.

Florida's Cruises-N-More agency (800-733-2048 or http://www.cruises-n-more.com/) is selling a three-day Caribbean Christmas voyage on Carnival Cruise Lines' Ecstasy from Miami, starting at $344 per person, double occupancy. Prices on some seven-day pre-Christmas Carnival cruises have just been lowered to less than $400, says agency owner Pat Neidhardt.

"I think that a lot of consumers have focused on the millennium," says Mimi Weisband, a Crystal Cruises spokeswoman. "And that means lots of deals for Christmas," a time known for booked-up ships and premium prices.

By contrast, millennium fares at Crystal are 20% to 25% higher.

Also prompting Christmas deals: a glut of new megavessels, meaning more berths than ever to fill this year.

"The competition is increasing every day," Neidhardt says.

"There are so many ships, and who wants to pay $3,000 (for New Year's) when you could get it for $995 (for Christmas)?" says Nicole Gonzales at GalaxSea Cruises & Tours in Pomona , Calif. "Right now it's probably some of the best pricing you're going to find."

One caveat for Christmas cruisers: Finding a decent airfare can be a problem.

Ernest Grossman of Florida's Tamarac Travel (800-862-6801 or http://www.tamaractravel.com/) proposes an alternate cruising strategy: "I'd go January 1 or 2. The reason is that so many people are in motion earlier that air is difficult to get. The best deals are the week before Christmas and the week after New Year's."

For example:

Seven nights on Celebrity Cruises' Mercury, leaving Fort Lauderdale Jan. 2, will cost $669 per person (providing at least one passenger is 55 or older).

Seven nights in an outside stateroom on Costa Cruise Lines' 3-year-old CostaVictoria, sailing Jan. 2, can be had for as little as $749 per person.

The http://www.cruise411.com/ Web site posted a Jan. 2-9 Mexican cruise from Los Angeles on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas for $599 per person.

"That very first weekend in January has become an extraordinary buy for ships," Grossman says. "January 1 and 2 are the best two days you're likely to see for a long time."