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By PAUL MOTTER
The christening of Queen Victoria is right around the corner, next week on December a
Why is this so important? While there are a lot of guidebooks and web sites with cruise authorities, and I would like to tell you I am the best there is, the truth is that the author of the Berlitz Guide, Doug Ward, is the best. If there were honors given for "best cruise guide" every year, I am sure Doug would win, hands down, year after year.
You won't find Doug's ship reviews online, you have to buy the book, but you can find out how to do that by going to berlitzcruising.com.
Doug spends more time aboard ships than any individual I have ever met, over 200 days/year according to the web site, but if I had to guess I would think it is closer to 300. And he has been doing that since 1985, that's right, this is his 23rd edition. If it floats and carries people, Doug has sailed upon it.
And I have to say that I am not surprised that Cunard has taken this honor, which in previous years consistently went to another large luxury line. Not that the other line has diminished, far from it, it is just that Cunard has been racing ahead in the last few years to truly define itself, forging an identity as the line that embodies the best shipboard experience possible.
You will notice I am avoiding using the term "cruise ship." Cunard prefers to refer to their ships as ocean liners rather than cruisers. Although Cunard's newest ship, MS Queen Victoria, will feature itineraries that are more like cruises than trans-Atlantic voyages, each voyage any Cunard ship takes is imbued with the spirit of the golden age of ocean liners. If you know and love passenger ship traditions - as so accurately portrayed by James Cameron in the movie Titanic, then you have to love a Cunard voyage. Especially now that they have matured into the kind if cruise line that deserves the accolades they just received.
I just returned from a preview of the yet to be christened MS Queen Victoria, and I walked away with a new respect for the line. The dedication they have to creating an experience for their passengers with the finest dining, authentic decor and first rate entertainment shows that they are not the kind of line that caters to passengers who want fantasy, escape or mindless activities. They are the line for thinking people with ships that challenge the intellect and imagination.
To read all about the history of Cunard Line, and to see pictures and video of the new Queen Victoria, go to our ship preview: Queen Victoria.
Royal Caribbean Good News
A strong quarterly report from Royal Caribbean shows that cruise pricing in the Caribbean is firming up. We were telling you to book cruises a few months ago when prices were incredibly low. Now Royal Caribbean is saying the winter is looking strong, which means they have already sold many of their cabins and bargains will be harder to find.
Now, if the great prices are out there we will find them for you, keep watching this newsletter. But we just want to warn you that winter's peak months of January through May, when temperatures are coldest in the East and Midwest, are already selling out. so if you know you are going to want a cruise this winter do not delay, they are not going to be getting any cheaper. Are they overpriced now? Not at all, but the deep bargains we were seeing two months ago are no longer so easy to find.
While we were seeing 7-day cruises on other cruise lines as low as $349, now the lowest prices we are seeing on any Caribbean cruises (with a few exceptions) are in the $499 range. The median price for a newer mega-ship is $549 to $699 for a lead price.
Where the Bargains Are
Fortunately, there are still a few bargains out there, and we urge you to grab them while they last. In a twist from last year when they were higher than Caribbean cruises, the Mexican Riviera is a bargain this year. We see 7-night cruises from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta under $500, and as low as $365 for December 2007.
Carnival Elation is offering 6-night cruises to Mexico (La Paz, Cabo and Ensenada) starting at just $379 pp right now, but those cruises are already mostly sold out in winter 2008. 7-night cruises on Carnival Pride to Mexico are still available and reasonable, however, at $449 to $549 this winter.
Norwegian Pearl, which is a fun, active and beautifully imaginative ship, is offering 5-night cruises from Maimi to Cozumel and Grand Cayman for as low as $269 pp, if you sail right away, but as high as $349 - $399 if you wait until February. The better deal is on the same great ship on one of our favorite itineraries in the Caribbean: leave from Miami Friday night after work and sail for nine days to the deep Caribbean. Visit Samana, Dominican Republic, Road Town, Tortola, St. Johns, Antigua, Bridgetown, Barbados and Castries, St. Lucia -- and be home Sunday night in time for work on Monday! And what a price - just as low as $549 pp through December 9. That is the best deal we see right now. By peak season the price goes up to $700 average.
As far as we know, this is the only ship offering a deep Caribbean cruise that you can take from Miami and only take one week off of work.