11.25.2008  
 
Editor's Note
Solstice Solarium
Solarium on Celebrity Solstice
CruiseMates Solstice Cruise

Celebrity Solstice debuted just nine days ago. Today we are packing to accompany a group of 99 people on the CruiseMates Heart & Sol Solstice group cruise - all of them CruiseMates readers who knew a great deal when they saw it.

CruiseMates hosts three to five "CruiseMates Cruises" every year. First we negotiate the best group prices possible, then we use all the benefits that come with a group; like free berths for hosts of the cruise, and put them back into the group in order to reduce those prices overall.

We started selling balcony cabins on this cruise for $749 per person well over a year ago, and we sold as many as the cruise line would give us. Today, if you want to book this same cruise an inside cabin will cost you $699 (we didn't even offer them) and a Balcony Stateroom is $899. That's $150 more than we charged, plus with us you get a $100 shipboard credit and we are hosting a free cocktail party! That's a $250 difference, and a glass of champagne to boot.

Are CruiseMates cruises a good deal? Absolutely. But I want to be perfectly clear about this, we do not do this to make money or even free perks. We do it to save you money on great ships and itineraries and just to enjoy cruising with you.

Exactly how does this work? As we explain in a new article we just published "How to Score a Free Cruise," when you organize a group cruise the cruise line will give you a complimentary "tour conductor's" cabin, aka a "TC," for every 12 or so cabins you sell. Now, we qualified for several TCs, but we asked for the cash value instead. Then we used that cash value to lower the price of the cruise for everyone.

Also, when you book a group cruise, the group organizer gets something called "points," which we can use in several ways. One offering is a free party for the group, with free cocktails, of course. We are offering this on our Solstice cruise as well.

Other cruise web sites say they offer group cruises, but they don't organize them the same way we do. They generally allow their readers to pick any ship and sail date they want and then sell them willy-nilly to anyone who chooses to buy in. Often, they get several groups all competing for the same ship and sail date. This doesn't make sense to us, because the groups are too small to qualify for the same amount of benefits that we get.

Bottom line, with other web sites you pay more ans get less. Even if you held out for the last minute bargains, you still would be paying far more than if you had booked our group cruise a year ago. Our verandah price of $749, with a $100 shipboard credit, is less than what the ship is selling inside cabins for today.

Best of all - you get to sail with a group of people who have been emailing and chatting together online for a year now. Cruising is great, but it is even more fun when you make new friends. 99 of us will be sailing together on Solstice November 30th, and it is going to be fun!


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