By Paul Motter
I have always known that the autumn season between the end of summer and the beginning of the holidays is when the best cruise bargains appear, but I never knew it actually had a name until I was informed by cruise entrepreneur Michelle Fee who founded the host agency "CruisePlanners."
Just like the time of year when cruising reaches its peak of popularity, between January and April, is known as "Wave Season," the autumn season that precedes wave season is called "Value Season," and it is right around the corner.
Value season comes at a time when few people are planning a vacation. They are planning for returning to normal life after the summer break, plus just starting to think about the holidays. Value Season values are always most pronounced in years when the economy is bad and cruise sales are low in general - like this year.
The "Last Minute Deals" page from America's Vacation Center's makes it extremely easy to search for cruises by any criteria, including lowest price for any cruise line to any destination. Right now I am looking at "Value Season" cruises sorted by best price.
One of the better bargains this year, especially for West Coast people, is Norwegian Pearl sailing from Vancouver, B.C. to Astoria Oregon, San Francisco and landing in Los Angeles five days later. This one-time cruise starts at just $299 per person, with balcony cabins for just $399.
For seven-day cruises, I can't help noticing that the newer ships from NCL, not including Norwegian Epic of course, fill up the top 20+ spots. New Yorkers can leave from the Manhattan pier and sail directly to Port Canaveral, Florida, and on to the Bahamas and NCL's private Island on either Norwegian Gem or Jewel. The starting price is just $399 and you can find these offers to the right.
Norwegian Spirit sails on a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise from New Orleans to Costa Maya, Belize, Roatan and Cozumel for $399 to $429 on several dates this autumn. Norwegian Pearl, one of my favorite NCL ships (and one of the newest before Epic), sails the same route as Spirit but leaving from Miami for as little as $429. Even better, all of these NCL cruises qualify for varying amounts of shipboard credit up to $250 depending on the stateroom category you select.
Norwegian Spirit also has two October cruises (10-2 and 10-16) sailing out of Quebec City down the beautiful St. Lawrence Seaway at the peak of Fall Foliage Season starting at just $449 per person. The cruise sails for two days before landing at Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Portland Maine and landing at Boston, Massachusetts. This trip also qualifies for shipboard credit of up to $250 per person.
MSC Poesia sails from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel for a little as $479 per person on December 5th, 2010.
The next best bargain is Celebrity Summit sailing out of San Juan. The beauty of a San Juan departure is quick access to the more exotic Southern Caribbean islands. This seven-day itinerary takes you to St. Croix, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago. It starts at just $499 per person with a free coupon book and up to $200 in shipboard credit - again depending on the stateroom category you select. Another itinerary Summit takes for the same price is RT San Juan to St. Thomas, St. Martin, St. Johns, St. Lucia and Barbados.
Here is a killer bargain; Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas, the second most popular ship after Oasis, going for as little as $479 per person this Sept. 26. This itinerary takes you to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and to the beach at Labadee with the cruising world's longest zip line; 2600-feet long. This is currently the second largest cruise ship in the world.
You can still catch Mariner of the Seas out of sailing from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera before she leaves California for good in early January. This week there is a special for a 7-day cruise to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas from just $493 per person sailing November 28. If you book an outside cabin or better you get a free dinner for two in one of the alternative dining restaurants onboard which usually costs as much as $25 per person. You can also get a free kids' soda package and some dates even offer up to $100 in shipboard credit.
You can always find plenty of bargains in CruiseMates' own "Cruise Bargains" shopping area. Or discuss this article in our CruiseMates Forums: Autumn Value Season - who's booked this fall?