Alaska is a great deal this summer and next.
What's Working in Cruising
Inside cruise industry sources, such as the weekly newsletter CruiseWeek, are showing certain trends are working better than others for getting the cruise lines through this recession. One of the most obvious trends is the success of the "drive-to" market, where cruise agencies selling a locally ported ship are fairing much better than "inland" agencies. More than ever cruising is a "local" vacation option. Most of these local cruises sail to the Caribbean, but that is only because Mexico is still off limits due to "swine flu.".
Cruising started as a "local" business, back when the popular mainstream cruise lines sailed out of Florida and sold the majority of their cruises to locals and visiting tourists. Today there are cruise ships in almost every city on the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico, and most of those ships are selling well. Chalk that up to yet another plus for a concept that was born out of necessity and led to unexpected benefits. If it wasn't for post 9-11 fear of flying we would have never known how popular saving money on cruise vacations by avoiding airfare could be.
This brings up something many consumers are still doing wrong when it comes to finding cruise bargains, they are still waiting until the last minute to book. The truth is, last minute cruises are not any cheaper than the rest, in fact the best savings occur when you book at least a few months out. Even more importantly, last minute airfare tends to cost more than advance bookings. That is yet another incentive to plan ahead for your cruise.
We have been telling our readers not to wait until the last minute since the beginning of the year. We realize many cruise agencies advertise "save on last minute cruises," but the truth is they have been using the same sales pitch for as long as we can remember, but it just isn't accurate right now.
Here is the deal, the cruise lines currently have the need for "visibility." The more advance information they have about what people want in a cruise the more capable they become of planning their ship deployments and pricing for next year. To gain this visibility, they are willing to give cruise buyers incentives for booking early, such as lower cruise fares, onboard credit, price protection (if the price drops) and more. Take advantage of early booking discounts and you will be rewarded in the long run.
What else is working for the cruise lines? There is a trend towards longer cruises. Holland America is offering a 14-day roundtrip cruise to Alaska from Vancouver this year and next. Not only does this allow them to avoid a new headtax the state of Alaska has imposed on cruisers, but it also makes it possible for them to offer a unique itinerary with Alaska ports many people never get to see.
We recommend trying to make time for these longer cruises. Not only do you see more, but they are generally cheaper per day than average cruises. This brings up something else that is working for the cruise lines. If you can book a longer cruises, expect to see an generally older demographic and less crowded ships. And there is nothing wrong with either of these factors, you get more attention and less crowding of popular activities onboard.
Finally, what is not working right now, but will be soon, is cruises to Mexico. It is abundently clear that cruisers want ships to return to Mexican ports. You can't ignore the adventurous spirit in cruisers, there is evidence that passengers do not want to cancel cruises for disease or fear of pirates. As the industry newsletter, CruiseWeek, reports... a Crystal Symphony cruise scheduled to sail past Somalia offered a three-day land trip to get people safely off the ship as it sailed near the Gulf of Aden. Over 90% of the guests turned it down, preferring to stay onboard.
Keep in mind, this was a land trip that would have included comfortable hotel accomodations and a good deal of sightseeing, and these passengers turned it down, largely out of principle. This says their resolve is more than just a choice, it is defiance.
In fact, cruisers tend to be brave and individualistic souls. They have the spirit of adventure and are hardly afraid of anything. You have to admire that. That is just one reason why the cruise industry keeps going no matter what world politics or the economy dishes out.
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