Buffeted by recessionary winds, cruise lines are competing to remain afloat with price discounts and perks rarely seen in recent years.
Passengers are being lured with 70 percent-plus discounts off brochure prices, stateroom upgrades and hundreds of dollars in shipboard credits. The biggest bargains are for cruises originating at overseas destinations.
Brochure rates usually are discounted on most cruises, but not as much as you find today.
At least one luxury line, Silversea, also will cover round-trip air fare from nearly two dozen U.S. and Canadian cities for 2010 cruises booked before Dec. 31.
"During the next year, we'll give 60 percent off published prices plus free round-trip air fares on cruises to the Far East, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Africa and South America," says Brad Ball, Silversea's media relations director.
Per person prices range from $1,238 for a 10-day Cape Town, South Africa, round-trip sailing on Silver Wind, beginning Jan. 23, to $4,918 for a nine-day Singapore to Hong Kong cruise on Silver Whisper, starting Feb. 5. Airport transfers, gratuities and free wine with meals are included in the price but not port and handling fees, which can add $100 to $275 to the tab.
"It's the biggest savings incentive in our 15-year history," Ball maintains. "Booking early, though, is the key. Discounts decrease as the sailing dates approach."
Silversea is an Italian-owned, all-suite cruise line of five ships with passenger capacities of fewer than 500.
Carnival's Web site (carnival. com) touts 70 percent discounts off previously advertised rates with bookings three to five months in advance. The lowest price for the seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise on the Carnival Splendor departing Los Angeles Feb. 7 is $559 if reserved at least five months in advance. If booked three months early, $499 can get you on the March 22 five-day Carnival Imagination eastern Caribbean cruise from Miami, a $501 savings.
All quoted prices are for double occupancy. If after booking you find a lower Carnival-advertised rate, the cruise line Web site promises "we will honor it and adjust your cruise rate accordingly." However, if the cost of oil exceeds $70 a barrel, it notes, a surcharge may be added.
Crystal Cruises, the upscale Japanese-owned line, has reduced stateroom charges as much as $3,000 per couple for most Mediterranean and Baltic sea voyages reserved before Dec. 31, according to Julie Dibble, the cruise line's media coordinator.
"In addition," she stressed, "each passenger will receive a shipboard credit of up to $1,000 that can be used toward gratuities or purchases of shore excursions, boutique items, wine or spa treatments. The promotion's part of our 20th anniversary celebration."
She cites the 12-day Sept. 26 Crystal Serenity cruise from Venice to Athens with a $4,700 per person starting price, nearly $1,400 less than a sailing this summer with a similar itinerary.
Balcony stateroom upgrades are available on scores of Princess cruises.
"Your savings can be between $220 and $1,100 per person under our Balcony Bonanza promotion, but bookings should be made by Aug. 31," Karen Candy, Princess public relations director, says. "For the standard obstructed oceanview cabin fare, you'll get a stateroom with a balcony. That's where the saving comes in."
• The seven-day Feb. 13 Mexican Riviera cruise on the Sapphire Princess is priced at $1,049 for a balcony cabin, a $220 savings, and the 12-day, Jan. 3 Ocean Princess South China Sea cruise will cost $2,795, an $800 discount.
• Costa Cruises has knocked the $1,884 price down to $449 for a Nov. 9 seven-day Venice round-trip Mediterranean cruise on Costa Fortuna. "A 76 percent savings," says Dana Dominici, Costa North American public relations director. "Or the same $449 can buy you a 55 percent discounted berth on the seven-day Costa Atlantica Caribbean cruise leaving Fort Lauderdale Nov. 7."
• The Yachts of Seabourn, recently voted "the world's best small-ship cruise line" by Travel + Leisure magazine readers, has discounted a 14-day Seabourn Pride April 10 Asian capitals and Vietnam cruise from Singapore 75 percent to $2,999 per person.
Retired newspaper reporter and editor Si Liberman splits his time between Palm Beach and New Jersey.