A slumping economy, floundering housing market and fears of a recession have many of us pinching pennies and looking for bargains, especially in Europe, where the U.S. dollar has lost nearly 40 percent of its value in the past five years.
"Though the downturn of the U.S. dollar is a deterrent to sailing in Europe this year, the cruise lines are doing their very best to make it very worthwhile," says Jean Simpson Mallory, manager at White Travel Services in West Hartford, Conn.
According to Mallory, that means bargains abound for sailing over the bounding main.
Bill Kraus, president and CEO of Cruiseclubofamerica.com, echoes these observations. "There appears to be a glut of ads offering onboard and shore-excursion credits as well as prepaid gratuities as a booking incentive," he says. "There also are more air-inclusive promotions being offered to Europe by various cruise lines as a means of combating the higher cost of air fare . . ."
"It is almost shocking," Mallory says, "to put in print the offer of $399 ($479 including port charges) on a seven-night Mediterranean cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship, the Gem."
The ship sails round trip from Barcelona, stopping in Valletta, Naples, Civitavecchia, Livorno and Villefranche on cruises departing Oct. 25, Nov. 2 and Nov. 9. Azamara Cruises, according to Mallory, "is offering unheard-of shipboard credits of up to $800 per stateroom on its European 'Premiere Event.' " The low fare is applicable to all sailings and itineraries, she says.
The Yachts of Seabourn adds its own brand of discount for the well-heeled: two-for-one offers on business-class air plus a 40 percent savings on many Europe sailings. On the luxe line's 13-night trans-Atlantic sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Lisbon, fares aboard the Seabourn Pride start at $2,998 — half the regular rate — plus a shipboard credit and a complimentary shore event, Mallory adds. Celebrity Cruises promotes a discounted 14-night trans-Atlantic on Nov. 29, sailing from Barcelona visiting Malaga, Madeira, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma and St. Maarten and ending in San Juan. Outside cabin fares begin at $999, including a port charge of $229.
MSC Cruises is offering "Suite Deals" on select seven-night Europe sailings on Sinfonia, departing from Civitavecchia through May 25, that amount to savings of 60 percent off brochure rates. For example, a suite on Sinfonia's April 13, seven-night western Mediterranean itinerary is $1,599 per adult double occupancy, plus an additional $71.50 per person for government fees/taxes and a fuel surcharge. The ship calls at Genoa, Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Valencia, Spain; La Valletta, Malta; and Tunis, Tunisia.
Cruiseclubofamerica's Kraus offers several top bargain picks (All quoted fares are per person with double occupancy and include port charges):
• Suite fares start at $4,925, including round-trip air fare, for Regent Seven Seas' seven-night cruise aboard the Navigator from Athens to Monte Carlo on June 7.
• Fares for an inside cabin on Cunard's June 8, 24-night Mediterranean cruise on the Queen Mary 2, including round-trip air fare from New York City, begin at $4,759. Plus this bonus: a $150 onboard stateroom credit.
• Crystal's seven-night Athens to Venice aboard Crystal Serenity on June 6 offers ocean-view staterooms for $3,225.
• Inside cabin prices start at $1,599 for Princess Cruises' 12-night Barcelona-to-Venice cruise on Emerald Princess on May 24. These low fares also include two windfalls: free upgrades where available and an onboard stateroom credit.
• Royal Caribbean's 12-night "Best of Italy & Mediterranean" cruise, round trip from Barcelona on Brilliance of the Seas, departing Oct. 20, has inside staterooms going for as low as $1,449, including a $200 discount booklet and an onboard stateroom credit.