Bargains Ahoy!

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When cruise lines change the routes of their ships, they discount rooms. The best offers are for transatlantic trips and Panama Canal-traversing.

Every spring and fall, cruise lines move many of their ships to new climates on what they call "repositioning" cruises. They discount the rooms--charging less than $125 a day per person for interior rooms, for example--because these itineraries are generally one-way and hit passengers with the additional cost of buying one-way plane tickets home. These cruises also usually last longer than seven days, which isn't to everyone's taste, so cruise lines try to make these trips more attractive with lower prices. As a rule, passengers pay less per day for these longer cruises than for standard ones.

The most typical repositioning cruise is a transatlantic one. If you've ever wanted to take a transatlantic cruise, a repositioning run is the most affordable way to do it. The transatlantic market is dominated by the ultraluxury cruise lines, such as Cunard and Oceania, which rarely offer interior rooms for less than $1,500 per person--even in an off-season month such as April. Yet travelers willing to take a repositioning cruise on a moderately fancy cruise line in the spring or fall will find trips that are less expensive.

Take the Norwegian Jewel, for instance. On Apr. 22, 2007, at the end of its winter season in the Caribbean, this ship departs Miami and heads east on a 15-day repositioning cruise to Athens. Norwegian was recently selling an interior cabin on the Jewel for $1,090 per person. One-way flights back to Miami recently started at $779 per person. So the total trip cost would be $3,738 for two. That sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But you may find this cruise to be a good value if you consider its cost per day. The cruise cost includes all lodging, meals, flights, and amenities for $249 a day per couple. That's a reasonable daily budget for an international vacation today.

The most interesting repositioning cruises are in the fall, says Paul Motter, editor of Cruisemates.com. The reason: Fall is when some cruise ships return from a summer in Europe to head down the East Coast, while other ships return from a summer in Alaska to head down the West Coast. For example, Princess CruisesCrown Princess departs Oct. 20, 2007, from New York City and heads on an eight-day repositioning cruise to its winter circuit in the Caribbean, via St. Thomas, Antigua, and St. Kitts. If you live near New York City, you'll save on your airfare because you will only need to buy a one-way ticket. (When we recently looked at one-way flights from San Juan to New York City, the lowest fare we saw was $196 per person after taxes, flying on JetBlue.) "The cruise is a bargain at $499 per person, as well," Motter adds.

To find repositioning cruise itineraries, go to Yahoo's travel page. (To see a list of crossings, go to the drop-down menu and click on the "transatlantic & repositioning cruises" option.) You'll also find many repositioning cruises by searching for "transatlantic" cruises at websites such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak. Check the websites of individual cruise lines to see each one's full offerings of repositioning cruises, which may include Panama Canal passages.

Here's a sampler of upcoming repositioning cruises. (Rates are based on double occupancy and include taxes and port charges.)

Barbados to Lisbon, Apr. 8-22, 2007. Luxury cruise line Windstar's Wind Surf, which has 154 staterooms and is mainly propelled by seven giant sails, charts the Caribbean all winter and the Greek Islands all summer. A weeklong Caribbean voyage in March runs a hefty $1,662 per person, but you can enjoy this two-week repositioning cruise to the Greek Islands, which is twice as long, for a mere $61 more per person. (Total price: $1,723 per person.) It departs from Bridgetown, Barbados, for Lisbon. 800/258-7245; windstarcruises.com.

Fort Lauderdale to Rome, Apr. 1-17, 2007. At the end of its winter season in the Caribbean, Holland America's Westerdam heads east on a 16-night repositioning cruise to the Mediterranean Sea. An interior cabin was recently selling for $1,843 per person, or $108 a day. One-way flights back to Fort Lauderdale recently started at $853 a person (multiple carriers). Contrast that with a shorter, seven-day Caribbean cruise departing Mar. 18, 2007, on the Westerdam: The rate for the same room was recently $942 a person, or $134 a day, which is 24 percent more than the repositioning cruise. 877/724-5425, hollandamerica.com.

Fort Lauderdale to Amsterdam, Apr. 15-27, 2007. On its way from the Caribbean to a route off the shores of Scandinavia, Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas stops in Cork, Ireland; Falmouth, England; Le Havre, France; and Brussels, Belgium. This 13-day tour with a family-sized, ocean-view cabin costs $1,332 per person. That's $102 a day, versus $129 a day for the same room on a nine-day route in the eastern Caribbean, which departs a few weeks earlier. 866/562-7625, royalcaribbean.com.

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