Cruises: New website predicts when you should book
Buy now or wait for a better price? Cayole.com is a travel agency that uses seven months' worth of pricing records to help you make an educated guess about whether a cruise is likely to go up in cost in the "short- to medium- term." Its predictions are similar to the forecasts that bing.com/travel provides for airfares.
For example, the site predicted on Sunday that prices for ocean-view cabins on four-night Bahamas cruises from Orlando, Fla., on the Royal Caribbean Monarch of the Seas are expected to go down in the short- to medium term. That would mean a likely drop from their present prices, which start at $299.
Caveat: Cayole covers only about 6,500 cruises, all of which depart from the United States.
It's also worth noting that specialized travel agents still have access to more inventory and discounts for cruises than any website. That said, more and more online tools are empowering consumers to make savvier decisions.
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Cruises: Two die on-shore in Cozumel, Mexico
Cozumel, the gorgeous Mexican cruise port, has never been more popular, attracting more than 2 million visitors last year—a record. But in recent weeks, one crew member who debarked Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas appears to have been killed on-shore by someone she knew. A passenger on the trip died after she ingested a safety pin. These events have put this Western Caribbean beach resort destination back in the headlines. Cruise lines, including Disney, have recently pulled out of a different cruise port—Mazatlan—due to concerns about violent crime there. Yet Cozumel remains safe overall, as far as major cities go, according to this TripAdvisor safety report. In many parts of Mexico, standards of security, safety, and supervision may be lower than is customary in the United States. Citizens traveling internationally should consider registering in advance with the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. In event of an emergency, your whereabouts would be easier for officials in consular agencies to determine. That said, it's important to keep safety issues in context. Crime can happen anywhere. In Mexico, the number one cause of death for Americans has been automobile accidents, followed by falls from balconies, or into unmarked ditches, by drowning. The U.S. government has not updated its travel warning—less severe than travel alert—for Mexico since September. The warning still says that resort areas, such as Cozumel, are relatively safe—but American visitors should always exercise caution while on shore anywhere in the country, and particular in northern areas affected by drug violence. As a side note: Spring breakers, in particular, should know that Mexican law can impose tough penalties for excessive drinking, drug abuse, or drug purchasing, that might be considered relatively minor in the U.S., and U.S. citizenship doesn't get you off the hook from full prosecution under Mexican law. UPDATE: I regret that my original headline sounded sensationalistic to some readers. It was: "Safety questions for cruise passengers in Cozumel, Mexico" I have changed it to the new headline above. Do you think the hype about Mexico's safety for cruise passengers is overblown? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Mexico: The elusive truth about safety (250+ comments) It's a prime time to visit Mexico, says this expert Mexico's tourism officials say, "C'mon in, the water's fine"
Ask Trip Coach: River cruising
For a charming, laid-back, no-hassles tour of Europe, river cruising is hard to beat. If you've ever had questions about this elegant mode of travel, send them in to us now. River cruising, while growing rapidly in popularity, is new to a lot of travelers—and that's why we're devoting an upcoming Trip Coach column to the topic. You might be wondering: What are the most scenic rivers? What are the most interesting and fun riverside villages and towns to explore? Besides Europe, where are river cruises offered? What are the differences between Avalon Waterways, Viking River Cruises, Uniworld, and other companies operating river cruises? How different is river cruising from the big-ship ocean cruise experience? And of course, how do you get the best price on a cabin? Send in your questions about river cruising, and we'll do our best to clue readers in on everything they need to know about the experience in an upcoming issue of Budget Travel.
Cruise news: Bookings on the humongous Oasis of the Seas
This December, Royal Caribbean debuts the largest cruise ship in the world, the Oasis of the Seas. We reported on the "gi-normous" (and very cool) ship last summer. At 220,000-tons, with 18 decks and seven distinct neighborhoods (including one with a zip line!), it'll be quite a sight. If you'd like to be part of cruising history, bookings are still available on the ship's earliest trips departing from Fort Lauderdale. The inaugural voyage for the Oasis was originally set for December 12, but Royal Caribbean recently elected to move it up a week, to December 5, 2009. Additionally, there will be a quickie four-night cruise on December 1, to mark the opening of Labadee, the cruise line's private island in Haiti. On its website, Royal Caribbean is offering interior cabins starting at $699 for the four-night cruise, $1,299 for the December 5 inaugural seven-night cruise, and $1,089 for other dates in December. Stops on the seven-night cruises include St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau in the Bahamas. I did a Kayak cruise search today to see if other booking sites could beat those prices. I didn't have any luck. But, booking agencies such as cruises.com, cruisesonly.com, and cruise411.com are offering bonuses like 10 percent off shore excursions for all bookings and a free spa treatment if you book a balcony cabin or above on the Oasis. And Travel Themes and Dreams, one of Budget Travel's favorite booking agencies, is offering balcony cabins for the December 12 cruise for $1,369 (the regular rate) but also throwing in a $100 shipboard credit. There's a chance prices could come down as the dates get closer—after all, the ship can handle nearly 6,300 passengers. Keep watching Kayak, and be prepared to book at the last minute for great rates. Want more? See the Washington Post's recent sneak peak of the Oasis of the Seas. Or you could visit the official site. Port Report: Cruise Terminals Across the U.S.
Cruises: Tech tips from a pro
Paul Motter is editor of Cruisemates, which has been publishing impartial cruise reviews and news stories for a decade. We checked in with Motter for some tips on how to stay "wired" while at sea. What's the best way to keep up on your e-mail while on a cruise ship? Bring your own laptop. Skip the cruise ship Internet cafés, which generally cost 30¢ to 75¢ per minute—not cheap. Most cruise ships now have wireless access (WiFi) enabled. The newer the ship, the more likely that it will offer wireless, and if it is even newer they will have it in your stateroom. Whether or not wireless is available ship-wide can be found out by calling your cruise line or by going to cruise user websites like (ahem) CruiseMates and asking in the message boards. Use your laptop to log on and off frequently. For example, download all of your email and read it offline. If you are on your own laptop you can even reply to all of your email in messages that you save, and then send those messages after you re-connect to the Internet. Cruise often? You may be able to get around these Internet usage fees by joining frequent cruiser clubs on certain lines. They may include free or reduced Internet time as a perk for frequent cruisers. Another alternative is to look for Internet cafés in port. They are very common, just ask the crew. In the Caribbean you will pay about $5/hour, whereas onboard it will cost you up to 10 times as much. Always highlight and copy anything you write before you try to send it from a ship. You can type for an hour and lose everything if the connection fails. Best practice is to always compose offline, save a copy, and then copy and paste it when you are ready to send it over the Internet. Cruise ship web access is comparatively slow compared to most land-based broadband connections because ships must use satellite communication. I suggest you buy the most minutes possible—say, 100 minutes for $35. The minutes are cheaper when purchased in larger packages. That way you will be able to use the Internet when you want without fretting that you are using it too much. Most ships allow you full access from your laptop, meaning they allow you to blog, upload pictures, and update your blog. But some ships limit what kind of traffic will go through the network. Some ships will block the email protocol forcing you to use web-based email, for example. Or they may block secure FTP so you cannot update your web site. If your business requires you to stay connected to the Web, call your cruise line in advance to make sure you have the info you need. If you want to send pictures home, set your camera to a smaller resolution (800x600). Or even better leave your camera at a high resolution but have a program on your computer where you can make copies at smaller resolutions. A typical 5 megapixel picture might take 5 minutes to upload. But a smaller 800x600 will only take a few seconds. Not a "power" user of the Internet while on vacation? Understood. For you, a few minutes of use of on-board Internet cafés, will generally do the trick. Remember, you will be on a strange computer with nothing stored for you. If you have a cable-modem or DSL account at home (Comcast, Verizon, etc.), you may need to go to your Internet provider and discover the web site for web-based email. If you have an AOL address, for example, you must open a browser and go to aol.com and log in to your webmail account. Some ships may run AOL on their computers but most do not. Write down the exact URL for your webmail account. Also: Before you sail, write down key usernames and passwords to bring on-board. EARLIER Solo travel: Avoid getting "singled out" for fees on cruise ships (14 comments) MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL How to Pick the Right Cruise Cabin