Jump on These Spring Cruise Deals

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
March 17, 2016
Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

As the days get longer and the sun shines warmer, a lot of people start thinking about the sea. Well, there’s no better way to get up close and personal with the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Europe’s legendary rivers than hitting the water on one of these luxurious, but affordable, cruise ships.


Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas recently completed its first trials and is preparing for its debut in May, offering the chance to be one of the first to sail on the world’s biggest cruise ship. With a crew of more than 2,000, seven “neighborhoods" (including a tree-lined Central Park, boardwalk, promenade, and other distinct areas), and 20 dining options, Harmony of the Seas is the newest in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class fleet. Thrill-seekers will enjoy the tallest cruise-ship slide, Ultimate Abyss, a kids area called Splashaway Bay, and my particular favorite, the Bionic Bar, where robots craft the cocktails (not kidding). And Royal Caribbean’s commitment to onboard technology can make your trip more convenient: Geraldine Ree, Senior Vice President of Sales at Expedia Cruise Centers, notes that “Royal Caribbean’s Royal IQ App lets you track your luggage to your stateroom.” Harmony of the Seas’s maiden voyage is in May, a short sail from Southampton, UK, to Cherbourg, France. Western Mediterranean cruises are planned for this summer and fall starting at $607, with Caribbean cruises planned for the fall and beyond.


The Norwegian Getaway sets sail from Miami for seven days exploring some of the Caribbean’s most alluring ports, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Caymans, and Cozumel, Mexico. And "Norwegian’s iConcierge App enables you to book shore excursions and make reservations at the ship’s specialty restaurants,” says Ree. You'll love the delicious Miami-inspired and Caribbean cuisine and great entertainment and nightlife aboard the Getaway. Book this deal from Dunhill Travel Deals starting at $549.


The Carnival Imagination leaves Long Beach, California, for amazing Catalina Island, then on to such Baja Mexico highlights as Ensenada, Puerta Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas on a five-day cruise that’s perfect for shopping for authentic Mexican clothing and crafts, hitting the beach, and maybe even knocking back a little tequila. Cruises.com has a deal that starts at $344.


“River cruising continues to gain momentum,” says Ree. “With only nine new ocean ships being added to waters in 2016, there will be 18 new river cruises to debut throughout the year. River cruises are especially popular with multigenerational cruisers. River cruise lines are designing family-focused sailings and family-friendly design elements on board, such as bigger cabins.” We especially love how these smaller ships make more stops in beautiful little cities and towns across Europe. On this Danube cruise you’ll spend eight days exploring gorgeous Vienna and the fairy-tale town of Melk in Austria; Bratislava in Slovakia; and amazing Budapest, Hungary. Book NOW at YMT Vacations and you can nab a deal at $999 per person.


Ree also offers some advice for first-time cruisers:

Try to jump into “onboard life” – cruise lines offer cool events ranging from educational port lectures to raucous Dancing with the Stars, Shipboard Idol, and talent shows that bring the house down.

Sign up early for activities like cooking classes, fencing, or rope climbing; some sessions fill up fast.

Take care of anything you need from the Pursers desk on the second-to-last day of the cruise; on the very last day, lineups start early and remain pretty long until you disembark.

If you're flying to your embarcation port, buy your plane tickets early and splurge a little on nonstops.

Throw in a swimsuit in the carry on! Who wants to wait for the luggage to be delivered when a pool or beach are available?

Choose a ship and destination together as a family. This allows all of the family members to “buy in” and get involved, building the anticipation for every family member.

Make reservations as far in advance as you can. Adjoining and “across the hall” cabins become more difficult to find the closer you get to departure.

Fly in a day before the cruise to ensure that temperamental weather doesn't cause you to miss the boat.

Plan Your Next Getaway
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Hottest New Cruise Ideas

Word on the seas is that cruises are skyrocketing in popularity. The Cruise Lines International Association recently reported that 24 million passengers are expected to set sail in 2016, up from 23 million in 2015. That's the highest number ever recorded. If you've looked into booking a cruise lately, you know that we live in an age of mega ships that consider over-the-top contraptions like rooftop surfing simulators a standard amenity. That would make for an unforgettable memory, to be sure, but if you're seeking a more intimate experience, some cruise lines are banking on going small, with a tight focus on curated activities, excursions to lesser-known ports, and, in some cases, smaller ships. “We’re definitely seeing cruise lines across the board looking to offer more authentic experiences for their guests,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com. “I think the big buzzwords in the industry today are ‘immersion’ and ‘experiential’—and that applies to everything from river ships to the larger mega-ships.” Smaller ports are hot right now. Classic cruise stops like Paris and Amsterdam never go out of style, but lesser-known ports—like Cuba—are trending. Starting in May, Carnival's new Fathom cruise line will offer Cultural Exchange cruises to Cuba (from $1,800 for seven days, fathom.org). On Viking Ocean Cruises, the relatively small Viking Star carries a slim 930 people, as opposed to thousands, which allows for access to less-trafficked ports like Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Kusadasi, Turkey; and Santorini, Greece (from $1,999 for eight days, vikingcruises.com). “What Viking does particularly well is that it offers a tremendous value-for-money experience,” Spencer Brown says. “There’s so much included in the cruise fare—thoughtful inclusions like free shore excursions in every port, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner.” Experiences for niche interests are popping up on cruise lines. Royal Caribbean, for example, has revamped its shore excursion program, with specialized categories like Culinary Delights, which offers pizza-making classes in Naples, Italy, and Family Connections, a menu of activities including a family kayak trip in Alaska (from $164 for three days, royalcaribbean.com). Want a really unique jaunt? That can be arranged. Viking Cruises CFO Richard Marnell says Viking’s no-fee concierges have hooked passengers up with bespoke outings like helicopter rides through tulip fields in the Netherlands. Tailored excursions cost extra, but Viking itineraries often offer a Local Life experience, like a trip to a local market, gratis. Artisanal fare is flooding cruise ships. Farm-to-table isn’t limited to dry land, Spencer Brown says. “One great example is Princess Cruises’ new partnership with celebrity chef Curtis Stone, who’s known for creating comfort food out of the freshest ingredients, which will be exciting to see executed on Princess’s ships” (from $59 for one day, princess.com). In a month, Holland America’s Koningsdam will launch a farm-to-table dinner menu out of its show kitchen (from $449 for four days, hollandamerica.com), and in the near-4,000-passenger Carnival Vista’s RedFrog Pub will brew its own beer, complete with tastings and brewery tours (from $379 for five days, carnival.com).  No matter the cruise company, take advantage of shoulder season. Cruising in November, December, January, and February is an excellent way to save, Marnell says. “Although the weather may not be as warm, you have far fewer crowds in many of the sites that you’re going to visit, so it can actually be a very, very pleasant experience.”


Why You Should Take A Windjammer Cruise

To really savor the rugged beauty of Maine's coastal scenery, consider a Windjammer Cruise, a seafaring adventure that lasts between three and six nights, departs May thru October, and is a total escape from modern life. Leave your cell phone and laptop behind because mother nature is the star of this show. You’ll be privy to dramatic seascapes as you beachcomb along Maine’s sparsely populated islands and get up-close to whales, porpoises, eagles, and other coastal wildlife. Plus, there’s no better way to partake in a genuine slice of New England’s maritime history. The Windjammer cruise experience For starters, Windjammers are eco-friendly vessels that don’t rely on fossil fuels. Treasured by environmentalists, these traditional tall ships are powered by harnessing the force of the wind. If you crave harmony with nature, few experiences are as soul satisfying. The captain and crew take their roles as stewards of the sea seriously and are passionate about preserving the pristine waterways. They strictly adhere to the “leave no trace” code of conduct, leaving each harbor or village cleaner than it was found. Life on board Passengers may help the competent crew as much or as little as they please. If there’s a sailor lurking in your soul, let the genie out of the bottle and hoist a sail, take a turn at the wheel, or help navigate. If laying low is more your style, read, sketch, or mingle with friendly fellow passengers as the salty seabreeze carries you away. When darkness falls, the glorious night sky means stargazing is the activity of choice. The rhythms of shipboard life are punctuated by three Downeast-style meals daily, ever-changing scenery, and stops to go ashore and explore the small fishing villages and eye-candy lighthouses that dot the coastline. There’s no set itinerary as the next destination is determined the old-fashioned way, by winds and tide. Meet The Fleet Each of the nine windjammers has a distinct personality, while beauty, grace, and speed unify them. They carry between 16-40 guests and 4-10 crew members, and depart from either Rockland or Camden in Maine. Some cater to families while others are better suited to adults only. There are a variety of themed specialty trips that appeal to everyone from birders to beer lovers to yogis. Life on board is about simple pleasures, so leave your designer threads at home. Snug accommodations are rustic yet comfortable. Basic resources such as food and water are precious, so wasting is a big no-no. Sailing aboard the Stephen Taber First launched in 1871, the Stephen Taber is the oldest documented sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States and a tribute to 19th century craftsmanship. I chose it for its historic attributes as well as for the sterling reputation of its fun-loving Captain Noah Barnes, his wife and partner Jane Barrett Barnes’ oenophile expertise, and for its widespread culinary notoriety. Maine’s chilly waters are overflowing with mollusks and crustaceans of every shape and size, making it a paradise for seafood lovers, plus the state’s hyper-local agricultural heritage assures the freshest seasonal produce from sustainable farms and purveyors. The food is prepared on the Stephen Taber’s back-to-basics vintage woodstove, though flavors rival those of the finest restaurant kitchens. The crew is committed to showcasing farm-to-table and boat-to-table products that are sustainable as well as delicious. A hearty breakfast includes an abundance of homespun hot dishes and freshly baked goods, while lunch leans towards full-bodied soups and fresh salads served with hot-from-the-oven bread. Wines are accompanied by a selection of farmhouse cheeses before the mouth-watering evening meal. The culinary climax of each trip is an all-you-can-eat lobster bake on a secluded beach. A splurge, but worth every penny Windjammer cruises are an excellent value. The all-inclusive price really does include everything, so except for your crew’s deserving tip at the end of the journey, you may leave your wallet at home. On the Stephen Taber, home-cooked meals, evening wine, a cozy cabin, and the priceless nautical experience can be had for $200 per person, per night. Early birds who book the Stephen Taber by March 1, 2016 will receive a 5 percent discount off the regular rate. Other schooners offer similar prices and discounts. Cabins are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, so there’s an added incentive to book early and score a primo berth.


Ready for a Room With a View?

We’ve always loved E.M. Forster’s great “travel romance” A Room With a View (not to mention the beautiful film adaptation), in which a young Englishwoman’s life is forever changed when she agrees to swap hotel rooms with a fascinating young Englishman in Florence in order to have, yes, a room with a view. We love the way that expression can mean, quite literally, a window that affords gorgeous scenery, but also the way those words can sum up a transformative travel experience. Speaking of transformative travel: River cruises have been very much on our radar lately because of the way they can broaden your cruise experience, taking you down iconic rivers such as the Rhine, the Danube, and the Mekong, and getting you up close and personal with the cultures and cuisines of the historic, beautiful cruise ports along the way. We’ve also noticed that Avalon Waterways’s unique staterooms offer, you guessed it, “a room with a view” like no other: Avalon’s Panorama Suites are 200 square feet, with 11-foot-wide and 7-foot-tall wall-to-wall windows and a bed angled so that you can get a perfect view out the window. (You can also open up your window to create an Open-Air Bbalcony, but they’re designed to work all year long, regardless of the weather outside.) Some of the Avalon river cruises we’re yearning to see from a Panorama Suite include: Essential Holland & Belgium, an unforgettable eight-day odyssey from Brussels to Amsterdam, with guided sightseeing in Antwerp, Ghent, the Keukenhof Gardens, and other must-sees; The Legendary Danube, from Prague to Budapest, with guided sightseeing in Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and other cities; and Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Mekong River, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, gateway to the stunning temple complex at Angkor Wat. TALK TO US! We’d love to hear about your river cruise experiences, especially those that have included “a room with a view”!


Got $55,000 To Burn? Try This Round-The-World Cruise!

Is all that money burning a hole in your pocket? Do you have 129 days to kill? We've got just the cruise for you! For just $54,499 per person—I know, I know, mere pocket change—you can embark on a glorious 128-night cruise around the world, dock in more than 60 ports on six continents, and visit 31 countries along the way with 499 of your new best friends.  This special bargain price also includes sweet perks like first class airfare, shore excursions, suite accommodations onboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator, as well as complimentary WiFi, meals, and beverages (except for premium-level drinks). Plus, you'd be at sea for a little over four months, so you would basically be trading in four months' rent for the same amount of time in your brand new, all-inclusive sailing apartment! On the bright side, you've got some time to start saving up, as the cruise doesn't actually depart from Miami until January 5th, 2017. As for me, I'm filing this one under "things to do if I ever win the lottery" for the time being, but it's still fun to think about. What do you think? If money was no object, is this something you would want to do?