Why You Should Consider a Shoulder-Season Cruise
Shoulder season, n.
1. A brief period when weather conditions and travel costs fall between the highs of high season and the lows of low season.
2. In other words: nice weather, fewer crowds, great prices.
3. Start packing.
There is no off-season in the cruise world, at least there's not supposed to be. That's why twice a year, in early spring and late fall, cruise lines move their fleets—from Alaska to the Caribbean, say, or from the Mediterranean to the Middle East—to ensure that it's always sunny (or at least warm) on deck. Ten years ago, these "deadhead" sailings rushed from one high-season destination to another, often without passengers. Now slowed down and known as repositioning cruises, they have become a leisurely genre for folks in search of unusual itineraries.
You'll spend fewer days in port than on a traditional cruise—speed is still paramount, after all—but the trips are hardly bare bones. Lines often add special guest lectures and performers to keep passengers from going stir-crazy—Carol Channing sang on a Royal Caribbean repositioning cruise in 2009. And the reduced rates will give you a warm feeling, even if it is a tad chilly outside.
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National Cruise Vacation Week Brings Fare Deals
This month you're probably thinking foliage and Halloween, not cruises. But the cruise lines are hoping to change that, declaring this month National Cruise Vacation Month. Yes, that's a marketing effort, so why do we care? Because during National Cruise Vacation Week, Oct. 17 to 23, a whole bunch of fare deals will be offered through travel agents in what's being billed as "The World's Largest Cruise Sale." If this sounds familiar, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry's main marketing group, used to promote with a 24-hour sale. Last year the agents sold $47 million in cruises during the month-long promotion, according to Bob Sharak, executive vice president of CLIA. This year the sale may be tougher with cruise passengers, like other travelers, tightening their belts due to economic uncertainty. But there will be temptations during the sale week including discounted fares, two-for-one deals, onboard spending credits (that you can use for things like drinks), spa credits (that you can use for a massage) and more. The offers apply to both ocean and river cruises in 2012, and in some cases beyond. So what kind of savings are we talking about? As a sampling, those booking a Celebrity cruise will receive a $50 to $150 onboard credit, the offering applying to nearly every sailing between Jan. 1, 2012 and Apr. 30, 2013. Italian line Costa is promoting fares from $749 for select 10-day sailings and from $399 for weeklong cruises. And Avalon Waterways is discounting select European river cruises by up to $1,000 per person on some dates. More than 4,900 agencies have signed on to do physical events during the sale week such as cruise nights — your agent invites you to a party to hear about cruises — and virtual events online, according to CLIA. A special CLIA web page has been set up to help those who don't have an agent find one. More from Budget Travel: News for Solo Cruisers Is Cruising All-Inclusive? Would You Prefer an Unlimited Drinks Package on a Cruise?
News for Solo Cruisers: NCL Building More Singles Cabins
Norwegian Cruise Line will introduce more of its popular Studios cabins for solo passengers when it launches its two newest ships in 2013 and 2014, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, respectively. That comes as good news for singles looking for affordable pricing. Cruise line fares are typically based on two people in a cabin, with single travelers often getting stuck with a double tab. NCL sought to address the issue last year when it introduced The Studios, a highly innovative complex of inside cabins for solo travelers on its 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic. We're not talking rock bottom pricing — on Epic for a weeklong Eastern Caribbean cruise this winter you'll pay from $839 to stay in The Studios. But that's still better than doubling a $599 fare for a standard inside. As on Epic, The Studios on the new 4,000-passenger ships will be located in their own private-entry complex, albeit smaller, with 59 cabins each on Breakaway and Getaway (compared to 128 on Epic). The 100-square-foot cabins on all the ships share a hip design by London-based Priestmangoode that includes faux portholes in the door, which help to give the illusion of more space; full-size beds; deconstructed bathrooms (sink, shower and enclosed toilet are all separate); and colored, controllable LED lights that allow you to set the mood. Most of the cabins connect, for singles traveling with friends. Private keycard access also gets passengers staying in the complex into The Studio Lounge, a comfy, two-deck space with a bar where singles can mix and mingle. More from Budget Travel: Your Money-Saving Cruise Questions Answered Confessions of a Cruise Ship Magician Trip Coach: Solo Travel
Butt out! Cruise ship no-smoking zones expand in a big way
The number of places where it's OK to smoke on a cruise ship is shrinking: Increasingly, passengers aren't even allowed to smoke inside their cabins. This winter, smokers on cruise ships won't be able to light up in quite as many spots as they used to. At least four cruise lines have announced they are adjusting their smoking policies, and all of them designate cruise cabins as strictly non-smoking areas. The lines are: Carnival, which restricted smoking in certain public areas in June, and which is prohibiting smoking in staterooms as of December 1, 2011. Norwegian, which as of January 1, 2012, will ban smoking in all indoor spaces with the exception of the casino. Smoking is prohibited inside cabins, though smoking (of cigarettes only, not cigars or pipes) will be allowed on the outside balcony of balcony staterooms. Holland America, which is designating staterooms non-smoking areas starting on January 15, 2012. Smoking will be OK, however, outside on stateroom verandahs. Princess Cruises, which is prohibiting smoking in staterooms or balconies as of January 15, 2012. While all four of these cruise lines are making their smoking policies more restrictive, that's not to say that they are the most restrictive lines out there. A Cruise Critic post offering a comprehensive overview of cruise ship smoking policies reveals that many cruise lines already ban smoking in cabins. And the most restrictive cruise line of all? That award goes to Oceana Cruises, which allows smoking in just a handful of places on ships. Anyone busted smoking in a non-smoking area faces serious disciplinary action as well, including being forced to disembark at the next port of all, and possibly additional fees to cover damage or cleaning costs related to the offense. As for cruisers who'd like to smoke like chimneys, Cruise Critic recommends Pullmantur, a Spain-based cruise line with sailings in the Mediterranean that allows smoking nearly anywhere and at any time -- even during massages or in between courses at ship restaurants. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: See who was voted World's Best Cruiser Confessions of...a Cruise Ship Musician Ask Trip Coach: Ocean Cruising
Some cruise lines take the "all" out of "all-inclusive"
The days of all-inclusive cruises including the cost of all of your meals seems to be vanishing. For a few years now, cruise ships have been offering "premium" dining at a higher price. ("Want a steak dinner? Splash out for a night at a higher price.") But in 2011, a mania for up-charging for meals may be kicking into gear. Case in point: Royal Caribbean International (RCI) has bumped up its fees for a couple of its so-called "premium" restaurants: Rita's Cantina and the Seafood Shack on Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas. Passengers used to pay $8 for meals at Rita's Cantina, for instance. They'll now pay a fee of $3 to dine at the restaurant and then pay a price for each item ordered a la carte, too. The 15 percent gratuity isn't included either. (A tip of the hat to Cruise Critic for breaking this story.) The first absurdity here, I think, is that cruise company RCI considers Rita's Cantina and Seafood Shack to be "premium restaurants." Rita's Cantina and Seafood Shack serve the type of food that ought to be included in the "all-inclusive" price in the first place. The menu at Rita's Cantina includes such glamorous items as chicken tacos ($2) and taco salad ($3), while Seafood Shack goes all fancy with a basket of grilled jumbo shrimp ($7). Cruise Critic says that these changes amount to a price hike, noting that a meal with guacamole, a quesadilla and grilled chicken that cost $8 in the winter now costs $11.25. But, of course, that's because there's now ultra-premium restaurants, like Chops Grille. I'll agree that Chops Grille, with its selection of prime rib and lobster dishes, counts as a premium restaurant. I also agree that it's nice to have the option of splashing out on a fancy meal during a cruise. I'm willing to pay an extra cost for the meal, which is now $30 per person (a fee hiked by $5 this year). Yet the danger here is that all cruise lines will begin to serve sub-standard food in their main dining rooms. After all, by making the dining hall experience less attractive, a company can make more money by upselling customers on fee-based meals elsewhere on-board. I don't mean to pick on RCL, which offers an outstanding cruise experience overall. That corporation just happens to have been the latest one to do this. Another example from this summer: Norwegian Cruise Lines has put into place a $4 fee for late night room service. Room service used to be free. Royal Caribbean instituted this fee about two years ago. In another twist, if you order a pizza to your room on Norwegian, you'll pay $5 at any time of day. Is it just me? Or do you, as a traveler, mind these meal-related charges, too? Do premium restaurants and per-person charges allow cruise lines to broaden the range of food experiences on their ships? Or are they nickel-and-diming passengers? Let us know by posting a comment. Thanks! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Why Cruise Ships Almost Never Stay in Port Overnight (20+ comments) Mega-Cruise Smackdown (We pit Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas against Norwegian's Epic) Confessions of a... Cruise Ship Musician Want that Towel? You Have to Pay $2.40