Practical Traveler: Offseason brings bargains for cruisesWritten by Judy Pfaffenberger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s talk about cruising! From talking to people, it seems that those who travel have cruised and most more than once. Of those who haven’t cruised, many say they hope to someday.
Fall is definitely “offseason” in the cruise industry until about the third week in December. If you are flexible and can go on short notice, there are certainly bargains. (Some recent examples: seven nights on the Celebrity Solstice, Oct. 31, balcony $699 + tax; Carnival Liberty, Sept 24, balcony $569 + tax.) Unless you are loyal to a particular travel agency, it is a good idea to sign up with some cruise websites that will send you weekly notices.
A website I have found to be useful is cruisecritic.com. It sends weekly listings of bargains from a variety of cruise lines with links to various agencies. There are reviews of specific cruises as well as what are called “boards” and “roll call.” You register for the specific ship and date that you are traveling, and you connect with other people who will also be on that cruise. Some of what goes on is basically small talk, but there can also be useful information and opportunities.
If you have specific questions about the ship or ports, there is often someone who will answer your questions. On my last cruise, I took three shore excursions that were organized by other cruisers on that website. The advantages were that they were less expensive than what the cruise line offered and we went in vans instead of the usual big buses.
The disadvantage is that they had to be paid in local currency instead of just putting it on the ship’s tab.
It is sometimes good to check with more than one agency for cruise prices. The cruise line sets the price, but different agencies offer different perks. The most common perks now are shipboard credits that can be used to pay tips, buy shore excursions or even purchase drinks (alcohol or soda).
After you book, check the prices occasionally before the final payment is due. If the price goes down, let your agent know and you will get the lower price.
Many people enjoy cruising but they don’t like flying to get there. New York is the closest option for driving at 600 miles one way. (Miami is 1,400 and Tampa 1,200.) Because of the large population base, New York is now the home port for a number of ships to the Caribbean, Bermuda and Canada. If you put four people in a car or six in a van, it is cheaper than flying.
Gas runs about $180; parking at the pier in Manhattan is $30 per day and $20 per day at the pier in Cape Liberty, N.J. where Royal Caribbean docks. We usually stay at a motel ($40-$80) in New Jersey on the night before the cruise. There are motels near Cape Liberty (Bayonne) where you can park free if you stay the night, with a shuttle available to the pier. If you have family or friends nearby where you can park and stay, it is an even better deal. Upon disembarking the ship, you can be home from New York by 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. if you park at the pier.
Another port that we have driven to a few times is New Orleans. It is 1,000 miles from Toledo. It does require an overnight each way unless you enjoy driving straight through. Parking is cheaper at the port than New York.
On the East Coast, you can also cruise from Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Charleston, but not necessarily on a weekly basis throughout the year.
Cruising is not the “all-inclusive” vacation that it was once touted to be, but with great and abundant food and a variety of entertainment, activities, and sightseeing, it can still be an excellent value.
E-mail travel columnist Judy Pfaffenberger at email@example.com.