Spring soon will be upon us, which means it's the right time to take a cruise before the high summer-season prices kick in.
Though some vacationers may shy from taking a cruise after the bad publicity generated by the recent Carnival Triumph debacle, past experience indicates the incident will have little impact on bookings or prices.
"This is not the first time has happened," said Stewart Chiron, CEO of cruiseguy.com. "There was a dip in bookings after the Costa Concordia, but no significant change in pricing for North American-based brands. There won't be any fire sales. ..."
A similar outlook is voiced by Erica Silverstein, feature editor of Cruise Critic, an independent online magazine, who said the impact is likely to be minimal. "What we've found in the past is that [these incidents] don't have much impact. In the short term, it's usually first-time cruisers who get scared off."
There are several good reasons to take a spring cruise. Fares are not only lower in this shoulder season, but with students still in school, ships may not be as crowded as in summer.
Spring also presents the opportunity to go on cruises that are offered only at certain times of the year.
In spring, for example, many cruise ships that have been based in Florida during the winter move to locales where they will spend their summers. Many relocate to Europe, others to Alaska. These one-way cruises, called repositionings, usually offer excellent fares and may call at ports not often visited by cruise ships. (They are repeated in the opposite direction in fall.)
Though time is short and fares are creeping upward, we found six good deals on late- spring sailings; many others are available.
Prospective passengers should be aware that all cruise fares are subject to change without notice and generally increase as the sailing date approaches. Fares quoted are starting prices per person double occupancy for an inside stateroom and may or may not include taxes, fees and fuel surcharges.
Best advice is to work with a travel agent, who has access to bargains, fares and fare restrictions on all cruise lines.
1. INAUGURAL SAILING
Here's a great bargain that puts together the inaugural sailing of a brand-new cruise ship with a visit to London, including air fare and a trans-Atlantic cruise. It's the initial sailing April 30 of Norwegian Cruise Lines' new Norwegian Breakaway, which will be homeported in New York City. The deal includes flight to London, two nights in a London hotel and a seven-night cruise from Southampton to New York with all the inaugural hoopla -- starting at just $1,399 a person. The 4,000-passenger Breakaway will be the biggest cruise ship based in New York City, from which it will make cruises to Bermuda and to Florida and the Bahamas.
INFO 800-700-3881, cruiseguy.com
Get away from winter's chill with a nine-night round-trip cruise to Bermuda and the Caribbean from metro New York. Departing May 2 from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas calls at Kings Wharf (Bermuda), Phillipsburg (St. Maarten), San Juan (Puerto Rico) and at the line's private beach at Labadee, Haiti. Fare starts at $1,108.55, including $159.55 in taxes and fees. Passengers also get a shipboard credit.
INFO 800-797-4635, cruisecompete.com
3. NEW ENGLAND/CANADA
It'll still be on the cool side, but Holland America will take you to some fascinating sites and cities in late spring on a seven-night cruise to New England and eastern Canada. You'll depart from Boston on the Veendam, visit Bar Harbor, Maine; Halifax and Sydney in Nova Scotia; Prince Edward Island; cruise in the only fjord in eastern North America; wind up in Quebec City. Fare is $599 for an obstructed ocean-view stateroom with third and fourth passengers in the same cabin going free, plus you'll get free transportfrom Quebec City to Montreal.
INFO 877-932-4259, hollandamerica.com
In spring, ships that have been based in Florida for the winter relocate to their summer bases, notably to Europe or to Alaska. These are usually longer voyages with many days at sea, and they are offered at remarkably low prices. One of Celebrity Cruises' newer ships, the Celebrity Silhouette, makes a 15-night trans-Atlantic crossing from Fort Lauderdale April 14 with a starting price of $559, about $40 a night. The ship will call at Coco Cay (its private Bahamas island), San Juan, St. Maarten and Madeira, winding up at Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy. Many other cruise ships also go trans-Atlantic in spring, with various departure dates.
INFO 800-278-4731, cruiseOne.com
5. ALASKA'S MARVELS
Alaska is one of cruising's most popular destinations, but in the high summer season cruises there can be quite pricey. In spring and fall, however, you can get good bargains. Princess Cruises, for one, offers an 11-night cruise (with a land component) on its Sapphire Princess departing June 4 for $1,040.06. The fare includes government fees and taxes ($141.06) and each person is eligible for a credit of $150 on air fare if the cruise is booked by March 31. Participants will visit Denali National Park during the land portion of the trip, then sail from Whittier (Anchorage), Alaska, to Vancouver, Canada, with scenic cruising at Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay and port calls at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Other ships and spring departure dates are available at similar fares.
INFO 800-774-6237, princesscruises.com
6. WINE'S THE THEME
Wine cruises combine the pleasures of vacation fun aboard a ship with palate-pleasing tastings with wine experts as well as visits to wineries ashore. Wine and Food Trails offers a 12-night cruise from Istanbul to Rome for $4,374. That's sounds like a big number, but it includes round-trip air from 12 U.S. cities, including New York and Newark (worth more than $1,000), gratuities (a $324-$444 savings) and taxes ($137), plus a $500 shipboard credit if booked by March 22. Sailing on this Two Pillars of Pinot cruise as hosts for the wine program will be the owners of two California wineries, Martinelli on the Russian River and Foxen of Santa Maria. The cruise departs Istanbul May 25 on Oceania Cruises' Riviera, a premium cruise line, and calls at Kusadesi, Turkey (for Ephesus), Rhodes, Santorini and Crete in Greece, at Sicily, Amalfi, Sardinia and Pisa in Italy, winding up in Rome.
INFO 800-367-5348, foodandwinetrails.com
For a safe cruise: tips
* Have insurance in case of trip interruption, lost or delayed baggage, missed boardings, medical emergencies, etc. Insurance offered by the cruise line may be too restrictive; get it from an independent supplier. Know that medical evacuation is extremely expensive; be sure your travel insurance covers that. Go to insuremytrip.com for options.
* Pack the following essentials in your carry-on, NOT in your checked luggage: cruise documents, air tickets, passports, cash, credit cards, medicines, jewelry, cellphones and chargers and any other valuables you can't afford to lose.
* Bring several extra days' worth of important medicines, a waterproof flashlight, first-aid kit, cellphones and charger, passport, list of important phone numbers, spare eyeglasses.
* Familiarize yourself with the location of your cabin, the nearest stairwell and the location of your muster station and how to get there. If you have children with you, make sure they have that information, also set up daily meeting times and places.
* In the rare case of an emergency, never use elevators. If you have to abandon ship, keep on your person whatever you can of your important items, such as credit cards, cash, passports and IDs, travel/medical insurance information and valuables. Wear warm clothes.