By Mitch Lipka
NEW YORK, March 8 In the wake of the terrible
tale of the stricken Carnival Triumph - and a Royal Caribbean
Cruises Ltd ship hit with norovirus in the news Friday -
the cruise industry is delivering deep discounts and lots of
extras. Potential travelers, with images of crippled ships and
sickened passengers fresh in their minds, have a few things to
consider before they jump at deals.
But even some of those who were on the ill-fated Triumph are
having a hard time not cashing in. Travel agent and cruise
blogger Jill Noble, 43, was aboard the Triumph and had an awful
time. That didn't stop her from taking the free cruise and $500
credit she got for her ordeal and applying it toward a cruise
she had previously booked. She also renegotiated the overall
price based on a huge fare discount in Carnival's latest sale,
which she says had price drops of up to $400 per cabin when the
norm in a sale is $200-$250.
Noble now has four upgraded cabins for her extended family
for a cruise from Galveston, Texas, to Belize and Mexico in
"It was awful," she says. "But I'm ready to get back on the
Much of the discounting right now actually has little to do
with distressing headlines. It is "wave season," as it is known
in the industry, a time from January through March when sales
and incentives are plentiful. There is also increased
competition among cruise companies. That's because of the
addition of more than a dozen new ships in 2012, giving them
nearly 18,000 more beds to fill, according to the Cruise Lines
International Association, a trade group.
While it's too soon to say whether the image of overflowing
toilets while stranded at sea will, by itself, drive down
prices, history does indicate that cruise lines counter bad
publicity with good deals. "These type of incidents do give a
lot of people pause, and this just sort of accelerates some of
the values we were already anticipating," says Gabe Saglie,
senior editor for the deal site TravelZoo.com.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Consumers should look for deals involving the cruise lines
paying passenger gratuities (worth $200 or so per cabin),
tossing in credits toward excursions (typically $200 or so),
upgrades to better cabins, decreasing the required deposits and,
periodically, price discounts, says Saglie.
"Between now and the end of March may end up being one of
the best times to scout out and lock in the best prices and a
bevy of other extras. Carnival has the most to gain by doing
that," says Saglie.
Carnival Corp spokesman Vance Gulliksen says the
company can't discuss what impact the Triumph episode could have
on pricing because it is publicly traded. Carnival has already
told investors to brace for a decline in anticipated revenue
because of taking the Triumph off-line.
Cruise experts say the best deals they've been seeing are on
cruises to Alaska and in Europe. Cruise lines are still pushing
to gain passengers not only due to the 2012 Costa Concordia
disaster but also expensive air travel from North America to
Europe. There are also plenty of opportunities to sail around
For travel in May, Alaska cruise prices start at $449 per
person for a week in an inside cabin sailing from Vancouver,
British Columbia, aboard the Norwegian Sun, owned by Norwegian
Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. The same room kicks up to
$679 in mid-July. All sailings include offers of subsidized
airfare, shipboard credits and excursion discounts.
Other recently offered deals: an 11-day cruise from Miami to
Barcelona starting at $399 per person for an inside room and
$649 for a balcony cabin. Carnival is promoting off-season
winter cruises, offering a four-day sailing from Miami to
Cozumel, Mexico, next January starting at $189, and an eight-day
Bahamas cruise that leaves from New York in December with rates
as low as $389 per person.
THE FINE PRINT
Cruise ship prices are typically stated as per person, based
on double occupancy, and typically include all meals, on-ship
activities and entertainment. The cheapest fares are for inside
cabins without views and rise for cabins with views, balconies
or an expanded room or suite.
Most cruises also allow passengers to cancel without penalty
before their final payment is due - usually 60-75 days ahead of
the sailing - which also gives them a chunk of time to watch
sales and see if they can apply those discounts or upgrades to
an already scheduled trip, as Noble did. Last-minute deals will
require a full payment, but you can also find offers to upgrade
from an inside cabin to an outside one for free or a nominal
Prices are quite similar from website to website, says
Geraldine Ree, senior vice president of sales and marketing for
Expedia CruiseShipCenters. What varies are the relationships
between the travel companies and the cruise lines. One site
might be offering more significant incidentals, say, such as
prepaid gratuities or credits toward excursions, she says.
Arabella Bowen, executive editorial director for Fodor's
Travel, recommends signing up for various cruise line
newsletters, as well as those offered by travel discounting
sites, so you can get alerted when a new deal is offered.
Booking early and booking late both have their advantages.
Last-minute booking opens the door to deep discounts, but only
for the traveler with the flexibility to go with the flow. For
those who know when and where they want to go, it's particularly
important to book several months or even a year in advance, Ree
Booking further in advance - six months or more - and
hitting the off-season of May or September can provide both the
best prices and the best chance to book a cabin in the part of
the ship you want.