If rising gasoline prices and increasing airline fares have made you reconsider your vacation plans, you may want to think about taking a cruise.
Although most people assume that because oil prices are going up, cruise prices must be, too, actually the opposite is true. Cruise prices are going down.
"The fall is off-season, and most cruise lines are offering incentives during what is traditionally the lowest time of the year. This translates into some incredible values for consumers," says Bob Dickinson, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines.
For instance, Carnival is offering passengers a saving of $600 per cabin for seven-day Caribbean cruises and $300 for its three- and four-day cruises to the Bahamas for most cabin categories. When you consider that the savings are applied to lower off-season cruise fares, that brings the cost of a seven-day cruise to as low as $795 per person and a four-day cruise to $445. (Depending on accommodations, prices can be somewhat higher.) For Caribbean cruises, these prices include round-trip air fare to Florida or San Juan from most cities east of the Rockies.
Similar savings are available on other cruise lines as well. For instance, the Holland America Line offers sailings ranging from seven and 10 days to the Caribbean to 10-day Panama Canal transits.
Many of Holland America's fall incentives come in the form of "value added bonuses," says Kirk Lanterman, president. At no ++ extra charge, passengers can choose from a seven-night Florida Drive Yourself package (a $650 value), a Disney three-night add-on, a free round-trip flight to any of 160 destinations on USAir or a $200-per-couple on-board ship credit. Holland America's seven-day Caribbean cruises, including round-trip air fare, begin at $1,149 per person, while 10-day cruises begin at $1,619.
And just to put passengers' minds at ease, such lines as Carnival and Holland America have instituted price guarantees to protect fully deposited passengers against any possible fare increases caused by fuel or air fare hikes. But cruise experts are not anticipating the need for fare increases or fuel surcharges during the fall.
"The reality is that fuel is a relatively minor expense, representing approximately 3 percent of the cost of a cruise ticket. Nevertheless, most people do not realize that, so the guarantee provides peace of mind and that's important," says Carnival's Dickinson.
If you're convinced that the price is right, but you're not sure that a cruise is for you, you should consider a short cruise.
Short cruises are the fastest growing segment of today's cruise market, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry trade association.
CLIA reports that more than 85 percent of the 3.3 million Americans who took cruise vacations in 1989 sailed for seven days or less, with an increasing number on three- and four-day trips.
"The major reason for the growing popularity of short cruises is they're the best way for first-time cruisers to sample shipboard life," says James Gordon, president of CLIA.
In addition to attracting first timers, short cruises are ideal for both business people and seasoned travelers who want to get away for a few days.
Short cruises are especially popular during the fall "off season" .. when some three-day cruises are available for under $400. They are offered on a wide variety of ships and on virtually all seven seas. There even are "cruises to nowhere" that offer a shipboard atmosphere of a gala party at sea.
Just who are the people taking shorter cruises? Contrary to common misconceptions, cruises cater to a diverse mix -- not just wealthy older people. Today, the average first-time cruiser is near 40, but the fastest growing category of passengers is in the under-35 range.
The shorter cruises actually stimulate return passengers looking for longer voyages. CLIA reports that approximately 90 percent of first-time cruisers sail again, many of them opting for cruises of longer duration second time around.
Although the cruises are short, passengers still experience the activities for which cruise ships are noted -- dining and entertainment, parties, first-run movies, casinos, shopping, saunas, sports and just plain relaxation.
Whether you decide on a long or short cruise, check with your travel agent to determine which cruise line will be best for you, what services the fare covers and what restrictions may apply.