Bargain rates for cruises to Caribbean

January 28, 2007|By Arline and Sam Bleecker | Arline and Sam Bleecker,Tribune

Cruise lines are having trouble filling cabins in the Caribbean this season.

That's good news for you. In fact, this may be the best time to nab a bargain.

"It's been a challenging environment in the Caribbean," said Howard Frank, Carnival Corp.'s vice president and chief operating officer, in a conference call to financial analysts.

The hardest hit, he said, were the shorter three-, four- and five-day cruises.

To prop up corporate coffers, Carnival Corp. is aggressively cutting prices for its fleet of ships in the Caribbean, Frank said.

Cruise specialist Rick White of White Travel summarizes the seascape this way: "As to the current state of Caribbean cruises for this season, it is definitely a buyer's market."

From responses to a poll of travel agents by industry newsletter Cruise Week, it appears bookings are not improving, either, and the pressure on prices should continue for a while.

While Frank blames a slowing economy for slow bookings, White thinks it's over-capacity. "There are just too many beds sailing to the Caribbean at the same time," he said. "There was probably a need for one more ship in the Caribbean; unfortunately, 10 lines built the ship."

Indeed, Carnival Corp. alone added, in total, 5 percent more berths to its North American fleet last year as a consequence of its own building boom.

Since growing onboard revenues has become a larger source for the corporate purse, says White, lines can't afford to sail with empty beds.

"The result is a very, very low price on Caribbean cruises, at least if you book your cruise through a `savvy' cruise broker," White says.

Before bargains dry up, consider these Caribbean deals that were available at press time. They include:

Celebrity's Constellation, 11 nights from Cape Liberty, N.J., to Fort Lauderdale, Nov. 5, from $689.

Holland America's Maasdam, 10-night round-trips from Fort Lauderdale, in November and December, from $649.

Holland America's Zuiderdam, seven-night Caribbean cruises round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, in October, November and December, from $479.

Princess' Crown Princess, seven nights from New York to San Juan, Oct. 20, from $329.

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Spirit, eight nights round-trip from New York, February through August, from $489.

Arline and Sam Bleecker are freelance writers for Tribune.

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