Looking to cruise? Book trip now Be wary of baseline prices, cost add-ons

By  / Monitor columnist

If you’re thinking of cruising during the 2013 “wave season” (January-March) and haven’t booked yet, you’re on the cusp of being late. Are you putting off booking because you think last-minute deals will pop up or you’re nervous about hidden costs?

Bud and I booked our February 2012 Caribbean cruise about this time last year and just made it under the wire for some of the worthwhile promotions. We hadn’t cruised since 2006 and found that the landscape has changed a bit.

Pricing and the industry: Not surprisingly, the principle of supply and demand has an impact on cruise pricing. If you want to go where everybody else is going on the ships that everybody else likes, chances are you’ll have to pay. And guess what?

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, which represents the top 26 cruise lines around the globe, the Caribbean is by far the top destination around the world with about 34 percent of the total cruise market. In fact, since 2006, deployments in the Caribbean are up 13.5 percent, about double the growth in the next most popular geographic area, the Mediterranean.

Visit the market research section of CLIA’s website (cruising.org) for fascinating details on all the new ships being launched over the next few years – adding an additional 20,000 beds to the existing 340,000 beds currently at sea.

Your favorite line is sure to have a new ship or two in the works. Oh, did I mention that the vast majority of cruisers are Americans?

Pricing and you: Not being dumb, cruise lines are putting their ships where the market is, so the number of ships in the Caribbean during wave season is growing every year.

This leads to competition and downward pressure on pricing. Each line wants to be the most attractive in its niche, whether it be family cruising or luxury cruising. The result is a tendency to advertise base prices that appear incredibly low – but wait! Since Bud and I last cruised, more and more items and amenities have been pulled out of the base price.

It used to be you could bring your own wine and alcohol on board, paying a small “corkage” fee ($6 to $8) for opening your wine at meals. No more. Cruise lines have restrictions and surcharges to capture the maximum revenue from alcohol sales.

Many ships now include just a few dining areas in the base price, and charge hefty fees for “specialty” restaurants. Even at meals, some nonalcoholic beverages have an extra charge. The key is to know the policies before you go. Lines are all different, but in general the more they appeal to the mass market (say Carnival or Norwegian Cruise Line) the more surcharges you’ll find. Luxury lines like Azamara, Seaborne or Crystal include much more (often alcohol, airfare and even excursions), but have base prices that are double, triple or more. Browsing cruisecritic.com helps decipher your choices.

Cost control: Begin with a realistic assessment of how you like to cruise and be wary of sales. Do the math and do it before you book. Cruise line websites have details on ship-sponsored excursions, but you can often save money, time and have a better experience by booking yourself (visit cruisecritic.com or Google itinerary ports).

Contact the cruise line itself for a baseline, then compare prices/inclusions on websites like CruiseExpertBob.com – but don’t forget full-service agencies like Cruise Brothers (CruiseBrothers.com, 800-827-7779) or CruiseExpertBob (CruiseExpertBob.com, 888-278-7776) for personal advice and access to potential additional specials.

Leave a Comment