Royal Caribbean International
While the cruise industry adds ships and passengers at a record-setting pace, base prices in mainstream and luxury categories should stay relatively similar for the 2018 season to what they were for the 2017 season. Add to this the fact that meals, kids’ clubs, entertainment and a higher level of service still are part of the fare that you pay, and you have the opportunity to get good value from a cruise vacation.
PRICE IS RIGHT. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) indicates that new ships for 2018 will add capacity for more than 29,500 passengers across the industry. According to Sally Black, who is a travel agent who specializes in cruises and family travel, this means that prices for the 2018 cruising season should remain stable and even might drop a bit.
Previously, our research indicated that any cruise that cost less than $100 per day was a bargain. Today, many entry-level options on mainstream ocean-going cruise lines still hover around the $100-per-day plateau. Two examples that have comparable amenities that we found in July 2017: A 3-day Bahamas cruise from Miami aboard the Norwegian Sky starts at $329 per person, or about $110 per day; and a 7-day Alaska cruise from Seattle aboard the Carnival Legend starts at $874 per person, or about $125 per day.
Mainstream cruise companies would like you to believe that pricing is more “inclusive” today than it was before, with sizeable discounts on amenities to which travelers are partial: all-you-can-drink alcohol or soda, dining at specialty restaurants and a select number of shore excursions. Experts, however, say cruise fares actually are less inclusive than ever before.
“Beyond the basic fare you pay, on many ships, particularly larger mainstream vessels, there are so many more ways to reach into your proverbial wallet,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, who is the editor of Cruise Critic. “Expenses for casino gambling, spa treatment, gratuities, cocktails and shore excursions have always come on top of the cruise ticket. Now, there are alternative restaurants and coffee bars and tons of shops, as well as special events, such as wine tastings and fitness classes.” All of that costs extra. Depending on what you buy, it could add thousands of dollars per person per trip.
The luxury market tells a different story. Although ticket prices for this segment are higher, of course, Brown says consumers legitimately get more bang for their buck, from airline tickets and precruise hotel rooms that are included in the price, to open bars and complimentary shore excursions. A 12-day Caribbean cruise on the all-suite Seabourn Odyssey starts at $3,499 per person, or about $292 per day. A 7-day Alaska cruise from Vancouver, Canada, on Silversea’s Silver Shadow starts at $4,000 per person, or about $571 per day. A 7-night Mediterranean cruise from Athens aboard the all-suite Crystal Esprit starts at $5,295 per person, or about $756 per day.
Brown says that depending on when you book, discounts large and small still might be available. Some cruise lines report that they’ll offer last-minute deals, so they can fill cabins, but our research indicates that a significant amount of fare fluctuations will exist throughout 2017 for travel during the 2018 season. For the best price, the adage is true: Book as early as you possibly can. Most cruise lines publish schedules that are 2 years in advance and allow bookings that are up to 18 months in advance. Early-bird bookings typically are the best option for you to get a deal.
PORTS OF CALL. For U.S. customers, many of the typically popular cruise destinations remain strong. The Bahamas, the Caribbean and Hawaii reported record numbers for the 2016 season, and growth is expected to continue in 2017 and beyond. Black says that despite the increased demand, prices should remain the same or drop slightly in the coming years because of the increase in the number of cruises and new ships that are being ordered.