For many cruisers and potential cruisers, that is the ultimate question! It's one that my husband and partner who has sold cruises for more than 15 years, is asked every week and depending on his answer, he can acquire a cruise client for life, or totally alienate a potential client.
The answer of course, is a broad one. A week-long cruise to the Caribbean, without air, but including all taxes and port charges can cost as little as $500 a person -- or several thousand dollars a person. The variables make all the difference: season, destination, cruise line, ship, type of cabin and cabin location.
One potential client contacted Pat last week from Australia, interested in a week aboard Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, a worthy, older Voyager-class ship. His price for a balcony cabin for the two of them was around $900 per person, and the clients seemed pleased. Then, they changed their minds. Instead of the Navigator, they wanted Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, the flashy, huge, new RCCL flagship. Of course, the price went up--more than $200 per person. And they didn't want to pay the difference. A suggestion that they might compromise their cabin and take an oceanview cabin instead of a balcony was not well received. They wanted what they wanted, and didn't want to compromise cost or cabin. Sadly, they won't be taking a cruise when they visit the USA next month.
The combination of factors that control a cruise price can be manipulated in any number of ways, but in general, if you want to take a genuinely affordable Caribbean cruise, here's the best formula:
1. Sail off season. If you can vacation in the fall, you're going to save a lot. Some people say, "No. Not fall. That's hurricane season." My response to that is, "So what?" The truth is no cruise line is going to jeopardize their multimillion-dollar investment to put a ship in harm's way. And the savings? Tremendous!
2. Compare itineraries. You might find a significant price difference between Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. It depends on what's popular this year as well as the difference in port taxes the ship is passing to land at the various ports.
3. Shop cruise lines. I can almost promise you that Carnival will be less expensive to sail than Royal Caribbean or Princess. NCL is often an excellent value, and new cruise lines can also offer bargain fares when they're trying to build clientele. An example of this is MSC Cruises. While they're well known in Europe, they are a one-ship-only newcomer in the U.S., so the MSC Divina is a great value--and a beautiful new ship.
4. Even on a single cruise line, prices vary by ship. The same seven-night Caribbean itinerary will be less expensive on the Carnival Conquest or the Carnival Glory, for example, than it will on the Carnival Breeze. Why? The Breeze is new, has a few extra features, and is in demand. The others are a bit older, might lack an amenity or two, are will be a much better value.
5. Your cabin makes a big difference. Suites cost more than balconies, which cost more than ocean-view (picture window), which costs more than portholes, which cost more than inside cabins with no view at all. Like the limbo, the question is: how low can you go?
6. And speaking of low, the lower in the ship, the less expensive the cabin within your chosen category. A balcony on deck 6 in the front or back will be less expensive than a midship balcony on deck 10. It's all up to you and what you simply must have, and therefore, what you're willing to pay for.
7. Pack 'em full! Another way to save is to put three or four people in your cabin. Carnival even has some cabins on some ships that will accommodate five. Please note: I didn't say this would be comfortable, but it is economical. The ideal number is two per cabin. Okay, maybe three. Just remember, there is only one bathroom and everyone has to shower and get ready for dinner at the same time.
8. Finally, and I think most important of all, buy your cruise from a genuine cruise agent--someone who knows the cruise lines, knows the ports, knows the ships and knows, above all, how to get you just what you want at the best price. I recommend Pat Crane's 7 Seas Cruises and once you try him, you will never consider anyone else. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-424-1090 toll-free.