The cruise lines are all dressed up with plenty of places to go, but they still need some more dance partners. And they are prepared to use all their wiles to get more people to join them out on the floor — er — make that, out to sea.The bargains and values on cruise vacations have never been more impressive, especially for itineraries later this year as the cruise lines look to fill berths during the fall and early winter when the family-travel market is in its school-days lull. The ships will sail, and the cruise lines know they are going to have to be aggressive to fill them.
Although demand has been dampened by the worldwide recession, cruising has never had more to offer, in terms of both hardware and itineraries, both of which have been polished and refined to a high luster.
Certainly, the gleaming ships provide resort-style services and amenities. Nowhere is that more true than on the Freedom of the Seas, one of Royal Caribbean’s mammoth flagships, which will be making for the Caribbean out of Port Canaveral this fall. A destination unto itself, the three-year-old Freedom keeps everyone happy and entertained and well fed with a what-will-they-think-of-next assortment of activities, amusements, eateries and public spaces. Somehow, Royal Caribbean has created the largest cruise ship, equipped it with the most toys, and yet managed to create an experience that doesn’t feel crowded while maintaining a personalized service standard.
And if you like to sail on ships while they still have that new-car smell, Costa Cruises has a couple of fresh models for your consideration: Costa Luminosa and Costa Pacifica, both introduced this spring. Fully loaded with an elegant array of bells and whistles, including a retractable roof over the top deck pool on the Pacifica, these ships are offering a variety of European and Mediterranean itineraries. And part of the appeal of a vacation with Costa Cruises is the mix of European and U.S. travelers on holiday, providing a unique and fun cultural experience, even when the ship is at sea.
Another attractive European option, Azamara Cruises, a sister company of Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean, has packaged land tours with dozens of its Mediterranean cruises. For instance, one itinerary has the Azamara Journey boarding passengers in Istanbul on Oct. 3 and departing a day later; it can be combined with four days of touring Neveshir, Ankara and the surrounding regions of Turkey. The land portion of the vacation adds a fulfilling dimension of history and culture to the vacation.
For those looking for a more seasonal destination, Canada/New England itineraries are perfect for some bracing weather and brilliant fall foliage. Running from one to two weeks, these cruises skirt New England and enter Quebec, typically making stops in Boston, Montreal, Bar Harbor, Halifax and Quebec City. The schedules are designed so that there’s plenty of time for a Maine lobster dinner and for poking around historic cities and quaint fishing villages. With two ships on this route, the Maasdam and the Eurodam, Holland America Line spices the trip with visits to rocky and rugged Quebec’s Gaspé, where guests may see roaming herds of caribou and elk or eagles and puffins sharing protected coves.
Providing a bit more of a temperate climate, Panama Canal cruises are also abundant in the fall, and this continues to be a trip worthy of repeating several times. Princess Cruises is offering five canal departures each month this fall: a weeklong roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale aboard the Island Princess and 15-days one-way connecting Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. Of course, the canal itself is an amazing experience, but the trip also provides access to beautiful and historic ports of call in Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean where you’ll find turquoise waters and white-sand beaches, coral reefs and tropical forests, exotic wildlife, colorful histories of pirates and adventurers and fascinating national treasures.
It’s been the opinion here for quite some time that a cruise vacation provides the best overall travel value. Given the bargains and savings available through the end of 2009, combined with the quality of the ships and the diversity of the itineraries, that belief has only grown stronger.