Cruise companies offer bargain prices on tickets to entice passengers aboard


May through August traditionally is the peak of the cruising season; ships are full and cruise lines can charge top dollar. But the industry has more than 100,000 berths to fill and capacity continues to outpace demand -- thus the shower of bargains for oceangoing travelers.

And come autumn, companies will continue throwing out discounts on 1993 cruises like confetti.

Many cruise lines will offer specials when introducing itineraries. Other lines will offer low fares on ships that will be pulled from service. And cruise-only agencies have deals for people with the flexibility to travel at a moment's notice.

About 4.4 million people took a cruise in 1992, an estimated 10 percent increase from the previous year, according to a recent Cruises of Distinction newsletter. But the increase in new berths outpaced the increase in passengers by 2.5 percent.

Cruise lines aiming to fill ships are touting cost-saving incentives.

Renaissance Cruises, for example, is promoting its first season in the Caribbean with two-for-the-price-of-a-single fares. Rates start at $1,495, a savings of $500; round-trip air fare from Miami is included.

Carnival Cruise Lines is losing two older ships in September and is offering low fares on remaining cruises out of Port Canaveral. A three-night Bahamas cruise aboard either the Mardi Gras or Carnivale from July through September starts at $195 per person, said Brenda Dagwell of Orlando's S.S. Just Cruises.

For travelers who can't get away this summer but are thinking about a fall cruise, booking now could save hundreds of dollars, as most cruise lines reward early bookings with substantial discounts.

Passengers could save up to $1,000 anywhere Renaissance Cruises sails with its early booking program. Book a 14-day Mediterranean cruise at least six months before sailing and receive a $1,000 discount; book a seven-day Caribbean cruise and receive a $500 discount.

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