Watch for cruise deals

The Baltimore Sun

Cruise fares have fallen so sharply in recent months that travelers waiting for their ship to come in may find that it's just on the horizon and sailing toward them at full speed.

"There are some fantastic deals out there," said Emerson Hankamer, president of discount agency Vacations to Go. "They're the lowest prices I've ever seen."

Many cruise experts agree that 2007 is shaping up as a banner year for budget travelers, with some trips costing as little as $55 to $70 a day - a surprisingly low figure, given that cruises include a cabin, meals, entertainment and other amenities.

But you have to choose the right itinerary. "If you can still find a cabin for a Mediterranean cruise this summer, you're lucky," said Jamie Hoff of Montrose Travel.

"South America, Asia, other unusual itineraries - they're all booking way in advance," said Filomena Andre of Signature Travel Network.

You will find it in the Caribbean and in the Pacific. The jury's still out on how expensive Alaska will be this year.

But the big loss leader for the industry is the Caribbean, and that means deals abound. Carnival Cruise Lines has already had two one-day sales featuring Caribbean voyages. Among the bargains: a four-day cruise for $299, including a shipboard credit of $50.

Royal Caribbean is also slashing prices, especially on shorter Caribbean cruises.

It's not clear why the Caribbean has lost favor with the public. Some say cruisers, who often get their sea legs in the Caribbean, are tired of the destinations.

Another theory blames the hurricanes of 2005; still another pins the problem on the new passport rules, which have confused travelers. (U.S. travelers by ship don't need a passport until 2008.)

Another blames economics.

"There are so many ships in the Caribbean that cruises there are mass-marketed to people with family incomes of $50,000 to $75,000 annually," said Michael Driscoll, editor of the industry newsletter Cruise Week. "These people have been affected by rising gas prices and problems with the housing market."

Rosemary McClure writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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