Fuel surcharges aside, amazing discounts exist

The Baltimore Sun

For a winter cruising forecast, we tapped the expertise of Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic.com, the Web's largest interactive guide to cruising. The site covers nearly 300 cruise ships and more than 60 cruise lines. Here is an edited version of our discussion.

What will cruise pricing look like for this winter and into 2009?

What we are going to see ... in fact, what we are already seeing in the last month ... are absolutely amazing discounts. Most people buy cruises a fair amount of time in advance. Then the downturn happened and people stopped buying or became more careful. So on our site, we have seen a lot more deals and a greater variety of deals. It's a fantastic value vacation. And that's not hyperbole. We're seeing $399 and $499 for seven-day cruises on new ships. That's crazy ... crazy good for the consumer.

Will there be a fuel surcharge on top of those prices?

Yes, but, in most cases, it's fairly reasonable, usually $10 to $15 a day. It's different for every cruise line, so the challenge is to read the fine print. I don't see that going down just because gas prices are going down. I think we are stuck with that for a while.

What's on the horizon?

I keep saying Asia is going to be the next popular region for cruise travelers who are interested in more exotic destinations, and I'm curious to see if the Beijing Olympics will, via its coverage of China destinations, result in a boom.

What are good cruise lines for the solo cruiser?

Two of the best are Crystal on the higher end, which offers specials where you pay 125 percent (instead of 200 percent, or double), and Fred.Olsen, which is just now marketing to the United States. The Queen Mary 2 will be offering some good incentives to solo travelers. And other lines do have sales.

At Fred.Olsen, ... they actually have single cabins. They are sometimes the same size as a double, but with one bed. The idea is to make people who are traveling solo not have to look at this big empty bed.

What's the best stateroom to book?

I think the best cabin has to be any cabin with a balcony. That's like a whole other room. There is nothing like sitting out having coffee in the morning, watching the sunset in the evening, opening the door and having the air coming through. That's something an on-land resort can't touch.

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