Friday, June 5, 2009

Cruise Travel: Economic Realities

When America's economy began its slide in a downward spiral, someone in the media coined the dreadful term, "stay-cation" to describe how we'd be spending our vacation time and dollars in the coming months, if not years. In other words, we'd stay home. Even assuming that you have a swimming pool, hot tub, and sun deck in your back yard, is that how you want to spend your valuable time? No, I didn't think so.

If you're like many avid travelers, particularly those who choose a cruise as their preferred vacation style, you are looking forward to your next trip. It might not be as soon as usual, as long as you'd normally like, or to an exotic, far-flung destination, but you're planning to go somewhere. You may be watching the newspaper or the Internet for the best deals and planning accordingly, but the bottom line is that you're planning. And you're booking cruises at far lower fares than you'd normally expect.

Just this week Norwegian Cruise Line revealed that demand for its largest ever Freestyle Cruising vessel Norwegian Epic skyrocketed in the first week that the ship’s itineraries went on sale to the public, beginning May 21st. In fact, Norwegian Epic’s first week of bookings far exceeded opening week sales for the company’s last two new ships: Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem. All categories of staterooms were in demand, from the groundbreaking new Studios for the value-conscious traveler to the ultra luxurious villas, penthouses, and deluxe owner’s suites. While prices started from $699 per person, based on high demand, fare increases are already taking effect on some of the more popular sailings.

At the other end of the cruise line spectrum, luxury line Silversea Cruises achieved the highest call volume day in its 15-year history on May 26th. The single-day record occurred during a 3-week period when bookings surged nearly 150% compared to the same period last year. Additionally, the average call volume for May was up almost 40% in comparison with April 2009. While the line is currently offering 50% savings on all suite categories for over 50 worldwide voyages, has recently expanded its popular $1,000 Onboard Spending Credit offer to 70 sailings in 2009, and free or specially priced airfare is available on select voyages, the fares are far from cheap by most standards. Even with air and other perks included, you'll still pay $3,497 per person for a Greek Isles sailing between Istanbul and Athens this fall.

It's clear, though, that cruisers—from mainstream to luxury—are looking for bargains and finding them. Cruise travel, even at the high end, is one of the best bang-for-your-buck vacation options available.

When the going gets tough, the tough go cruising.

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