Set sail and save while you can

Friday, September 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

If you've thought of taking a cruise, the time to do so has never been better.

This year is seeing the largest influx of new ships since 1998, and even more are expected in 2001 and 2002. With cruise capacity growing and bookings softer than cruise lines expected, discounting is rampant throughout the industry. It's the old story of supply and demand: Supply is up, demand is down, and discounting is the way to fill the ships.

So, if you're looking for a good deal, this is the year. Next year may not be so great.

"I think the overall amount of discounting seen in 2000 will dissipate" in 2001, said Rick James, a Princess Cruises senior vice president. His recent comments to a Florida panel were reported by Travel Weekly, a national trade publication. The publication said he saw the lines promoting "more aggressive early booking discounts" as a marketing tool.

However, discounting cruise fares by one means or another should be around for a while as long as there are more staterooms than passengers. Just as the sticker price on a new car is not the final price, the list price for a cruise is not necessarily the price you will pay. Most lines already offer early booking discounts that are far below the brochure price. When shopping for a cruise, don't discount the luxury lines ­ you just may find luxury at the price of a lower-cost cruise.

While the buys on the seas are great, don't let price alone be the reason for choosing one line or ship over another. The best advice is to see a knowledgeable travel agent who can match your interests and desires with the right ship.

Many travel agencies specialize in cruises only or have a cruise department with agents who have firsthand experience on many cruises.

The savings or discounting on cruises can vary greatly. For example, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises is offering savings of up to 50percent off the second-guest fare and up to $1,000 in shipboard credits for deposits secured with a credit card at the time of booking on its Feb. 2, 2001, Grand Circle South America 58-night voyage. Passengers can choose one of four shorter segments or combine two or more segments for savings up to $17,590 per couple on the full cruise, as well as receive complimentary first-class flights.

The company also is offering two-for-one savings on fall sailings of its Radisson Diamond from Europe and on four Caribbean sailings and cruises from Tahiti.

Victory sets sail

To experience the world's newest ship, head to New York City, where the Carnival Victory offers a series of four- and five-day eastern Canada cruises. In late September, the ship will sail on one- to five-night cruises from Newport News, Va., and Charleston, S.C., followed by a program of seven-day eastern and western Caribbean cruises from Miami beginning Oct. 15.

With the introduction of the 102,000-ton Carnival Victory and its 15,000-square-foot health and fitness facility, annual spa usage on the line's 15-ship fleet is expected to top the million mark for the first time. That means 50percent of Carnival's nearly 2million annual guests are forecast to be using the health and fitness facilities.

"Exercising has become an important part of people's daily lives ­ even while on vacation ­ and the Carnival Victory was designed with health-conscious guests in mind, offering a variety of sophisticated equipment and expansive facilities, along with pampering treatments they otherwise might not indulge in back home," said Bob Dickinson, Carnival president.

For information on these cruises, see a travel agent.

Seven days with Disney

The Disney Cruise Line is offering a seven-night Caribbean cruise in addition to its three- and four-day sailings.

While the Disney Wonder will continue its land-and-sea vacations that combine a three- or four-day cruise with a three- or four-day stay at Walt Disney World, the Disney Magic will offer three days at sea and three ports of call: St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Disney's own isle, Castaway Cay.

Just as on the shorter cruises, the Magic will offer rotation dining, in which guests and waiters move from themed dining room to themed dining room. Special dinners will include "It's a Small World" with dishes from throughout the world. For adults, the Palo specialty restaurant will open for champagne brunch and afternoon tea.

During days at sea, the Magic presents a new themed approach to adult programs through conversations with experts in nautical lore, entertaining and Disney heritage. Children have 30 new programs and activities keyed to ages 3 to 4, 5 to 7, 8 to 9 and 10 to 12.

Both ships feature a visit to Castaway Cay, where the ships dock and passengers can walk ashore rather than ride a tender as on other lines; a nighttime entertainment area just for adults; nearly a deck devoted to children's programming; original Disney shows; and first-run Disney films and animated classics in the theater.