If you're like me, you receive a dozen repetitive e-mails a week from cruise brokers and cruiselines offering one week sailings of the Caribbean or Mediterranean for $499, two weekers for $799. Cruises are undoubtedly the top vacation bargains in travel today.
But though the ships are fine, quality vessels, they are no different than what we've come to expect on an ocean cruise. They are big things carrying 2,000 passengers and more, with hokey night club acts in their auditoriums, and standard port stops where you're released from the ship from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to go hurtling from one souvenir shop to another.
The Queen Elizabeth is another matter altogether. It's the newest (2010) and most modern ship in the fleet of the Cunard Line, it carries distinguished lecturers who present profound talks, it has a big library, and the atmosphere aboard is one of relaxed elegance and conversations with impressive, intellectually-curious passengers. And this autumn, the Queen Elizabeth will be offering 12-night sailings of the Mediterranean, in inside cabins, for as litle as $999 per person.
Departures are from the port of Rome (Civitavecchia) and the ship ends each sailing back at the port of Rome (Civitavecchia). Which means that your only other major expense is for round-trip air between the U.S. and Rome. At that time of year, the major non-Italian airlines offer round-trip flights between the U.S. and Rome for about $1,049 per person, on itineraries that make one stop each way at their own gateway city en route to Rome. You fly, for instance, on Iberia Airlines to and from Riome via Madrid, you fly on Air France to and from Rome via Paris, or you fly on Aer Lingus to and from Rome via Dublin. Go to the website of any "aggregator"--like Kayak.com, Momondo.com, Do-Hop.com--and you'll find that $1,049 rate on numerous dates and flights. In fact, if you'r lucky, you'll occasionally find round-trip fares for much less--especially on Aer Lingus. Combine a $1,049 airfare with a $999 cruise and you have a fine two-week vacation for about $2,000.
Departures from Rome are on October 28 ("Greek Isles and Turkish Splendour"), November 9 ("Greek Isles & Holyland Explorer"), and November 21 ("Mediterranean Odyssey"), and you can book aboard by going directy to the website of the Cunard Line or that of the Queen Elizabeth (go to any any search engine and simply insert the words "Queen Elizabeth and the Cunard Line"). Or go to a cruise broker like Online VacatioCenter.com (800/329-9002), which probably will add free gratuities to the package you purchase.