There's nothing getting the straight scoop from travel agents who live, breathe, and talk cruises for a living. I asked a handful of travel agents for their two cents on four more questions. Here goes.
- Sherry Laskin, Owner, Vacation Shoppe (tel. 866/7-CRUISE; www.vacationshoppe.com)
- Steven Gelfuso, President & CEO, Cruise Brothers (tel. 800/827-7779; www.cruisebrothers.com)
- David Shields, Vice President, Cruise Members Only (tel. 800/999-3543; www.cruisemembersonly.com)
- Teresa Chilton, Lila Correa, and Patrick Mack, Senior Travel Consultants All-Travel (tel. 866/565-3214; www.all-travel.com/cruises)
What is the best overall cruise value between now and September?
David Shields: It's a toss-up between eastern/western Caribbean and Alaska cruises -- eastern and western Caribbean because of the huge amount of inventory sailing these itineraries and Alaska because it is one of those destinations that is either "hot or cold" and this will be the second year in a row that the destination is cold.
Sherry Laskin: NCL has some incredible rates for the early spring on the Norwegian Dawn, round-trip from New York to Florida and the Bahamas; probably the low rates are because of the cooler weather in Florida and Bahamas. Also, there seems to be a good value on most Alaska cruises, with the exception of June and July.
Steven Gelfuso: Princess Cruises' rates are low and quality is high -- the ships have nice cabins and great food and shows. Princess is the best value for the money.
Where is the best cruise value for Summer 2010: Alaska or the Mediterranean?
David Shields: Without a doubt, it's Alaska. Europe cruise prices are reasonable except for the new ships servicing the area, but what is killing Europe as a cruise destination are the sky-high air prices. Alaska is a much better deal.
Sherry Laskin: Even in June and July, Alaska seems to have lower rates than Europe. Many cruise lines are offering free air enticements for Europe cruises while not necessarily lowering the cruise fare.
Steven Gelfuso: Alaska.
Teresa Chilton: Luxury cruise lines are offering free or reduced airfare to both destinations, while large ship cruise lines are less expensive up front, but air is exceedingly expensive to Europe and Alaska at the moment. Alaska cruises from Seattle or Vancouver allow for more reasonable airfare.
Patrick Mack: For Alaska the best values are the Holland America sailings round-trip from Seattle. Europe by ship is always a better value than doing a land trip -- the draw back is you're only in each city for only a day.
Which cruise line offers the best overall value?
David Shields: Tough one to answer, but I would say there are two schools of thought. If you take the entire fleet and look at the destinations, I would have to say Princess. I do not think they are the best cruise line, but they offer the better value. Some of the other cruise lines have certain ships that have tremendous value, but also have new ships that are not a great value. The other school of thought is that some of the luxury lines are the best value because they are including everything now -- airfare, accommodations, all beverages, shore excursions, gratuities -- and they have been aggressively discounting.
Sherry Laskin: MSC Cruises, without a doubt. The newest fleet in the world has offered a seven-night Caribbean cruise for $399 to $499 per person. Children always cruise for free and the ships are among the cleanest in the industry withÂ scores of 100% on the CDC reports.Â You can't beat the price.
Steven Gelfuso: Carnival for families, as low prices for third and fourth passengers make it more affordable for families to cruise. Celebrity is a great value for couples; the ships, service and food are always top notch
Lila Correa: Regent Seven Seas offers the best overall value as the most "all-inclusive" of the cruise lines, including gratuities select wines and spirits, unlimited shore excursions, free economy air, and 2-for-1 cruise fares.
Teresa Chilton: Regent Seven Seas is all-inclusive of drinks, tips and shore excursions, and on many sailings offers 2-for-1 savings and free air. Crystal is also offering 2-for-1 savings and free air on many sailings and up to $2,000 per cabin free shipboard spending credits.
In a nutshell, what's your best booking advice?
David Shields: It depends on your lifestyle. If you are particular where you like to be located on a ship or if you like a specific ship or want to travel over a specific time period, book as far in advance as possible. If your agency is on the ball you will receive the price decreases as they occur and you will be happy with your cruise. If you are a single or if you can leave at a moment's notice wait it out as prices for singles will drop if the ship has open inventory; for passengers who have an open schedule you may receive a few extra amenities to go with your low price.
Sherry Laskin: Book 90 to 120 days out on routine itineraries. For unique itineraries, holiday sailings and trans-oean crossings, book as far out as possible for the best choice of accommodations. As it gets closer to sailing date (say 120 days out), check for a lower rate offered to residents of certain states, military personnel, police officers and senior citizen, then call your travel agent to contact the cruise line and have the rate adjusted.
Steven Gelfuso: It all depends on what you are looking for. You can book last minute for domestic cruises and non-school vacation weeks. If you are interested in cruising during major vacation weeks book at least a year in advance. For Alaska, at least 6 months to a year for the best cabin and cruise tour availability; the best cabins sell out quickly.
Of the major mainstream cruise lines, what are their strongest and weakest points?
David Shields: Celebrity High Points: Client satisfaction; certain ships offer great value, quality food and service; variety of services onboard. Low Points: Entertainment, new ships not a great value.
Holland America High Points: Client satisfaction; great small ships; quality food and service. Low Points: Older clientele on most itineraries, not a family cruise line.
Norwegian Cruise Line High Points: Low prices, some exciting ships, dining options, variety of accommodations on most ships, family oriented. Low Points: Tedious to set up dining, mass market cruise line, food and service is okay. Princess High Points: Good value pricing fleet wide, some ships have innovative entertainment, family oriented, worldwide destinations. Low Points: Food and service okay, mass market cruise line.
Royal Caribbean High Points: Family oriented, variety of entertainment, wide variety of ships to appeal to almost any client, food and service is good, variety of accommodations on most ships. Low Points: Not great for clients who like to relax, most of fleet is huge ships.
Sherry Laskin: Carnival High Points: Glitzy entertainment, size of cabins, Camp Carnival for kids.Â Low Points: Crowd management in buffet area, lack of library book selection.
Celebrity High Points: The crew somehow remembers their past passengers by name; the Celebrity orchestra and variety of live music; food; itineraries; enrichment activities; addition of Captain's Club lounge for Elite past passenger club members.Â Low points: "Instant" scrambled eggs in buffet.
Costa High Points: Size of cabins (cookie-cutter of Carnival ships). Low Points: Food.
Disney High Points: Incredible gala production shows, creatively designed ships, fabulous cabins, children's programs, great private island.Â Low Point: Food.
HAL High Points: Caters to and maintains loyal past passengers, classic maritime décor, interesting itineraries.Â Low Points: Food.
MSC High Points: Best value; well-designed, clean ships; excellent European-style entertainment; live music venues; gelato. Low Points: Service in restaurants could be improved.
NCL High Points: Most casual of all the mass market cruise lines; great specialty restaurant selections. Low Points: Specialty restaurants are so popular that they sell out very early in the cruise.
Princess High Points: Crew; use of lobby/Atrium for brief vaudeville-type entertainment; food; itineraries. Low Points: Lots of smaller public rooms without smooth flow from one to the next.
RCI High Points: Reputation for innovative shipboard activities; consistent delivery of all-around pleasing cruise experience. Low Points: Too many onboard fees for small items; i.e. ice cream, specialty coffees, room service after midnight, steak in the dining room.
Steven Gelfuso: Carnival High Points: Great for families, lots for kids to do.
Celebrity High Points: Food, shows, service.
Costa Low Points: Food.
Disney High Points: Great service and the best shows.
HAL High Points: Beautiful ships and comfortable cabins.
NCL High Points: Freestyle dining. Low Points: Service is terrible.
Princess High Points: Nice ships, great food and service.
RCI High Points: Service, shows and innovative ships.
Teresa Chilton: Celebrity High Points: Great guest service. Low points: Older ships needs a face lift.
Disney High Points: Great food, fun atmosphere, energetic service, family friendly. Low Point: High prices.
HAL High Points: Great service; upgraded linens, china, bedding. Low Points: Balcony cabins not available on one-way Alaska voyages without purchasing one of HAL's land tours.
Princess High Points: More balcony cabins than on most other cruise lines, several dining venue choices. Low Points: Food is just OK.
Patrick Mack: Disney High Points: Best cruise line in the water -- cabins and service are excellent, food is very good. Low points: Brace yourself for the price.
HAL High Points: Great cabins, great food, excellent service -- best value for a premium (not luxury) line.
Princess High Points: Good for families, good food. Low points: Small cabins, nothing spectacular.
RCI Hight Points: Great value for families who can't afford Holland or Princess and want to ice-skate and rock climb on board.
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