Image: Mariachi Band on Punt
Danny Lehman  /  CORBIS
Sail to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America from just $209 — a savings of up to 77 percent off brochure rates.
updated 12/5/2008 10:55:55 AM ET 2008-12-05T15:55:55

Book by: ASAP
Travel by: Select sailings in January and February

The deal
Wave season is upon us, and as a bevy of Bahamas and Caribbean bound cruise ships hover around Florida docks, a handful of trailblazers sail the seas less traveled. Look to other southern U.S. ports, including New Orleans, Galveston, and Mobile, for scheduled sailings to Mexico, Caribbean, and Central American, featuring 5- to 7-night itineraries that don’t oft turn up on traditional cruising rosters. Cruises in January and February start from just $209 — a savings of up to 77 percent off brochure rates.

$259: 5-night Mexican family cruise from New Orleans
If you’re planning a quick family getaway, this 5-night cruise from New Orleans onboard the Carnival Fantasy may be just the ticket. With specialized areas like the “Circle C” zone for tweens, “Club 02” for teenagers, and “Camp Carnival” for little ones, there’s something special on offer for whole family. After spending a day at sea exploring the ship, the first stop is Progreso, where you can take an eco-tour of a lagoon, do a little shopping, or just kick back on the beach. The second port call is Cozumel, famous for its coral reefs and scuba diving, as well as historical Mayan sites. Interior cabins start at $259, for sailing dates beginning January 24 – that’s a whopping 74 percent off rack rates. Other embarkation dates are also available through October 2009 at slightly higher prices.

$209: Carnival Holiday 5-night Mexico voyage from Mobile
This quick 5-night cruise on the Carnival Holiday departs from Mobile January 26, with its first stop in Cozumel, Mexico, followed by the tiny port of Calica on the Mayan Riviera. Since this port is fairly new, don’t expect to find a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene: Instead, take advantage of its virgin surroundings and bask in the sun or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters.  Be sure to visit Xcaret, an eco-park where visitors can explore Mayan culture, relax in a hammock, or float down an underground river. Interior cabins start at $209, and oceanview staterooms begin at $299. Onboard spending credits of up to $500 are also available on select bookings. There are additional sailing dates available throughout 2009, starting from $239.

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$479: 7-night cruise on Carnival Conquest from Galveston
Now that the port of Galveston has re-opened after Hurricane Ike swept through the area, you can snag a deal on this 7-nighter before everyone hears the good news. The Carnival Conquest leaves from Galveston February 8, with its hull pointed towards Montego Bay, Jamaica. Here you can take in some reggae beats, or relax on a beach and adopt the Jamaican motto, “no worries.” Next up is George Town on Grand Cayman Island, a popular cruise port made famous by its Seven Mile Beach. This area is overflowing with duty-free shops and water sports, along with attractions like Sting Ray City where rays will swim along side you. The final port of call before returning to the Galveston is Cozumel, Mexico. Rates for this voyage start at $479 for interior cabins, and there are other sailing dates available throughout winter at slightly higher prices.

$449: 7-day cruise from Galveston on Royal Caribbean
Spend a day at sea on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas and sample the ship’s many themed bars and lounges, ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall, or Day Spa and Fitness Center before visiting Cozumel, Mexico. After leaving the pristine waters of Cozumel, the next stop is Roatan, Honduras where you’ll discover an island surrounded by coral reefs, a natural magnet for divers. Adventure seekers can also take a thrill ride on one of four jungle zip-lines before the ship sails on to Costa Maya, Mexico. There are two sailing dates available on January 11 and April 5, for the sale price of $449.

7-night sailing from New Orleans at up to 77 percent off
This 7-night cruise is packed with interesting ports of call, and a low starting rate of $399, to boot. The Norwegian Spirit departs from New Orleans headed for Costa Maya. From there, you’ll make your way to Santo Tomas De Castilla, Guatemala, followed by Belize City. Take a break from the beach-bumming to explore some of the many ancient Mayan sites, or wander through the city’s many shops and restaurants before floating on to Cozumel. Interior cabins are priced from $399 for sailing dates on January 11 and 18.

The dollars
All prices are per person and based on double occupancy. Accommodations, meals, some beverages, entertainment, and port charges are covered in the cost. Government fees and taxes as well as off-boat expenditures are extra.

The catch
Keeping these off-the-southern-path ports a secret for long.

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Photos: Marvelous Mexico

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  1. Tempting Tulum

    The Mayan City of Tulum, Mexico is located on the Caribbean Sea coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Ml Sinibaldi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. View from Palenque

    Tourists sit atop a pyramid in Palenque, set in the foothills of the Tumbal mountains of Chiapas Mexico. (Marco Ugarte / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Blessings in Chiapas

    A tzotzil child walks in front of the church of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. (Matias Recart / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Luxury in Puerto Vallarta

    The terrace on the Celestial Suite is seen at Hacienda San Angel in Puerto Vallarta. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Ancient stories

    This photo shows details of a Maya stone, relating the coming to power of governor Sir Jupiter Humenate and dated 613 AC, found in Tonina, Ocosingo, Chiapas. (Janet Schwartz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mexico magic

    Mexico City, the capital city of the nation of Mexico. (Diego Goldberg / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Musical Mexico

    A mariachi band play on a punt at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cool Cancun

    Cancun, Mexico is ranked as one of the top international vacation destinations. The beaches of Cancun have been completely restored following damage caused by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Travelers will find its newly renovated resorts, restaurants, beaches and attractions better and even more accessible than ever. (Business Wire) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Isla bonita

    The ferry landing on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Isla Mujeres is a tiny island mere miles from the Yucatan coast, and feels a world away from Cancun's hustle and bustle. Isla Mujeres, thriving in its own tourism, manages to maintain the feeling of a small fishing village. (Anja Schlein / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soccer and bullfights

    Estadio Azul (left), a soccer stadium; and Plaza Mexico, the world's largest bullring, in Mexico City. (Danny Lehman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Azure Cortez

    People kayak in the Bahia de Loreto National Park, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. (Terry Prichard / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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