Image: Crystal Serenity
Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises
Crystal Cruises’ 2010 108-day world cruise, on the Crystal Serenity, leaves Miami on January 11 and returns to Southampton, England, on April 29. Prices range from $90,000 to $301,300.
By
updated 6/22/2009 10:36:18 AM ET 2009-06-22T14:36:18

If you’ve got the time and the money, a round-the-world trip is one of the greatest luxuries you can treat yourself to today. ‘Today’ being the key word, since rarely has there been an opportunity to find bargains even in the high-end world of round-the-world tours.

Although some options have disappeared in the declining economy—several companies that specialized in round-the-world private jet vacations have merged, and the number of itineraries offered has shrunk significantly—you can still travel around the world by sea or air, and even customize an itinerary, if desired. And at great prices.

Cruise lines are negotiating rates, and many are offering value-added benefits like shipboard credits; unlimited, free shore excursions; and hosted cocktail parties open only to world cruise passengers.

Tours include 2010 world cruises, offered by lines such as Crystal, Cunard and Regent Seven Seas; all depart in January and range from Cunard’s 107-day itinerary on the Queen Victoria, departing from Southampton, England, to the Regent Seven Seas’ 119-night itinerary on the Seven Seas Voyager, departing from San Diego.

Starquest Expeditions, the remaining tour operator specializing in round-the-world itineraries, is selling three departures of an approximately three-week-long trip in late 2009 and 2010 (its October 2009 departure is actually sold out). Featuring air travel on a private 757 configured for just 72 passengers, the itineraries include stops in exotic places like Machu Picchu, Easter Island, Samoa, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal and Fez, among others.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, which manages 82 five-star properties in 34 countries , and Relais & Chateaux, the marketing organization for 480 small, luxury hotels and restaurants in 56 countries, both sell gift cards that can be used for a customized, round-the-world journey; Four Seasons’ is pegged at $100,000, while Relais and Chateaux’s is $50,000.

And the major airline alliances—One World, Sky Team and Star—all offer a round-the-world airfare, which allows travelers to fly on many different alliance airlines to circumnavigate the globe.

Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel International, a New York-based travel management company that specializes in high-end travel, finds world cruise passengers are no longer limited to 70-year-old-plus retirees; rather, she says these cruises also attract “successful baby boomers who treat the cruise like a sabbatical.”

Travelers considering a world cruise should compare not only the ships’ itineraries but also their size, entertainment, spa facilities, educational and culinary programs and other activities to determine which is best for them, she said.

Stevie Wooten, a sales executive at Starquest Expeditions, says her company’s round-the-world trips let participants travel easily from one remote area to another; travelers also get to visit “a smorgasbord of the world. The trips are a good way to see the world and find out where you want to go back and spend time,” she said.

In addition, Starquest mixes philanthropy with sightseeing: Through its corporate commitment to responsible travel, it provides financial support to a local charitable program or institution on most stops on its itineraries. For example, in Rwanda, it provides school supplies and funds to the SOS Children’s Village Kigali, home of 150 orphaned children, while in the Egyptian Sahara, it supports local women who make crafts and want to learn how to market them.

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