By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 6/19/2009 12:17:52 PM ET 2009-06-19T16:17:52

Have you been pinching pennies, hoping to save up for a great vacation? Want to take a trip that feels decadent but in reality is a very savvy deal? Get ready to say, “aye, aye, captain,” because cruise lines are offering a buffet of amazing deals that are hard to pass up.

Last minute savings
It’s clear that consumers are shopping, but they’re also changing booking behavior as they try to stretch their dollars further. Recently, during Carnival's second quarter earnings call, the company cited that consumers are booking closer, meaning they are waiting until the last minute to book. “Consumers have come to recognize the extraordinary value proposition our cruise vacations represent,” said Micky Arison, Carnival Corporation’s chairman and CEO.

Indeed, many are holding off an actual cruise purchase hoping that fares will go even lower. Will they? Perhaps. But there’s also a risk on losing out of a good deal by waiting too long.

“If vacationers haven’t made their summer plans, it’s hard to believe that there’s still incredible deals to all of the summer hot spots, including the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexican Riviera and even Europe,” says Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert who is nationally recognized as The Cruise Guy.

Chiron has uncovered some incredible deals that are hard to pass up. A few even include airfare, hotel, and onboard upgrades. It’s important to note that the following fares are starting prices, which means they are for inside cabins. You will almost certainly pay more for an outside cabin.

Alaska on the cheap
Chiron says Alaska cruise prices have started to go up, but not before offering the lowest prices, probably ever. Higher than normal airfares to Seattle and Vancouver and the controversial $50 Alaska head tax are probable reasons that made sailing to America’s Last Frontier less attractive during these tough economic times.

Still, if you’ve ever desired to visit Alaska, summer 2009 is your best opportunity. “Cruise and extended tour prices have never been lower, especially as the peak Alaska sailing season approaches,” says Chiron. He notes that the best values are on the Inside Passage sailings from Seattle or the one way cruises from Vancouver or Anchorage, as you can plan extended vacations to include Kenai, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks at significantly reduced prices. One thing to keep in mind is that on roundtrip sailings from Seattle, U.S. citizens can still travel with only a birth certificate along with valid government issues photo identification.

Celebrity Cruises Infinity. This deal is one for the ages. The seven-night Inside Passage Alaska roundtrip from Seattle includes stops in Ketchikan, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau and Victoria. Prices, which were $2,899 per person, have been slashed to $899 per person. What makes this deal so amazing is that it includes round-trip air travel from select U.S. gateways! It’s one of the best deals ever seen for an Alaska cruise package on a premium cruise line. Get it while you can!

Caribbean and Mexico deals
Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. Thank goodness the biggest cruise ship in the world doesn’t have the biggest fares. Check out the popular seven-night Western Caribbean itinerary round-trip from Miami, which includes stops in St Maarten, San Juan and Labadee (private beach) OR Labadee, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Fares used to start at $1,749 per person; now they start at $899.

Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Liberty and Carnival Valor. Both ships offer alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises from Miami. Ports of call include Half Moon Cay (private island), St John/ St Thomas, San Juan and Turks and Caicos OR Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios. Fares that used to start at $1,769 per person are now priced at $599.

Carnival’s “new” Carnival Splendor. Carnival’s newest ship is based in Los Angeles and offers the biggest spa of any cruise ship based in the U.S. The seven-night Mexican Riviera itinerary includes stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. Fares used to start at $1,769 per person; now they start at $599.

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Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. Another great West Coast cruise option, this seven-night Mexican Riviera itinerary includes stops in, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Fares used to start at $1,799 per person; now they start at $499.

Europe deals
European cruise prices have rebounded over the past few weeks and been raised across the board on most cruise ships. Chiron says consumers should look toward the fall months for the best deals.

Norwegian Cruise Lines Norwegian Jewel. Norwegian’s “Freestyle Cruising” goes the Baltics. The line is offering 12-night roundtrip sailings from London (Dover) to Copenhagen, Warnemunde (Berlin), St Petersburg (overnight), Helsinki and Stockholm. Prices that formerly started at $3,799 per person for the cruise only now from $2,499 and includes air from select U.S. gateways!

Celebrity Cruises “brand new” Celebrity Equinox. The much anticipated follow-up to the most beautiful ship afloat, Celebrity Solstice, sister ship Celebrity Equinox is bound to be just as fabulous. The ship debuts July 31 and is offering an amazing 13-night Mediterranean itinerary from Civitavecchia (Rome) in August and September with stops in Santorini, Athens, Kusadasi (Ephesus), Alexandria (Giza, pyramids), Ashdod (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv), Haifa and Naples (Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri). Cruise-only fares were priced from $5,599 per person; now they are priced from $2,999 per person, which now includes air from select U.S. gateways, two nights hotel in Rome, and Concierge Class accommodations.

The message is clear: Don’t miss the boat with these great deals!

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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