Whether you're an experienced cruiser or a newbie, we all have one thing in common: We're on the lookout for that knockout, can't-miss cruise of a lifetime — that we can actually pay for.
For a lot of us, that means we want to sail somewhere rich in natural beauty or history (or both!); enjoy living, playing, and eating on the ship itself; and bring home great stories and souvenirs. If that can be wrapped in a neat weeklong package for under $1,000, we'd call that a smashing success.
So, what's your dream cruise? We identified three categories that get most travelers' adrenaline buzzing: a string of knockout Mediterranean ports of call, venturing up Alaska's Inside Passage to see glaciers, and, of course, sailing to the Caribbean's inviting ports and beaches. But when you start wading into the sea of cruise itineraries, styles, and prices, those dreams may start to feel out of reach. We turned to some experts to ensure smooth sailing.
"Mediterranean cruises are popular from early spring through the late fall, and you can find cruises that include memorable ports like Barcelona, Istanbul, or Santorini," suggests Linda Garrison, About.com expert on cruises. "You can definitely find a seven-day cruise for less than $1,000." (Airfare to a European cruise port like Barcelona is another matter, of course, and part of your Mediterranean cruise planning may have to include using some frequent flier miles to get you across the pond.) "This year, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Costa Cruises, and MSC Cruises have the most seven-to-12-day Mediterranean cruises selling for less than $1,000 per person in an inside cabin," Garrison notes. "The Norwegian Epic sails from Barcelona for seven days and visits Naples, Rome, Florence, Cannes, and Mallorca."
The Mediterranean also raises the possibility of adding a continent to your collection of passport stamps: "The MSC Splendida, which sails from Barcelona for seven days, not only visits Marseille, Genoa, Naples, and Sicily, but also La Goulette, Tunisia — in North Africa," Garrison says. To explore a little farther east, the Costa Fascinosa sails round-trip from Venice to ports of call in Italy, Croatia, and the Greek isles.
"Mediterranean cruises are popular from early spring through the late fall, and you can find cruises that include memorable ports like Barcelona, Istanbul, or Santorini."
And you can save even more money by sailing in the off-season — either early spring or late fall: "The Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Spirit sail 10-, 11-, and 12-night cruises of the Mediterranean in November or December 2014 starting at $999 or less. Imagine boarding the Norwegian Spirit in Barcelona, stopovers in Italy, Greece, and Turkey, then disembarking in Venice 12 days later!" If you're willing — and able — to pay a little more ($1,149), you can even get an inside stateroom on Cunard's fabled Queen Elizabeth for the seven-night Pearls of the Adriatic cruise, embarking from Rome and visiting the ports of call Corfu, Kotor, and Dubrovnic before disembarking in Venice this June.
Chillin' in Alaska
If weather predictions hold true, El Niño may mean that 2014's exceptionally cold winter may be followed by an exceptionally hot summer. The cure for the summertime blues? Head north — way north. "Alaska can be expensive," cautions Garrison, "but at least five cruise lines are sailing to Alaska on seven-night cruises during the months of May through September for less than $1,000 per person, including Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean."
In some cases, the price tag can be even lower: The popular Celebrity Solstice sails seven-night cruises round-trip from Seattle to the Inside Passage of Alaska for 17 weeks this summer, with prices as low as $649 per person for a week in May. Garrison assures us, "Even mid-summer cruises can be had at a good price."
When most people think "cruise," the first thing that comes to mind is a Florida departure for Caribbean islands — browsing colorful markets in exotic ports like Nassau. The good news is, there are more than 2,000 Caribbean cruises to choose from in 2014 and competition is fierce, which helps to keep prices relatively low (except during holidays). "Disney Cruises caters to families," notes Garrison, "so obviously its prices are best during the school year." The Disney Magic was significantly renovated in 2013: "Cruisers can sail round-trip from Florida's Port Canaveral for seven days in late October/early November for about $1,000 per person."
"You can keep costs down on a Caribbean cruise by driving to the embarkation port."
If you want to try a really big ship, you can sail on the world's largest — Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas — for about the same price. "This year is the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal, and the Holland America Zuiderdam sails a dozen 10- or 11-night cruises of the Caribbean that include a partial transit of the canal." An inside cabin will run you less than $1,000.
"You can keep costs down on a Caribbean cruise by driving to the embarkation port," says Garrison. Of course, south Florida, where many Caribbean cruises embark, is a long drive for most Americans. Midwesterners, rejoice: "Carnival Cruises has two of its newest ships based in ports easily accessible to those who live in the middle of the country. The Carnival Dream sails from New Orleans, and the Carnival Magic sails from Galveston, Texas, on seven-day Caribbean cruises at affordable prices — often less than $100 per day per person."
— Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Budget Travel
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