The Real Deal: A seven-night round-trip sail from Fort Lauderdale, all meals, some beverages (coffee, tea, juice, and water), and most onboard entertainment, from $399 per person — plus estimated government taxes of $63.
When: Depart Nov. 28, Dec. 12, 2009; add $100 for Jan. 2, Feb. 13, 27, March 13, 27, 2010.
The fine print: Airfare is not included. Taxes are about $63 per person. Airport-port transfers are not included but can be booked for an additional $20 per person each way. Optional travel insurance starts at $42. Based on double occupancy; solo travelers pay $719. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: June 24, 2009.
Contact: Online Vacation Center, 800/780-9002, onlinevacationcenter.com.
Why it's a deal: According to a recent Kayak search, the lowest rate we found for a cruise with a similar itinerary departing in late November is $499 for seven nights aboard the Costa Atlantica in an interior stateroom. So you'll save at least $100 per person by booking this Costa cruise through Online Vacation Center.
Itinerary: Board the ship in Fort Lauderdale around 7 p.m., and spend three nights at sea before arriving in St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Another overnight sail will take you to San Juan, Puerto Rico. After a day and night at sea, arrive in Nassau, Bahamas. From here, you'll sail overnight back to Fort Lauderdale. You'll arrive at St. Thomas and San Juan at 8 a.m. and at Nassau at 1 p.m. — and you'll depart between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. You're free to explore on your own each afternoon; no shore excursions are included in the package price.
Lodging: Seven nights in an interior stateroom aboard the 2,114-passenger Costa Atlantica, whose 12 decks are named after movies directed by Federico Fellini. Paparazzi-style snapshots of movie stars cover the ship's walls. Add $100 per person to upgrade to an ocean-view cabin, $300 per person for a balcony room, and $500 per person for a suite.
More: You can add pre- and post-cruise nights in Fort Lauderdale through Online Vacation Center, starting at $199 per room per night at Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina. A wide range of optional shore excursions is available at each port. For example, you can see the highlights of St. Thomas and Magen's Bay Beach for $46 per person, take a historical walking tour of Old San Juan for $69 per person, or swim with the dolphins in Nassau from $194 per person. ShoreTrips lists the excursions available on St. Thomas, San Juan and Nassau.
Before you go: A U.S. passport is not required for this itinerary as it begins and ends in the U.S., but Online Vacation Center strongly recommends packing one anyway. If for any reason your cruise were to be cut short and, say, you had to fly back from the Bahamas, you would not be able to do so without a passport. For more information on the islands, check out the official Web sites of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, as well as the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB.
Getting there: Here's an idea of how much it would cost to fly to Fort Lauderdale in late November and return in early December, according to Kayak: $219 from New York City (JetBlue), $247 from Chicago (United), $269 from L.A. (Delta), $328 from Houston (Continental) and $354 from Seattle (Delta).