Those of you who read my sad tale of not having enough food to eat on last year's Baltic cruise may recall my extended conversation with the Maitre D' at the ship's restaurant. During the course of the conversation he mentioned one passenger who had sailed on over 200 of his cruises without any complaint about the food. At the time I thought to myself, "Wow. That must be one rich woman." However as I have since learned you don't have to be rich to sail off so often, you just have to be flexible as to when and where you take a cruise.
The key to cruising economically is taking advantage of last minute cruise deals where the lines slash prices on upcoming cruises that have not sold out. At the time of my most recent cruise in June, I knew little of the specifics--how do you hear about these cruises, how close to sailing date can you make the arrangements, and how about air fares when you book late?
Fortunately a travel agent explained the process to us, so well that I was able to book a cruise for Mrs. Chandavkl and her sister last fall less than a month before sailing date. The cruise was a 12 day Mediterranean cruise with stops in Barcelona, Marseilles, Naples, Rome, Florence, Mykonos, Istanbul, Izmir, Venice and Athens. All for the princely sum of $599 for the base cruise. That's only $50 a night, and covers your food, your lodging and your travel. Forgetting the cost of airfare, that's something that almost anybody can afford.
So how do you get these deals? When we took our Baltic cruise this past June, we had made our reservation in December, and were given until March to confirm our reservation and pay the balance of the cost above the refundable deposit. As things turn out, for cruises of over a week, 90 days before the sailing date is the cutoff point for paying for the cruise, while shorter cruises give you until 75 days before sailing. Consequently, at these 75 and 90 day milestones, the cruise lines know how full their boats are with confirmed passengers, and whether fares need to be discounted to fill the boat. Therefore it is at these 75 and 90 day markers that a particular cruise fare could be heavily discounted. And given the fact that no cruise line wants a ship to sail with empty rooms, they'll keep slashing the prices until the boat fills up
As for the details of finding these cruises, travel agencies dealing with cruises make it easy. For example, our cruise agency, Vacations to Go, has a button on its homepage labelled "90 Day Ticker." This takes you to a page that lists all discounted sailings that depart within the next 90 days. The bigger the discount, the emptier the ship. If you look at the current offerings, you can take a 50 day cruise that sails next week from London to Singapore, stopping in Lisbon, Gibraltar, Malaga, Malta, Turkey, Athens, Crete, Suez Canal, Oman, Mumbai, Goa, Colombo, Phuket, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Semarang, Lombok, Komodo, Ujung Pandang, Java, Surabaya, and back to Singapore. The cost for an inside room? Would you believe $2,700?
Of course there are logistics to deal with. You can't book the cruise until you know you can get a flight to the departure point, but you don't want to buy your plane tickets until you've confirmed your space on the cruise. Consequently you need to check to see if there are flights available, quickly book the cruise, and then quickly book the flights. The closer to sailing date, the greater the potential cruise discount, but on the other hand, the great chance of air fares being higher or flights not being available. But if you can pay $50 a night for a seven week cruise that's a minor inconvenience when your Social Security check will more than cover all your living expenses for that time period.