It hasn't yet been noticed by most commentators, but the cruise lines have scheduled what I estimate to be as many as 60,000 berths a week leaving from Miami, Fort Lauder-dale and other ports of Florida this coming summer.
That shift in capacity (away from the Mediterranean and Alaska, and to the Caribbean), brought to my attention by an eagle-eyed cruise discounter, will necessarily result in unusually low prices for a cruise vacation, despite the protestations of the cruise lines that their prices have firmed.
This shift in capacity is a massive one, and one that can't be denied, as we witness the following examples and figures:
Last summer, only one cruise ship operated weeklong summer Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale: the Carnival Freedom, sailing alternating six- and eight-night itineraries.
This summer will see no fewer than five ships sailing out of Fort Lauderdale each week: the new Oasis of the Seas (5,600 berths), the Celebrity Solstice (2,800 berths), the Emerald Princess (3,100 berths), the Grandeur of the Seas (1,950 berths) and the Carnival Freedom (3,000 berths) —between them needing to fill as many as 16,500 berths each week.
From Miami, you will find the new, massive Norwegian Epic (4,200 berths) sailing to the Caribbean each week starting in July, accompanied by what I count as at least nine other vessels — together needing to fill at least 28,500 additional berths each week. These ships assigned to Caribbean service for the entire summer are the Liberty of the Seas (3,600 berths), the Carnival Liberty (3,000 berths), the Carnival Valor (3,000 berths), the Carnival Destiny (2,600 berths), the Carnival Imagination (2,000 berths), the Carnival Glory (3,000 berths), the Norwegian Sky (2,000 berths), the Celebrity Century (2,850 berths) and the Majesty of the Seas (2,350 berths).
From Tampa, sailings to the Caribbean will be had on the Carnival Legend (2,100 berths) and the Carnival Inspiration (2,000 berths).
And finally, from Port Canaveral, there will be weekly sailings to the Caribbean of five other ships: the immense, 3,600-berth Freedom of the Seas, the giant Carnival Dream (3,600 berths), the Monarch of the Seas (2,700 berths), the Carnival Sensation (2,000 berths) and the Disney Wonder (2,400 berths) —a total of 18,400 berths.
Sixty thousand berths a week! All from Florida, on itineraries going heavily to the giant shopping malls located at or near the ports of St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Nassau; going occasionally to Costa Maya (an artificial beach area built and owned by the cruise lines); and spending a great deal of time simply at sea. Here is a further explanation of the low prices currently offered for such highly desirable ships, such as the Celebrity Solstice on its summer cruises to the Caribbean, about which I expressed surprise in a recent column.
The only way these ships will be filled is through rock-bottom prices that start as low as $499 for a week, $299 for a four-night cruise.
They will be heavily marketed through cruise brokers such as www.cruisesonly.com, www.onlinevacationcenter. com, www.whitetravel.com, www.leisurelarry.com, www.vacationstogo.com, www.americasvacationcenter. com, www.cruises411.com, www.cruisecompete.com and many others, and through the Web sites of the cruise lines themselves.
An hour or so spent at these sources of travel bargains may suggest a summer vacation for your own consideration.