"When the going gets tough, the tough get going." That well-known suggestion (in other words, work harder to solve difficult problems) could have been applied to the decision by most cruise lines to offer bargain rates for their summer sailings in the Mediterranean.
Having placed far too many ships in those European waters, some of the lines have cut prices as low as $399 and $499 f or weeklong cruises of the Mediterranean in recent months. But now a different problem has arisen. With the end of the Mediterranean season fast approaching (early October is the usual time when that fabled sea loses its appeal), the cruise lines must return those too-many ships to the Caribbean for the start of the winter travel season.
In previous years, they approached that task by offering remarkably low rates for the westward crossing of the Atlantic ocean. But to enjoy those low rates, passengers first fly to Europe to board. And this year, the price for a one-way trans- Atlantic flight is so high that the cruise lines face difficulty in filling their cabins for the repositioning trip.
So, the tough got going. The cruise lines apparently have negotiated with airlines such excellent rates that the former are now including trans-Atlantic airfare as a feature of their repositioning cruises. In fact, some of the cruise lines have found it so necessary to create an irresistible package that in some cases, they are offering two flights in their repositioning prices: a trans-Atlantic flight to Europe to board the ship, and then a flight from the U.S. debarkation port to the passenger's home city.
The result are offers of a near-irresistible level. Take, for example, the 14-night cruise of Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas, leaving Rome on Nov. 6 and sailing to Livorno (Italy), Toulon (France), Barcelona and Cartagena (Spain), and Ponta Delgada (Portugal), before embarking for six nights at sea to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. From Travel Themes and Dreams (877-870-7447; www.travelthemesanddreams.com), a prominent cruise broker, and for only $1,499 per person in inside cabins, you'll receive not simply the entire 14-night cruise, but air transportation from Florida to Rome, and then one-way air transportation from Fort Lauderdale back to your home city.
You'll also receive, for no extra charge, an overnight stay in a four-star hotel in Rome on Nov. 5, and transfers from airport to hotel in Rome and from port to airport in Fort Lauderdale for your flight home. All this, I should emphasize again, for $1,499 per person! Add on $99 for flights from New York; $299 from Los Angeles or San Francisco.
From the same cruise broker, and this time for only $1,299 per person in inside cabins, you can book another repositioning cruise on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, leaving Barcelona on Oct. 30 and sailing for 13 nights to New Orleans (stopping in Cartagena, Seville and Ponta Delgada on the way), including nine days simply at sea.
This time, in addition to the full 13-night cruise on an excellent ship, you'll receive one-way air transportation from New York to Barcelona and from New Orleans to New York, all transfers and an overnight stay in a four-star hotel in Barcelona on the day before departure.
Given the value of the two flights and the hotel overnight, you are really receiving the 13-night cruise for free! Air add-on from South Florida: $50; from Chicago: $150; from Los Angeles or San Francisco: $199.
The very same sailing of the Voyager of the Seas is available through Online Vacation Center (800-780-9002; www.onlinevacationcenter.com) at the same price, but with slightly different features (like two hotel overnights in Barcelona before boarding the ship).
You'll want to carefully consider both alternatives. Repositioning cruises have always been among the best bargains in travel, and for the coming fall, they have become even more outstanding. Provided only that you're able to enjoy a lengthy period spent solely at sea, a time for contemplation and relaxation, you'd be remiss to pass up these vacation opportunities.