The Caribbean rules the inter-cruise market. It is where the biggest ships cluster and where the best rates are to be had.
It is not unusual for a Caribbean cruise to cost less out of Ireland than a Mediterranean cruise, even with the added expense of transatlantic flights. The best value out there are the repositioning cruises across the Atlantic – eastwards in the next few weeks and westwards next spring. Have a look at a cruise specialist, such as John Galligan Travel, and the itaa.ie special-offer site. Here are five to watch in the more traditional winter cruise sector.
Freedom of the Seas
For good reason, almost two-thirds of the cruises sold in Ireland are on board one company, Royal Caribbean. Their most popular winter cruise is out of Fort Canaveral in Florida, a short drive from the playgrounds of Orlando. The cruiseline will package three nights in Orlando to see the Mouse and its competitors, Universal, Seaworld and Busch Gardens, before you embark on the floating resort that is Freedom. Bigger means more variety, Broadway entertainment and, if you want to go beyond the buffet, 18 speciality bars and restaurants.
A seven-night Eastern Caribbean Cruise costs from €480 per person, and your travel agent will put together a decent package to include flights. There are interesting New York options on board Explorer of the Seas, seven nights Bahamas Cruise and two nights in New York from €999pp from Tour America (01 817 3500). Upgrade to balcony from €199pp and get $100 (€75) onboard spend.
Oasis/Allure Of The Seas
These are the giants of the industry and such is the fuss of these 5,400-passenger floating resorts that they cost about €39,000 more than the previous-generation giant ships. A seven-night Western Caribbean Cruise on Royal Caribbean International's Allure of the Seas costs from €690 per person for a January 12, 2014, sail date.
Pay a little more for the outside cabin. The excursions are often to private islands owned by the cruise companies. The only reason anyone goes to Haiti nowadays is a cruise stop at Labadee.
One night in Dubai pre-cruise and seven on board between November 23 and March 22, has lead-in prices of €919. Stops include Abu Dhabi, Khor al Fakkan, Muscat, Khasab Oman, and cruising through the strait of Hormuz is exciting. Last time I did it, we were buzzed by the Iranian air force. Travelagent.ie has an outside cabin for €1,119pp (based on two sharing), which includes flights, taxes, transfers and seven nights' cruise, including all meals and entertainment on board.
Travelagent.ie 1890 905 795.
Operating out of Gran Canaria on seven-night itineraries for Armonia between November 1 and March 14, starting at €349 per person and you can add in flights for another €340. One of the tour operators, Thomas Cook, has a great all-in package using its own charter – check with your travel agent. Buy a drinks package for €23 per person per day and you have bagged one of the best bargains in the travel business at the moment.
Children under 18 on an MSC cruise sharing with their parents just have to pay taxes, about €120. In the Caribbean, where MSC is new, cruise-only prices are even lower at €299 for seven nights Miami to Miami.
Last year, they told us this was the best chance to see the northern lights for decades. Guess what? This winter they are saying the same thing. Hurtigruten Norwegian coastal voyages have great packages on selected dates from now until December (north, south and round-trip) and include two-for-one offers or no single supplements.
A six-night, full-board voyage north, departing Bergen on November 9, starts from €999 per couple sharing an inside cabin (flights and any hotels are extra). Check out www.Project-Travel.ie on 01 210 8391.
All prices correct at time of going to press.