Seeing the World on a Budget: Finding Cruise Deals you Won't Want to Pass Up
By Austin Fales
Even in the wake of the global recession, cruise travel continues to post impressive numbers, especially in America. The U.S. dominates the global industry with annual revenues of 27 billion dollars and over 10 million passengers.
How to find cruise deals?
Like any form of travel, the price of a cruise is determined by distance. As a general rule, the most affordable cruises are those that stop in either the Eastern or Western Caribbean. Both are in close proximity to several U.S. ports. Which is cheaper?Well, it really does depend on where you reside. If you live on the east coast, then a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean will be less expensive. Most ships embark from Florida and often stop in the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, and even Puerto Rico. A seven-day vacation on a ship that explores the Eastern Caribbean can be booked for less than one hundred dollars per day!
Because they must travel farther, cruises to the Western Caribbean will always be more expensive. However, it may be possible to actually save money if you live closer to ports in New Orleans or Texas than you do to those in Florida. You see, since most U.S. citizens do not live within driving distance of any of these major ports, they often have to take a plane to the closest port city. And for those who live much closer ports in Texas or New Orleans, it may actually be cheaper to take a vacation to the Westerner Caribbean. Sure, the cruise tickets may be costlier, but when you factor in the airfare, it is possible to save money on the overall trip.
The itinerary of a Western Caribbean cruise is typically determined by the starting point. If a ship embarks from either Texas or New Orleans, it will generally stop in Cozumel or Playa del Carmen, Mexico first, while those that leave from Florida typically stop in Key West first. Other ports of call include the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and possibly Belize. Take a quick look at a map and you will see why these vacations are more expensive. Far more distance must be covered, since Western Caribbean ports of call are much farther apart than those included in Eastern Caribbean itineraries.
The third and final option for folks who love warm weather, white sand beaches, and long boat rides are trips to the Southern Caribbean. Only about fifteen percent of cruises to the Caribbean explore the Southern islands. As you may have guessed, these trips are more expensive because they are farther from the U.S. However, most cruise lovers swear that these islands are, in fact, the most beautiful islands in the entire region and that they are worth the extra dollars.
The one caveat is that almost all trips to the Southern Caribbean islands depart from the U.S. East Coast, typically from Miami, Florida. A boat ride from Texas or New Orleans would simply take too long for the standard vacation. Popular ports of call on a trip to the south include Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, St. Lucia, and Aruba. Another look at the map and you will see why these vacations are so much more expensive than to those to the Eastern or Western Caribbean. Aruba is just 27 kilometers north of Venuzela, in South America!
Which is best?
Again, best is a terribly subjective term. It really does depend what you are looking for. As we have seen, cruises to the Eastern Caribbean are less expensive than those to the Western Caribbean, but not by much. They also tend to be a bit redundant. Sure, they are beautiful islands with white sand beaches, but how much tropical paradise can one person stand? Don't answer that.By comparison, if you take a cruise to the Western Caribbean, the ship will typically stop in Cozumel, Mexico. In Cozumel, guests can tour the famous Mayan ruins before they set out for the white sand beaches.
The western cruises also stop in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which are home to some of the best dive sites in the world.Because they are more affordable, many of the islands in the Eastern Caribbean are touristy. Not that that is necessary a bad thing. Most Americans love resorts and cities that cater to vacationers. For example, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Island is the shopping center of the Caribbean. And if the ships docks in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the rain forest tour offers a welcomed respite from the water and the white sand.
Before you agree to any vacation package or deal, it is important to read the fine print. Many first time passengers make the mistake of believing that everything is included in the ticket price...it isn't! Almost all cruise lines charge their guests a port tax, which is a docking fee for every island on the itinerary. Also, most cruise lines charge their passengers for drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Lastly, gratuities are not included. Yes, the meals are prepaid, but you will have to tip your server.Cruising is one of the most fun, rewarding ways to see the world without spending a fortune. But like all travel plans, it's important to do plenty of research ahead of time. Fair winds!
Austin Fales is a freelance writer who writes about travel and leisure topics and options such as finding great cruise line deals.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.