Saving money on Italian cruises
The Mediterranean. The Adriatic. The Ionian. Flitting amongst the isles of Sicily or threading the Italian Coast. Ah, the call of the sea...
Booking engines: Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, BookingBuddy.com
Cruise discounters: Cruisedirect.com, Travelthemesanddreams.com, Vacationstogo.com, Ecruise.com, Cruise411.com, Onlinevacationcenter.com, Bestpricecruises.com, Cruisebrothers.com, Cruisesonly.com, Cruisewizard.com
Competative agency: Cruisecompete.com
Useful sites: Cruisecritic.com, Smallshipcruises.com, Singlescruise.com
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Rather than make you pack and unpack and repack again to trudge from hotel to hotel in order to tour the cities of Europe, cruising allows you to unpack just once, settle in, and then the hotel itself scurries from port to port.
Also: all-you-can-eat buffets.
To Cruise or Not To Cruise
Problem is, what if the bits of Europe you want to see aren't necessarily located in or near a port? Sure, the cruise ships dock right in downtown Venice and Naples—but the ports of Civitavecchia (laughably labeled "Rome" on cruise itineraries) and Livorno are both at least 90 minutes away from Rome and Florence, respectively.
Cruising is most definitely not the way to see Italy for the first time—not if you want to truly experience the culture and people. Cruising is an act of travel that appeals greatly to some, and defines one of the lesser circles of Hell to others. You know which kind you are.
If you've never cruised but the idea appeals, for heaven's sake don't spend thousands of dollars to find out whether you like it on your grand Italian adventure. Take a $399 cruise in the Caribbean first to sample the waters, as it were.
How to find the best inexpensive cruises
Just as with airfares, hotels, and rental cars, you can use both search engines—Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, BookingBuddy.com—and aggregators—or meta-search engines—to do the dirty and time-consuming work of searching all the sites out there on your behalf: Kayak.com and Mobissimo.com. (Also don't miss the more personal shopper–like service, CruiseCompete.com, below.)
However, to find the best deals, you usually have to go to a specialist cruise discounter:
These guys will sell you cruises literally for anywhere from 10% to 50% less than the cruise companies themselves. Please allow me to repeat that in simple terms since it is so hugely significant.
Same cruise. Same ship. Same cabin. Half price. No joke.
When Windstar line's own site was selling a week-long Mediterranean cruise around Italy and Croatia on the Wind Surf starting at $2,249, Vacationstogo.com was selling the exact same cabins for $1,299.
There are way too many fer-instances to point to—and deals come and go constantly—so here's just one more. In the summer of 2009, Cruisewizard.com was selling a classic, six-night Transatlantic crossing from New York to Southampton, england on the Cunard Queen Mary 2 for just $509. (That's not a typo. There's no "1," missing from the front or anything. That's "five hundred and nine dollars.")
OK, sure, that $509 price was for an inside cabin... but an outside cabin cost just $609. You could even upgrade to one with a balcony at $699. Oh, and did I mention the $75 shipboard credit ($150 credit for balcony rooms) that brought the effective prices down to $434 inside, $534 outside, and $549 balcony?
These aren't scams. They're discounters. There are loads of legit one out there. Here are just a few faves:
CruiseDirect (www.cruisedirect.com) - One of the top cruise discounters in the business, consistently underselling the higher rack rates you'll see posted on the web sites of the cruise companies themselves. CruiseDirect.com even have a last-minute page with discounts on soon-to-leave ships.
Travelthemesanddreams.com - Run by "Leisure Larry" Fishkin, and particularly good for packages: knitting together a discount cruise with reduced airfare to/from the port, and sometimes hotels stays before/after the cruise. A recent example: 7-night Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona for $1,399, including a night in a 4-star Barcelona hotel and the roundtrip transatlantic airfare.
Also great are Vacationstogo.com, Cruise411.com, Onlinevacationcenter.com, Bestpricecruises.com, Cruisebrothers.com, Ecruise.com, Cruisesonly.com, and Cruisewizard.com (a.k.a. White Travel Service; cheesy, low-tech site, but consistently great bargains).
Let them do the shopping for you: CruiseCompete.com
You know the commercials for LendingTree.com? That whole "When banks compete, you win..." spiel? Well Cruise Compete (www.cruisecompete.com) is the same thing for cruises.
You put in the date and destination and ship (any or all of those), and it sends your cruise request to a whole bunch of cruise brokers and discounters. Each of them then contacts you with a quote on how little they can do that cruise for you. Basically, it does the shopping around for you, pretty cool, huh?
Other cruise resources
Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com) - Independent website devoted to cruising in all its forms, with very active user forums and loads of intel on ships, cruise lines, ports of call, etc. Probably the #1 place to go online for cruise info. Now owned by TripAdvisor—though they apparently know you don't mess with success and their presence is largely unfelt. (Disclosure: the Editor-in-Chief of this site happens to be a friend of mine—though I've been recommending it since long before I met her.)
Small Ship Cruises (www.smallshipcruises.com) - Just what it sounds like: booking with dozens of outfits that offer cruises on small small ships in the Mediterranean, Russia, and Scandinavia as well as on the rivers of Europe (well, all over the world, technically, but those are the bits of Europe they cover).
SinglesCruise.com (singlescruise.com) - Books groups of singles (ages 21 on up, but mostly 35–55) onto cruise ships, offering its own onboard program of events and mixers—and, most importantly, matching you with a same-gender cabinmate (of roughly the same age) so you don't have to pay the dreaded "single supplement."
Avoid the money pits - A list of how cruise lines make their money off you—and how you can game the system for savings.
D.I.Y. Shore Excursions - I have a separate section devoted to helping you save money by booking your own shore excursions.
- How to get into town from major ports of call (Civitavecchia/Rome, Livorno/Florence, Livorno/Pisa, Venice, Naples)
- D.I.Y. shore excursions
- Avoiding cruise money-pits and rip-offs
- Cruising in Italy
- Ferries in Italy—the poor man's cruise lines
This material was last updated February 2011. All information was accurate at the time.
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