Summer Travel Bargains, Available Now During Brief Buying ‘Sweet Spot’

Summer travel season is right around the corner but exciting travel opportunities are often limited by price. There are plenty of places to go, but they are often priced out of reach. Still, with some research and timing, summer travel bargains are out there right now. Why? Sellers of travel want occupancy and booking levels to be at a certain target number right about now. If the numbers are not where they want them to be, they bring on the discounts to shore up summer season bookings. Here are some we found as standout bargains.

Disney World, Discounted
Summer is usually a popular time to visit Florida’s Walt Disney World and this year is no exception. Many families have to do vacations during the summer, when kids are out of school, most often driving prices up. Still, with hotel capacity running a bit ahead of reservations, deals are out there. Savings of 30 percent on select Disney hotels on Disney property, free dining with a hotel and ticket package, and more can be found at Disney’s Special Offers webpage.

Hike the Blue Mountains in Jamaica
Strawberry Hill is offering guests 25 percent off rates for stays through October 31 with its “Discover the Blue Mountains” package. The three-night stay includes two hikes on Gordon Town Trail and Settlement Trail, daily breakfast, a fruit and cheese welcome amenity, dinner with a bottle of wine, daily Blackwell Rum cocktail and a spa treatment. Don’t come home without a pound or two of that Blue Mountain coffee.Summer for Less at Nantucket Island Resorts– Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket Island Resorts is offering 30 percent off room rates at White Elephant Village, The Wauwinet and the White Elephant Hotel to guests who book five consecutive nights July 7-19. Rates start at $2,500 for five nights. Visit for more.

Pick A Cruise, Any Cruise
Practically every cruise line sailing has felt the sting of recent widely publicized events so prices have gone down. Some lines are advertising like never before, others have quietly just not raised pricing as they might have normally done at this time of the year, choosing instead to go for maximized occupancy. Best deals can be found in the Mediterranean where prices can be as low as $75 per person, per day. Short Caribbean and Bahamas sailings are also showing fall-like pricing for summer sailings. That never happens.

Cheap Not Good Enough? How About Free?
Ultra-luxe cruise line Crystal Cruises is allowing kids ages 17 and under to sail free when sharing a third berth stateroom with two adults. Families can choose from seven- to 15-day voyages in the Mediterranean, Western Europe, North Cape, Baltic, British Isles, Canary Islands and across the Atlantic from May-December aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Book by June 28, 2013.

Take A Road Trip, You Will Not Be Alone
Compared to many summer travel options, a road trip is still a standout winner for budget-minded vacationers. A timely YP survey published in TravelPulse compared driving versus flying and found that Americans believe they have a greater flexibility in schedule (35 percent) and sight-seeing (33 percent) when driving vs. flying. They also liked having the ability to easily take more stuff with them (11 percent), avoiding crowds and security lines (9 percent), and the ability to more easily take pets (7 percent).

Perhaps something a bit more exotic? How about one of these James Bond-inspired destinations?

Cruise ship gets extreme makeover

Cruise ships go in for routine, scheduled maintenance from time to time to take care of things they just can’t do with passengers on board. Cruise lines often take advantage of this time with no passengers on board to replace worn carpets or upgrade ship amenities. This is also a time when popular features on new ships can be added.
This Spring, Princess Cruises will pull Grand Princess out of service for much more than normal, week-long routine maintenance in what can best be described as an extreme makeover.

The 24-day process will not just change the carpets and put a fresh coat of paint on walls. As a result of this transformation, passengers who have sailed on Grand Princess before may not recognize her after completion.

“This is the largest makeover we’ve ever undertaken for any of our ships,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “When Grand Princess was launched she was the most innovative ship at sea, and now we’re adding some of the later innovations we introduced on subsequent ships.”

%Gallery-116296%The changes will be made during a drydock at the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, Bahamas from April 11 to May 4.

One5 Lounge – The new One5 lounge will replace Skywalkers, known as the best disco at sea, as the place to be for nighttime dancing and relaxing. I mean “replace” as in they are cutting it off the ship. This was the area all the way at the back of the ship that looked like the spoiler on a hot race car. It was also an excellent observation lounge to see far out over the ocean and favorite spot for underage drinkers to try to sneak into.

The new One5 lounge on deck 15 takes its inspiration from the chicest urban nightclubs, and will offer a cool vibe, contemporary seating and lighting, and a dramatic back-lit bar. This I have to see. An aerial view of the ship once this transformation has occurred will reveal an open, airy look to the back with an almost aquatheater-like openness.

Highlights of the other new additions bring Grand Princess up to speed with the newest ships in the fleet. New to this ship will be the Piazza Atrium combining always-changing quick bites and light meals, beverages, entertainment, shopping and guest services. The Piazza will feature an International Cafe for pastries, grilled panini sandwiches, salads, fresh-baked cookies and a variety of coffee drinks. Princess is also adding a new Vines wine bar offering a selection of more than 30 wines by the glass, plus a selection of tapas and sushi, and a wine shop where passengers can purchase their favorite bottle.

Leaves Tea Lounge and Library – What a great idea. Libraries on cruise ships are one of the least-used areas but yet they continue to stock the latest novels and have a nice selection for guests to choose from. Now, this new space will offer a distinctive opportunity for passengers to custom-blend a variety of base teas with herbs, fruits and spices to create a personalized tea blend. Created in partnership with Mighty Leaf Tea Company, one of the world’s premier maker of artisan teas, Leaves will offer up to 500 different tea blends and a trained tea sommelier will be on hand.

Alfredo’s Pizzeria – a new sit-down pizzeria with made-to-order individual-size pizzas. Named for the line’s master executive chef, Alfredo Marzi, the pizzeria will feature an open kitchen where passengers can watch chefs create the pizzas they’ll enjoy with a glass of wine or other beverage.

Crown Grill
– A classic steakhouse with rich wood surroundings, this specialty restaurant features an open, theater-style kitchen where chefs custom-prepare a menu of premium aged beef and fresh seafood items, including live lobsters.

Princess stays a first-class cruise line by keeping ships up-to-date with a keen awareness of what their passengers are looking for. Like their dominance in the Alaska Cruisetour market, Princess will do whatever it takes to be a leader in all they do.

Caribbean tourism surges

When the global economic crisis grew into the monster it became and began impacting the lives of people everywhere, the amount of vacations to the Caribbean, not surprisingly, sharply declined. Of all expenses budgeted into any one family’s financial plan, these expensive vacations, once sources of annual pride for members of the bourgeoisie, were among the first to go.

Luxurious beachfront vacations commonly cost thousands to put together for a family–and then there’s the money lost from not working for any traveler without vacation pay (…and here I am daydreaming about what it’d be like to be a travel writer with vacation pay…). Clearly, most other types of spending in everyday life come before this kind of spending during times of economic hardship.

But for the first time since this devasting blow to the Caribbean tourism industry in 2008, travelers are visiting the area again in steadily increasing numbers. Yahoo! News reports that more than 23 million tourists visited the region in 2010, myself included thanks to my September trip to Grenada. This is close to a 5 percent increase from 2009.

The jump in tourism is largely due to cruise ship passengers. Travelers like these spend less money to visit destinations, like the Bahamas, than those actually staying on the islands. Although hotels in the Caribbean only saw a 1 percent rise in occupancy last year, it’s looking like those numbers too will be up in 2011.

Now that Caribbean travel is again popular, I’m curious: which Caribbean destination would you most like to visit this year if given the opportunity?

[photo by Elizabeth Seward]

2011 Cruise news headlines: what to expect

We pulled out the crystal ball and came up with a bunch of predictions for the cruise vacations in 2011. Check back in a year to see how close we came on these possible cruise news headlines.

  1. Higher fuel costs mean higher fares for cruises and airfare too. Airfare will get hit first, cruise lines will be more cautious. An additional fuel surcharge for airlines is no big deal. Add on a charge for pat-downs, magazines in flight or something new, that would be a big deal. Cruise lines don’t want a fuel surcharge but if the price of oil hits and holds above $100 a barrel, they will and this time they won’t have to give it back later.
  2. Spring Break sailings will fill up fast and there will be few last-minute deals on them. If you want to go on a Spring Break cruise, pretty much any time in March or April, book it yesterday. Cruise lines have been warning of a price increase but they do that every year at this time when “wave” season hits and demand is high for cruises. They’ll hold that higher pricing longer this year.
  3. 2011: the Year of Ala Carte Pricing with cruise lines and travel agencies offering more optional choices as they move toward customizing each individuals vacation experience. This is way a good thing. Last year we blew the lid off the notion of a cruise being totally “all-inclusive” and bought into the reality of cruises having an “all-inclusive nature”. More than a subtle difference, look for more dining options, pre and post cruise hotel stays and options that before now, were a good idea but not really pushed all that much.
  4. Social Media blossoms in the cruise business with more lines “getting it” and moving forward with plans to engage us in a conversation about cruise vacations before, during and after sailing. In 2011 Facebook and Google ARE the Internet and those stuck elsewhere will fail. Losers: Faceless Internet Cruise Brokers, cruise lines not engaged in social media. Winners:Travel Agents who “get it”
  5. Multi-generational cruises take huge leap in popularity. An aging population will wake up more this year than in the past and want to travel with the kids and grand-kids. We saw a lot of this in Alaska and the Caribbean last year, look for more this year.
  6. European sailings skyrocket as cruise lines have repositioned ships to the Mediterranean, so goes the booking interest as supply of ships sailing from U.S. ports declines and prices go up. Last year saw some unbelievably good values in the Caribbean, that won’t happen as much this year.
  7. Cruise Lines ramp up security checks. It’s just inevitable that this will happen. Look for TSA-like security procedures and plan on taking a longer time to get on the ship, either upon embarkation or when in port.

Flickr photo by RambergMediaImages

2011: Attack of the Oasis sisters?

The big…make that GIANT story for 2010 in the world of cruise vacations was Allure of the Seas, sister-ship to last year’s 220,000 ton Oasis of the Seas from Royal Caribbean. The monster ship gobbled up headlines, berth space at ports and will send other ships running in 2011.

I liked Allure better than older sibling Oasis but that might have been because they worked all the kinks out that come with moving 5000 people on, off and around a ship each week by the time Allure was born. Technically “twins” they’re really not exactly clones and both ships have a distinct aura about them that’s undeniable. Allure is actually a wee bit longer, enough to give her captain verile bragging rights, and both ships have some different minor features. Still, combined, they close in on half a million tons of ship and that’s nothing to ignore.

Each ship has more restaurants, more cabins, more things to do, more people to see than any other ship at sea. Feature-hungry cruise passengers got everything they had been asking for and more.

Is this a case of “be careful what you ask for, you might just get it?”

Between the two, Royal Caribbean has chased a lot of ships out of South Florida, leaving much of the market to themselves.

Time will tell but so far prices are holding at a high level and the new ships are filling up fast which equals success in any body’s book. They better too, at more than a billon dollars each, there’s a lot riding on their success. Down the line Royal Caribbean is going to have to find some new places for the ships to visit as guests get over the wow-factor and want to get off the ship at ports. That’s no easy task.

Not one port was set up to handle this size vessel before they were built and all ports had to be modified to make it work. Surely, it’s worth it to local economies to have a ship dump 5000 paying tourists off for a day. Southampton is drooling over the possibility and maybe even Brownsville, Texas will throw their hat back in the ring to finally get that cruise port they want so bad.

The future of new-builds for Royal Caribbean holds an empty slate which makes sense. The Oasis sisters will be a tough act to follow.