The cruise industry has been rolling out massive discounts this year to get people booking again — and it seems to be working. Bookings have rebounded for cruises to many regions.
But one area where travel agents think cruise lines need to slash rates even more is in Europe.
“There are some deals on excellent ships for the early part of the European season, but nothing significant yet that will draw the masses,” says Stewart Chiron, president of Cruiseguy.com. While some lines are offering shipboard credits to customers as an incentives, such offers are “not as effective as free or reduced airfares, which haven’t yet been made available” by most lines.
Rich Tucker of CruiseDeals.com concurs, noting that pricing has held up better in Europe than in any other destination. “For the U.S. consumer, very few European sailings have had the prices drop to the drastically low prices that we have seen for some of the other destinations,” he says.
Tucker suspects cruise lines are relying more on local European customers to fill their ships in Europe this year to make up for weaker demand from the USA.
Travel agents say the high cost of airfare to Europe this year is a big factor deterring North Americans from booking European cruises. With fares for summer flights from major U.S. cities to European ports running at over $1,000 per person, they say it’ll take more free and reduced air offers to get the phones ringing.
Already some lines are going that route. Tucker notes Oceania Cruises is offering 2-for-1 cruise rates with free air to Europe from nearly 20 cities — a highly unusual discount offer from the upscale line. “In previous years a lot of their summer Europe sailings would be very close to sold out by now, and they would no longer be offering the discount pricing,” he says.
Oceania is offering 12-night cruises in the Mediterranean in May starting at $3,499 per person with airfare included and a $100 shipboard credit — a good deal, says Tucker.
Another good deal that includes airfare, says Tucker: The June 7 departure of the Norwegian Gem out of Barcelona, a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise that is priced at $1,649 per person including airfare from New York ($1,769 per person out of Miami or Chicago).
Chiron says some of the best deals he’s seeing are at higher-end lines. Small ship luxury line The Yachts of Seabourn, he notes, is offering 50% to 65% savings on European sailings with some voyages starting at just $2,999 — not much more than a suite on a mass-market ship . Regent Seven Seas Cruises also is offering hefty 50% discounts and throwing in free airfare and shore excursions on some sailings, he adds.