Fall cruises are dirt cheap

Multi-night cruises for the price of a single night in a luxury hotel?

You heard right. Cruise lines, still struggling to pull themselves back into profitability after the prolonged COVID shutdown, have deeply slashed fares for hundreds of voyages this fall.

Here’s how cheap your next cruise could be:

A two-night Dec. 5-7 voyage on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas from Miami to the cruise line’s private Bahamas island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, starts at just $70 per person for an inside cabin.

A three-night cruise from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale to CocoCay and Nassau aboard Liberty of the Seas starts at $129 per person. That price is valid for cruises departing Nov. 7, Nov. 14, Nov. 28, Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.

A three-night version of the same cruise from Port Canaveral aboard Independence of the Sea starts at $99 per person.

It’s not just Royal Caribbean rolling out the bargains. Carnival, MSC and Celebrity are offering deals this fall as well.

MSC has 11 three- and four-night cruises to the Bahamas from Miami or Port Canaveral starting at $119 per person.

Carnival as well is offering numerous Bahamas voyages from Miami and Port Canaveral — Carnival doesn’t travel out of Port Everglades — for $149 or less per person.

Several of those are aboard Carnival Conquest, which offers a larger-than-usual number of cabins with ocean views and balconies. A balcony cabin can be yours for $309 per person for a four-night Bahamas cruise leaving Miami on Nov. 14. Would you prefer a two-room suite? That’s $563 per person.

Holland America, which boasts a more upscale experience, has several seven-day Caribbean cruises out of Port Everglades available for $319 to $349 a person. That’s less than $50 per day per person.

In addition to Florida ports, cruise lines are launching bargain voyages throughout the globe, including from San Diego; Galveston, Texas; Barcelona, Spain; Venice, Italy; and more. One of the cheapest available is also one of the shortest: A two-night trip from Sydney to Melbourne, Australia aboard Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess for $68 a person.

Travel agent Gene Sloan, who operates a popular booking site, thepointsguy.com, said by email that many of the cheap fares break down to less than $30, $40 or $50 per person per day, “which is not all that common.”

“These deals are as good as I’ve seen in a long time,” Sloan said.

Referring to a three-night Carnival cruise to the Bahamas that has since sold out, he said, “It’s hard to beat $26 a day for a trip that includes not just your accommodations but your meals and entertainment, too.”

Of course, the advertised rates for cruises exclude taxes, fees and gratuities, and those costs will exceed some of the bargain fares, Sloan pointed out. That four-night Bahamas cruise aboard Carnival Conquest on Nov. 14 advertised at $134 per person for an interior cabin also requires each passenger to pay $143 in taxes and fees.

Still, those charges would apply regardless of the fare, so it’s still a deal compared to the $300+ per-person fare that Carnival is charging for a similar four-night cruise on the Conquest next summer.

Cruise lines offered similar discounts beginning in late spring, as they finished the long and gradual process of bringing their full fleets back online following the long COVID shutdown.

Adding so much inventory in such a short period of time caused lines to reduce prices to boost occupancy and hope that onboard spending by passengers on drinks, gambling, excursions, and specialty restaurants would make up the difference.

In an earnings report on Sept. 30, Carnival Corp. told shareholders that a rise in bookings across its nine brands for the third quarter that ended on Aug. 31 was offset by higher fuel prices and cheaper fares.

While revenue increased compared to 2021, when COVID restrictions such as onboard mask-wearing kept passengers away, revenue per passenger per cruise day decreased compared to pre-COVID 2019.

Revenue for the quarter increased to $4.31 billion but fell short of analysts’ projection of $4.90 billion. As a result, the company’s share price fell 20% on Friday to $7.33 in midday trading — a nearly 30-year low. In January 2018, the company’s share price hit an all-time high of $72.20.

Royal Caribbean most recently announced stronger results suggesting a quicker return to profitability, but investors haven’t been too impressed. Its share price dropped by almost $5 after the Carnival announcement, suggesting investors aren’t bullish on the cruise industry. The company gained it back so far this week, but Wednesday’s $43.47 close is less than half of its $93.67 share price of Nov. 1, 2021, and well below its all-time high of $133.55 in January 2018.

Not all cruise lines are discounting fares to pump up occupancy.

Disney Cruise Line fares remain high. Its cheapest fare out of Florida before the end of the year is $1,042 per person for a three-night Bahamas trip on Oct. 28.

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And if you want to take a seven-night cruise out of Miami aboard the Regent Seven Seas Splendor on Dec. 13, it will set you back $5,199 per person.

Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of the consumer-focused website CruiseCritic.com, said a big difference between a mainstream cruise line like Carnival or Royal Caribbean and a Disney or Regent Seven Seas is how they set prices.

“Mainstream cruise lines generally have an a-la-carte pricing model, meaning they’re always able to be priced lower than their luxury counterparts that include more in the base fare,” she said. “Because of that, cruisers do tend to spend more onboard on things like drinks, specialty dining and shore excursions. Their lower entry fares make that onboard spending more palatable.”

Strong onboard spending had been a bright spot in cruise lines’ recent earnings reports, she noted.

“Drink package prices, for example, are higher than ever — yet people are still buying. So there’s an incentive from the cruise lines to get people in the door. Once they are there, chances are they’ll spend.”

Yet for travelers who can avoid temptation to spend extra money, “a cruise can be a great value,” Gray Faust said. “You can certainly have an enjoyable cruise without buying a drink package or dining in specialty restaurants.”

Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at [email protected]