Such cruises have become increasingly popular in recent times, especially among cruisers who enjoy time at sea rather than at many ports.
I recently searched for and found several bargains for 2010. Among them: a 14-night sailing aboard NCL's Norwegian Gem from New York to Venice, Italy, for $549 (departing April 10) and a 14-night voyage on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas from Barcelona, Spain, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for $499 (departing Nov. 28). Closer to home, a weeklong trip aboard NCL's Norwegian Pearl departs April 24 from Los Angeles and travels to Vancouver, Canada, for $329. (These may no longer be available.)
Often, traditional travel agents will match the prices available on the Web. And, as Tom Baker, president of the CruiseCenter in Houston ( 497-8799, www.cruisecenter.com) points out, working with a person can be advantageous, especially if the price drops after a ticket has been purchased.
"There are some [online vendors] who could care less. It's not about customer service, it's about volume," Baker says. "They don't have the service level . . . to really take care of the guest, knowing that, in some cases, price adjustments happen four or five times on a booking."
Regardless of how they made the reservation, Baker cautions customers to book only after getting a price protection guarantee in writing.
"Celebrity and Royal Caribbean have a great policy," he says of price drops. "They'll protect you with the difference in an onboard credit. . . . It helps take care of your onboard gratuities, your bar bill, your spa visit, whatever.
"My rule of engagement is that the customer should tell their travel agent that they want to know whether there's some level of protection," he continues. "If it's a cruise line that does not protect, they need to understand that upfront."
As Colin Markland discovered in March, the lowest prices are often offered in the weeks just before sailing. Markland snagged a $219 fare (per person, based on double occupancy) about a month before an 11-night transatlantic crossing on the Norwegian Jewel. I booked the same cruise in February and paid $389 -- still a bargain but not as good as Markland's fare.
Also last year, Baker snagged a last-minute deal for some of his clients: a 13-night trip from Rome to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., aboard the brand-new Celebrity Solstice for $469 per person.
"I will tell you emphatically that virtually any transatlantic crossing is going to have . . . space in the fall of 2010," Baker said. "Those who wait will get a better deal, I promise you."