Facebook Twitter

Before sailing off, call around to get best discounts

SHARE Before sailing off, call around to get best discounts

Think of it as saltwater taffy.

Sweet cruising deals for Alaska, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Great Lakes and even to see the August solar eclipse in Europe.Remember: Never pay the brochure rate. You always should be able to get some discount for a cruise.

The bad news: You just missed the early sign-up for this summer's Alaska cruises. It ended Valentine's Day. That would have saved you 25 percent off the rack price.

The good news: You can get even better bargains now. Half-price deals. Two-for-ones. In some cases, free or almost free airfare.

It's a buyers' market for cruising Alaska because there are more ships with more cabins going there right now than there are people to fill them.

Most major cruise lines are offering half-off deals. You should be able to get prices starting from $800 to $1,000 per person based on double occupancy for seven-night cruises. You'll find the biggest discounts on the least expensive, inside cabins.

Also Princess' and Holland America's Alaska cruises are offering up to 25 percent off extended land excursions where you get to see some of North America's highest mountains, glaciers the size of New York City and lots of wild critters.

Here are some more examples of good deals and leads on great cruising opportunities. The prices are available, as noted, through travel agents or the Travel Co., (1-800-777-0707, 9-9 weekdays, 10-6 weekends), formerly Cruise Lines Inc.

(Editor's note: We always advise shopping around for the lowest cruise rate. Ask several travel agencies for their best deals before signing on the dotted line.)

Great Lakes: Cruising the blue northern waters of lakes Huron, Superior and Michigan is a unique trip that has been revived in recent years. It's also a great change of pace for avid cruisers who have tired of palm trees.

Instead, you'll have rugged islands, moose drinking at water's edge, diving on sunken ships and shore excursions on Mackinac Island, a bit of Victorian life with no autos, just horse-drawn carriages and bicycles for transportation.

No sales have emerged on these trips, but they tend to be reasonably priced. The problem is getting a cabin; they fill up fast.

About three dozen openings are still available for the Aug. 24 sailing of the 418-passenger German-made luxury ship Columbus. The nine-night cruise stops in Windsor, Parry Sound in northeastern Lake Huron, Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac Island, Beaver Island, Milwaukee and Chicago. Prices start at $1,350 per person, based on double occupancy. Call Mariport Group Ltd. at 1-519-624-5513, 9-5 weekdays.

Openings also are on the 84-passenger Niagara Prince of the American Canadian Caribbean Cruise Line. These 16-day cruises hit all five Great Lakes. You can still get on sailings May 21 from Chicago to Rhode Island; on Aug. 1 from Rhode Island to Chicago, and on Aug. 19 for the return trip to Rhode Island. Prices range from $1,560 to $2,999. Call 1-800-556-7450, 8:30-5 weekdays.

For shorter trips, the 18-passenger Georgian Clipper will make two-, four- and six-night cruises in Lake Huron's island-dotted Georgian Bay, renowned as one of the world's most beautiful cruising areas. Cruises run June 27 to early September. Prices in U.S. dollars start at about $335 for two nights, $655 for four, $986 for six. Call Heritage Cruise Line at 1-888-271-2628, 9-5:30 weekdays.

Other lines offering Great Lakes sailings are the Le Levant (Travel Dynamics at 1-212-517-7555, 9-8 weekdays) and Clipper Cruise Line at 1-800-325-0010, 10-6:30 weekdays.

Get them while they're hot:

Carnival's Fascination has seven-night cruises from San Juan, Puerto Rico, through the southern Caribbean in March and April. Prices that started at $1,439 are now $649. Call the Travel Co.

Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas has seven-night sails in the western Caribbean on March 7, 14, 21. Prices start at $899 (formerly $1,299). Call your travel agent.

Solar eclipse: Norwegian Cruise Line's brand-new Norwegian Sky makes its inaugural 10-day run from London to Cherbourg, France, with stops in Dublin, Glasgow, Bergen and Oslo in Norway, and Amsterdam. On Aug. 11, the day of the eclipse, the ship will be in the Irish Sea between Cherbourg and Dublin. Prices: Now starting at $2,871 (formerly $3,739). Call the Travel Co.

Cunard's Vistafjord will be in a better position for watching the sun blink out on its 14-day sailing, which starts and ends in Venice with stops in Katakolon, Greece; Istanbul; Yalta and Odessa in the Ukraine; Cannakkale, Turkey, and Myconos, Greece. On Aug. 11, the ship will be between Yalta and Odessa in the Black Sea. Prices: Now starting at $2,998 (formerly $5,225). Call the Travel Co.

Hawaii: Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas has an 11-night sailing starting April 24 from Acapulco to Hawaii with stops in Hilo, Kona, the big island of Hawaii and two days at Maui. Prices start at $854. The return trip for the Vision of the Seas leaves May 5 from Honolulu, visits the other Hawaiian islands and ends in Vancouver, British Columbia. Prices start at $954. Call the Travel Co.

Mediterranean: There are select sailings from June through August on the world's largest cruise ship, Princess' Grand Princess. The 12-day cruise starts from Barcelona or Istanbul with stops in Monte Carlo, Monaco; Livorno (Florence and Pisa) and Naples (Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri) in Italy; Praeus (Athens), Greece, and Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey. Price: Now starting at $2,737 (formerly $5,014). Call the Travel Co.

Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas will have seven-night sailings this summer in the western Mediterranean starting at $799. Call the Travel Co.

Fall sailings: If you sign up in the next month or so, you will be in time for early discounts of 25 percent. Many people like to go to the Caribbean then because it's cooler than in the blistering summer months and still beautiful. One downside is that a hurricane might blow in and change your itinerary. Cruise ships rarely cancel because of hurricanes -- they simply go to where the weather is calmer.

Check out the high-end Celebrity Galaxy, a gorgeous ship with great meals, for seven nights in the southern Caribbean. Prices now start at $799 (formerly $1,565). Call the Travel Co.