Cruise bargains abound, at travel agencies and on the Internet. In nearly all cases, you'll pay less -- often much less -- than the brochure price because cruise lines strive to sail with full cabins. Nowadays, the question isn't so much whether you'll get a deal as where you want to go. For a first-timer, a three- or four-night Caribbean cruise, with prices starting at $300 or $400, is an excellent way to test the waters. For repeat cruisers, the world awaits. Cruise ships travel virtually everywhere, although even with discounts, a few exotic destinations are for those with fatter wallets.
The Delta Queen Steamboat Co., whose riverboats are as pretty as wedding cakes, has four promotions going at once. Depending upon how early you book and make a deposit, you can save as much as 50 percent or get reduced or free air fare. With the earliest booking, trips begin at $348 a person. In addition, you can save $300 per person on the company's Adventure Week package that combines a stay in New Orleans with a riverboat cruise, providing you book and deposit a 2005 trip by Sept. 30. With the savings, the combo trips start at $695. The company's three riverboats sail several US rivers and waterways, including the mighty Mississippi. (For those who pine to know the future, psychic Sylvia Browne will be aboard two December sailings on Delta's American Queen.)
See a travel agent to book. For brochures, call 800-543-1949 or visit www.deltaqueen.com.
The Queen Elizabeth II is serving up Europe with cruise-only prices beginning at $999. For example, its seven-day Gallic Getaway departs from Southampton, England, on May 29, visiting St. George's Channel, Liverpool, Dunmore East in Ireland, Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and Cherbourg, France.
See a travel agent, call 800-7-CUNARD, or visit www.cunard.com.
Forget about the Red Sox for a moment. Players, coaches, and executives from the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins will participate in a cruise aboard Carnival's 2,052-passenger Imagination Nov. 4-8. The ship leaves from Miami, with Key West, Fla., and Cozumel, Mexico, as the ports of call. In addition to mingling with passengers, the Marlins will have autograph and photo sessions, a cocktail reception, and appearances by the one-and-only Billy the Marlin, the team's mascot. Prices start at $329.
See a travel agent, call 888-CARNIVAL, or visit www.carnival.com/promo/marlins. If making a reservation, request fare code CDML.
Most cruise lines will send you a brochure, but Disney will mail you a DVD. The Disney Cruise Line, which conducts Bahamian and Caribbean cruises starting at $359, has a free interactive DVD that allows you to navigate among descriptions of itineraries, photos and video of staterooms, entertainment, dining options, and features for various ages. Also included is a documentary on how the cruise line came to be.
For a copy, call 888-DCL-2500 or visit www.disneycruise.com.
Peter Deilmann Cruises has added seven-night trips on Poland's Vistula River aboard the 79-passenger Frederic Chopin to its itinerary. With that addition, 10 Deilmann vessels will sail on rivers in 14 European countries. Seven-night cruise-only rates are $1,655 to $3,095 per person. Optional shore excursion packages purchased in advance cost $145 and $169. Call 800-348-8287 or visit www.deilmann-cruises.com.
HistoryAmerica's "Cruise of Liberation" will visit Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer on June 6, the 60th anniversary of D-Day, as part of a 12-night cruise aboard the Clipper Adventurer. Tour leader will be Edwin C. Bearss, a historian and World War II combat veteran. Prices are $4,980-$6,460 and include a welcome dinner in London, three nights' pre-cruise accommodation in London with breakfast daily, sightseeing, seven nights' cruise with meals, one-night post-cruise accommodations in Paris with a farewell dinner, and all port and service charges and hotel taxes.
The 72-passenger S/V Mandalay, a 236-foot, three-masted barkentine, will make six-day voyages out of Colon, Panama, to the San Blas islands June 14-Sept. 1. The San Blas Archipelago, home of the Kuna Indians and known for its crystal waters and coral reefs, comprises 370 islands along the southwestern coast of Panama. Fares begin at $900 and include onboard accommodations, all meals, onboard entertainment, and select cocktails and wine. All-inclusive packages start at $1,485 and include the cruise, air from Miami, transfers, hotel, breakfast, a tour of Panama City and the Miraflores Lock, and port charges.
Call Windjammer Barefoot Cruises at 800-327-2601 or visit www.windjammer.com.
For lovers of wildlife, there will be six sailings this summer aboard the 103-foot M.S. Norweta on the Mackenzie River in Canada's Northwest Territories. Among possible sightings are bald eagles, peregrine falcons, herds of caribou, and the occasional black bear or moose. There are also the northern lights in the star-studded sky. The first northbound cruise (nine days) departs Hay River June 14; the final southbound cruise (11 days) departs Inuvik Aug. 4. Cost is the same for passage in either direction and begins at about $3,525 (US) for a package that includes accommodations on the 10-cabin ship, ground transfers, meals, and Canada's 7 percent goods and services tax. Connector fares have been negotiated for flights between passengers' home cities and Yellowknife and Inuvik.
Call the NWT Marine Group at 800-837-8922 or visit www.norweta.com.