CRUISING IN THE GULF OF MEXICO – So let me get this straight: I booked my trip on Holland America’s Ryndam 11 weeks before sailing, reserving a deluxe Verandah suite for myself and my wife, and we paid about $1,650.
But the last afternoon of my recent three-day cruise, all the glow left my Happy Hour time when Don and Jean, sitting near me in the Crow’s Nest Lounge, told me they booked four days before we left port, and they paid $198, plus taxes, for the same trip.
Who do Don and Jean know?
It’s not who, but how, really.
Don, a retired school administrator, explained that he and his wife, both retired, had been on 18 cruises in the past three years and only once had they paid more than $50 a person per day. The Rydnam trip came out to $33 per day.
Because they love to cruise, they pursue the bargains: They sign up with various cruise lines and search engines to be notified by e-mail of bargains.
“You could spend all day just deleting the e-mails,’’ said Jean, with a laugh. But clearly that exercise in waste disposal is an easy trade-off to let them enjoy their pastime.
How can the cruise lines make money selling cabin space (and with it, three meals a day, nightly entertainment with up to 14 singers and dancers onstage, free cooking and computer demonstrations, 24-hour pizza, and much more) for so little?
The truth is, there’s no profit at that rate, but it does tend to buy the loyalty of the passengers, convincing them to spend more for passage the next time they want to cruise.
And like an airplane heading down the runway with empty seats, empty cabins on the ship leaving port mean lost revenue. At least the $33 a day is some money in the till.
What Don and Jean got was an inside cabin — one with no window on the world. But as they told me, they have been upgraded to better staterooms many times, including the beloved verandah cabins – those with their own balcony.
And as all real cruisers know, the cabin is mainly for sleeping and changing clothes. You can pay for more space, better amenities, fresh flowers daily, trays of hors d’ouvers, a whirlpool tub instead of a tiny shower stall, free dry cleaning and shoe shining, preferential dining room reservations, even butler service, but you will be paying considerably more.
Um, as I did, because my wife enjoys the good things in life.
Of course, to take advantage of the cheap fares, you need flexibility in your life – you can’t decide to suddenly go on a cruise and just walk away from your work cubicle. Remember: Don and Jean are retired.
But if you have the freedom to get up and go, figure out which cruise lines offer the experiences you most enjoy, then go to their web sites and sign up to be notified of their specials. Sign up, too, on search engines such as Kayak and specialty sites such as AOL’s CruiseCritic, to get those last-minute sailing discounts.
And keep that roll-aboard nearby.