Cruise lines look to discounts to ease summer slump


Alaska is coming off a stagnant cruise season last year and bracing for a summer that's not looking any better.

"The outlook for 2009 will be challenging at best," said John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association. "The economic meltdown has hit our most favored customer the hardest."

That has Alaska's major cruise ship operators cutting prices and offering incentives to fill cabins this summer.

Holland America is doing its part to spur bookings to Alaska with what Linda Springmann, the line's vice president of Alaska sales and marketing, called "unprecedented" pricing.

As consumer confidence and spending sunk to record lows just before the holidays, Holland America launched a Vacation Stimulus Plan that includes lower fares, half-price deposits, cheaper cancellation insurance and the elimination of fuel surcharges. The promotion applies mainly to cruises and cruise tours departing on or after May 1.

As part of the initiative, Holland America is offering an upgrade from an inside stateroom to an outside cabin for $50, or an upgrade from an outside stateroom to veranda cabins for $100. Lead fares for the View and Verandah promotion start at $499 for a seven-day Alaska cruise.

Fares for Holland America's longer and traditionally more expensive cruise tours have also been trimmed considerably. A new, 17-day Voyage of the Glaciers cruise tour, which includes a roundtrip Vancouver-Anchorage cruise and two nights in Anchorage at the turnaround, is selling for $1,299 per person, double.

Princess Cruises is offering a seven-day Alaska cruise for a lead price of $475 plus fees.

One of Princess' major promotions is its Alaska Wilderness Sale, which includes roundtrip airfare between Seattle and Anchorage as well as a stateroom upgrade. The promotion runs through Feb. 28.

In conjunction with the initiative, Princess is offering four new Seattle-based tours that include a seven-night cruise, rail and motorcoach transportation and stays at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and the Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.

Passengers can choose departures on either the 2,670-passenger Diamond Princess and Sapphire Princess or the 1,970-passenger Coral Princess and Island Princess. Fares start at $1,099 for an 11-night package, including airfare between Seattle and Anchorage and a stateroom upgrade. The Alaska Wilderness Sale runs through Feb. 28.

Alaska represents about 65% of Cruise West's business, and summer bookings, while steady, are coming in slower than last year, said Cruise West spokeswoman Jerrol Golden.

"Given the current economic conditions, we anticipate bookings will be closer to departure dates," Golden said.

Cruise West has three promotions in place to stimulate bookings to Alaska, including an early-booking discount that has been extended to Feb. 27.

Under the early-booking promotion, guests who book a 12-night Coastal Odyssey cruise, for example, will save $1,430 a cabin, double, for cruises that depart before June 15, or save $1,030 for departures after June 15.

Cruise West is also targeting those last-minute customers with a Stowaway program that lets guests book a cruise on short notice and get 25% off the cruise-only brochure rate.

Under the plan, travelers can request to cruise on a specific itinerary and cabin category within a 30-day window and pay a $700 deposit. Cruise West will then attempt to confirm an available departure.

If the guest cannot be accommodated, the full deposit will be refunded. If the customer declines the available departure, the deposit can then be applied to a future cruise or cruise tour within 24 hours.

The deposit is transferable but nonrefundable.

On the line's eight-night Alaska Inside Passage cruise, for example, the Stowaway promotion will save a customer $1,371, double, based on a category AAA cabin.

Another small-ship line that has extended an Alaska promotion is American Safari Cruises, which stretched to Feb. 20 the deadline to save $500 on its Alaska cruises this summer.

As part of its Even More Beautiful at 50 campaign celebrating Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood, the cruise line will discount its Alaska yacht cruises by $500 per person when customers book any of the line's four Alaska itineraries by Feb. 20.

In addition, travel agents who book staterooms by that date will receive a $50 bonus per booking and will be included in a drawing to win an Alaska cruise.

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