Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An unexpected drop in the price of high-season, Alaskan cruises

In 2009, after an abysmally slow Alaskan cruise season, executives at the various cruise lines made the decision to pull approximately 20% of the fleets that usually sail through Alaskan waters and re-assign them, mostly to the Mediterranean. With this big shift, it seemed discounting to Alaska was at an end, at least for 2010. Advance pricing on these May through September sailings was higher than usual (especially for May, normally the discount season) and it looked, for a time, like the cuts in capacity had worked in the cruise lines favor.

It doesn't look that way any more. Recently, with no fanfare whatsoever,  almost all of the major cruise lines have started making serious cuts to high-season pricing for Alaskan sailings. "They're dropping prices quietly this year, without putting out the usual press releases," says Carolyn Spencer Brown of the cruise news website "Instead, it looks like they're going to their preferred travel agencies and asking them to alert their clients of these deals. It really is surprising to see such low prices for peak sailings."

Just how low are the prices? On certain premium lines, on round-trip sailings (often Seattle to Seattle), the prices have dropped to the $600, sometime $700 range for July and August sailings--terrific values. For last-minute, one-way sailings (usually between Seward and Vancouver, but occasionally between Vancouver and Whittier), rates have hit jaw-dropping lows. Here are a few examples, all of seven-night sailings:
  •  Holland America's Statendam: $299 (June 13, 20, 27, July 4)
  • Holland America's Ryndam: $349 mostly, $449 in July (June 13, 20, 27, July 4, 11)
  • Celebrity Millennium: $399  (June 11, 18, 25, July 9)
  • Diamond Princess: $399 on first sailing, $549 or $599  after (June 12, 19, 26, July 3, 10, 17, 31, Aug 7)
I found these rates through cruise discounter sites and (as well as, though it didn't match these prices in all cases). When I went to other cruise discounting sites (I visited 6 altogether) and the cruise line sites directly, I got mostly higher quotes on these sailings. Which leads me to guess that the cruise lines, in the case of Alaska at least, may be giving preferred pricing to certain agencies (a way of doing business the lines publicly moved away from about five years ago). It's either that, or these other sites have added mark-ups, to make their profit-margins higher.

So, are glaciers, eagles and bears eliciting yawns rather than bookings? I hope not and would lay the blame instead on higher airfares, a factor that will be particularly painful for one-way sailings (as passengers have to fly into and out of different gateways, always a pricier proposition). If you decide to take advantage of one of these last-minute deals, be sure to check what your air costs will be first. In most cases, you're still going to come out ahead, but not in all. 

But even if you just break even, I'd urge you go to Alaska sooner rather than later.  Global climate change is drastically remaking this land. While the climate has gone up 1.36 degrees globally since the 19th century, in Alaska the increase is three times that at 3.6. degrees This has led to glaciers losing mass at a rate of 1.8 meters a year, double the rate of just a decade ago. An outbreak of spruce bark beetles, that scientists are blaming on higher temperatures, are decimating large tracts of forest. Brown bears, eagles, human communities: all are being impacted, leading the newspaper USA Today to dub Alaska "The Poster State for Global Warming". See it before much of what makes this region so glorious is gone.

(Photo: A view from the cruise ship by Kevin Tostado)

No comments:

Post a Comment