We just heard from Carnival that the booking window - meaning the amount of lead time between the date a cruise is booked and the day it sails - is returning to normal - about five months. This means the era of last minute cruise bargains is coming to an end, but it isn't entirely over yet.
The first work week in January begins wave season known as the strongest booking time for cruises of the year. Carnival is predicting a strong wave season this year, due to a recovering economy, a very cold winter so far and pent up demand for cruises, but here is a little secret for you - most Wave Season bookings are for the spring months, but one of the slowest couple of weeks of the year for cruises are those right after the new year starts.
I am looking at a chart of last minute cruises right now and the best deals I see are for January 2010. All of these prices are per person, double occupancy, for inside cabins and do not include gratuities or taxes. Port fees are included in the price.
January 10, 2010 - Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas is selling for $399. Liberty was previously, before Oasis, one of the line's hottest selling ships. Any time you can get a 7-day cruise on Liberty for $399 you have a real steal. This Western Caribbean cruise goes to Costa Maya, Belize City and Cozumel.
January 16 - Celebrity Summit has a 7-day cruise selling for $399. This is one of the Millennium-class ships from Celebrity, not the newest but still a beautiful ship. This cruise sails out of San Juan and has a very active itinerary; St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Johns, and St Lucia.
January 23 - a 7-day Caribbean cruise on MSC Poesia is actually selling for just $349 per person. Of course, you will be on a ship where everything is in five languages, but you won't find a better deal on a 7-day Caribbean cruise sailing out of Ft Lauderdale. Ports include San Juan, St. Martin and Nassau.
January 23 - Norwegian Pearl sails on a 7-day cruise out of Miami for just $399 per person. This is one of my favorite NCL ships with its modern décor and stylish nightclubs. Pearl is the newest NCL ship and it currently represents Free-style cruising at its best. Sail out of Miami to Samana Bay, St. Thomas, Tortola and NCL's Private Island.
January 30th - MSC Poesia sails out of Ft Lauderdale again, but the price goes up to $379 per person.
January 31 - Norwegian Spirit sails out of New Orleans on a 7-day Caribbean cruise for just $379 per person. Ports of call include Costa Maya, Santo Tomas de Castilla in Guatemala, Belize City and Cozumel.
January 31 - Norwegian Jewel sails out of Miami for $349 pp. This is a 7-day cruise to some of better Western Caribbean ports: Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya and the NCL Private Island.
In fact with the end January we see the end of the cruise deals under $400 per person with the exception of some NCL and MSC cruises.
Oasis of the Seas:
Now, what about prices for the newest and coolest ship on the seven seas, Oasis of the Seas? It appears that people still want to see this ship right away. Unlike the other ships mentioned above, the cruises closest in are not the cheapest. In fact, prices range well above $1600 for the cheapest fare from now through March and then start to get cheaper.
April 10 is $1449 and April 24 is less; $1379. Prices drop even more in May. Here is the good news, however. Oasis is almost all balcony cabins, so while these prices mentioned above reflect the cheaper inside cabins, on average a balcony cabin is only about $200 more per person.
When do we see the first Oasis cruise priced under $1000 per person? Not until January 2011. It appears that prices have actually gone up since the ship was brought out. This does not mean prices could not change later. These prices will drop when the sister ship, Allure of the Seas, arrives in December 2010, but until then we are limited to just Oasis.
Unless you are willing to pay the price, it does not look like you will see an Oasis class ship at a bargain price for at least a year. I am glad I took the one four-day cruise they offered back when I could. I have seen Oasis, and it is extraordinary, but I am sure you will be hearing that a lot over the next twelve months.
Have a happy new year!