The best cruise deals on offer

This is the time of year when cruise companies unveil many deals and special offers. Sara Macefield highlights some of the best.
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This time of year is traditionally when cruise companis bring out some of their most tempting offers. Known as the “wave” period, it runs during December and January and is marked by discounted prices and other benefits, including cabin upgrades, free port parking and complimentary drinks.

With more ships to fill than ever before in 2011, competition is fierce. Here’s a selection of some of the best deals. Prices are per person and include flights unless otherwise stated.
THE MEDITERRANEAN

Customers booking a winter 2012 cruise with Thomson (0871 231 3235; www.thomson.co.uk) by January 31 can enjoy free drinks as part of the company’s £1 million “Great Bar Giveaway”. Thomson Spirit will be based at Limassol, Cyprus, in March and April, 2012, offering one-week eastern Mediterranean voyages visiting Alanya in Turkey, Alexandria and Port Said in Egypt, and Ashdod in Israel. Prices start at £799 and include a free, all-inclusive upgrade.

Experience Carnival Cruises’ newest “fun ship” Carnival Magic, which launches in May and promises, among other things, corkscrew waterslides, an aqua park, mini golf and a seaside theatre. Carnival (0845 351 0556; www.carnivalcruise.co.uk) offers a 12-night fly-cruise from Barcelona with calls including Marseilles, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Naples, Venice (where it spends a night) and Messina in Sicily. Prices start at £1,209, with departures on May 22.

Cruise specialist agency, The Cruise Village (01253 341014; www.thecruisevillage.com) is offering a Royal Caribbean International cruise from Palma aboard Grandeur of the Seas from £381, though this excludes flights. The one-week sailing on May 22 visits Barcelona, Ibiza, Malaga and Gibraltar before returning to Palma.

Spend autumn in the eastern Mediterranean aboard Seabourn Quest, the newest ship of upmarket line Seabourn (0845 070 0500; www.seabourn.com), due to launch in June. A seven-night Turkish Delights and Greek Isles sailing from Istanbul to Athens, starts at £2,149 and includes a suite upgrade. The cruise departs on October 10 with calls at Dikili and Kusadasi in Turkey, plus the Greek islands of Mykonos, Rhodes, Patmos and Mylos.

Cultural cruise line Voyages to Antiquity (0845 437 9737; www.voyagestoantiquity.com) has axed supplements for single travellers on its “Sicily is the Key to Everything” sailing from Athens to Rome on May 20.

The cruise calls at ports in Italy, Malta and Sicily and costs from £2,250. Discounts of up to £1,000 are offered for couples. Also included are tours, wine with dinner and gratuities.
SCANDINAVIA AND THE BALTIC

Hurtigruten (0844 448 7601; www.hurtigruten.co.uk) is offering free cabin upgrades on bookings for selected voyages made by March 31. An 11-day Pearls of the Baltic Sea sailing departs on April 25 from Oslo, calling at Copenhagen, Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallinn and Gudhjem before returning to Oslo. It costs from £2,511 cruise-only.

Noble Caledonia (020 7752 0000; www.noble-caledonia.co.uk) is offering savings of up to £500 on a Baltic Renaissance cruise booked by February 28. The 14-night sailing on Island Sky departs on August 9 from Stockholm and finishes in Leith. Ports of call include Helsinki, St Petersburg (where it spends three days), Gdansk and Copenhagen. Prices now start at £3,895.
THE MIDDLE EAST AND FAR EAST

Enjoy a break in Dubai and travel back to the UK amid the grandeur of Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 on this 21-night package from Reader Offers (0845 458 8909; www.readeroffers.travel). The cruise departs on March 29 and includes four nights in the emirate followed by a 16-night sailing through the Arabian Sea and Red Sea into the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

Ports of call include Sharm el Sheikh, Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Prices start at £2,399 and include flight; hotel stay and breakfast; upgrade from inside cabin to balcony stateroom; and $300 on-board credit for customers booking Princess or Queen’s Grill suites.

Explore Vietnam on a nine-day voyage from Hong Kong to Singapore with Silversea Cruises (0844 770 9030; www.silversea.com). Highlights include the outcrops of Ha Long Bay and an overnight stop in Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh. Other calls include Haiphong (for Hanoi), Chan May (for Da Nang) and Nha Trang. Prices for the Silver Shadow voyage start at £4,223, including drinks and gratuities. A $1,000 on-board spending credit per suite is also included, along with a free shore excursion in Ha Long Bay.
ALASKA

P & O Cruises (0845 678 0014; www.pocruises.com) has slashed £1,100 off the price of its 72-night sailing to Alaska – the first time the line has cruised in the region in nearly 40 years. It departs from Southampton on April 12 and includes two transits of the Panama Canal, with calls in the Caribbean, Mexico, the US west coast and Alaska. Prices start at £6,399 and adults receive an on-board credit of £250.
THE CARIBBEAN

Across-the-board savings of up to 20 per cent are being offered by tall-ship line Star Clippers (0845 200 6145; www.starclippers.co.uk) on bookings for Mediterranean sailings made by January 31. Customers looking at Caribbean and Central America cruises need to book by April 30.

A saving of £177 is offered on a six-night Caribbean pre-Christmas cruise on Star Clipper, departing from St Maarten on December 17. The itinerary includes Nevis or Saba (depending on the wind); Iles des Saintes in the French Caribbean; Falmouth Harbour, Antigua; and St Barts. Prices start at £708, excluding flights and port charges.

Windstar Cruises (020 7292 2369; www.windstarcruises.co.uk) has reduced the price of one of its Caribbean voyages by more than £650. A round-trip cruise from Barbados on March 13, calling at St Kitts, St Martin, St Barts, Iles des Saintes and St Lucia now starts at £2,485.
RIVER CRUISES

AmaWaterways (0808 223 5009; www.amawaterways.co.uk) has waived its 50 per cent single traveller supplement on four seven-night “Tulip Time” sailings of the Dutch and Belgian waterways with stops including Antwerp and Ghent. Prices now start at £1,095 based on two people sharing, or £1,376 for single travellers, departing on March 28. Other departures are April 1, 8 and 25.

Avalon Waterways (0800 668 1865; www.avaloncruises.co.uk) has reductions of up to £900 per couple on some river cruises. Save £450 per person on a Danube cruise to the Black Sea, which departs from Vienna for Oltenita (for Bucharest) and includes stops in Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria. Prices start at £1,705, departing on March 30 or April 9.

Savings of up to £3,200 per couple are offered by Titan HiTours Elegant River Cruises (0800 988 5858; www.titanhitours.co.uk) on the 15-day “Imperial Capitals of Europe”, which visits seven countries. The trip starts with three days in Istanbul before passengers fly to Bucharest to join the River Princess at Giurgiu for the Danube sailing. Stops include Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Belgrade. The cruise, leaving on April 16, costs from £2,499 if booked by January 31.

Discounts of up to £500 are offered on various sailings by Viking River Cruises (020 8780 7900; www.vikingriver cruises.co.uk). An eight-day Rhine Discovery sailing from Amsterdam to Basel is down from £1,395 to £895 and includes wine with dinner, six escorted tours and a programme of talks and demonstrations. There are weekly sailings between May and October, but bookings must be made by January 31.

What to avoid

Some ex-UK cruises finish at an overseas port, so think ahead to arrange transfers accordingly (or ask your cruise line or travel agent to). Don’t fall into the trap of leaving your car at a UK port and returning to an airport miles away.

Beware the Bay of Biscay – especially in the winter, when conditions here and in the English Channel and North Sea can be enough to turn the strongest stomach.

Don’t confine your cruise departures to Southampton. While this is the UK’s premier cruise port, there are regular sailings from around Britain, including Dover, Tilbury, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle, Greenock and even central London at Tower Bridge.

If you’re cruising between the UK and the Mediterranean, remember that the first and last two days of the voyage will be spent at sea – and the weather won’t necessarily be good. So make sure you pick a ship with enough facilities to keep you entertained, especially if travelling with children.

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