It started small and has mushroomed into a massive, mid-winter occasion that leaves some folks jubilant and others horribly confused.
The “wave season” in the cruise travel business sounds a lot like the Super Bowl, but in this case it’s about saving money on a great vacation.
Wave season started as a one-day cruise sale a couple decades ago and is now a weeks-long bonanza featuring hundreds of deals, discounts and extras ranging from free Wi-Fi to on-board spa treatments.
“Wave season is sort of the Black Friday or Cyber Monday of the cruise space,” said Jason Sarracini, chief operating officer at Tully Luxury Travel in Toronto. “It used to be wave day, where cruising companies would put their trips on sale for a day to get a feel for what the year would look like. But with the growth in the cruise market and so much product now available, they can’t do it in a day.”
“Many more cruises are booked the first week in January than any other time of year,” said Vancouver-based Geraldine Ree, senior vice president franchise and supplier performance with Expedia Canada. “It now goes on for a couple months.”
Ree said price wars aren’t as common as they used to be in the cruise biz, but there are definitely deals to be had.
“I’d say that now it’s more of a value war, but I’m seeing some offers that are very aggressive. Companies are really promoting Europe sailings and offering all sorts of extras or amenities.”
Princess Cruises, for example, has offered folks up to a $1,200 USD credit for Europe sailing. Celebrity is offering packages that include all gratuities, ship-board packages and free Wi-Fi, or unlimited beverages.
“Oceania has Europe deals where you can get free shore excursions,” she said.
Sarracini said Norwegian Cruise Lines recently purchased a large block of seats on Air Canada planes and was offering great packages that included flights as well as free shore excursions and free Wi-Fi, a big deal for cruise lines luring millennials.
The Air Canada Vacations website on Tuesday of this week was sporting a myriad of deals, everything from $250 off air fares for cruise passengers to buy one get one free with Royal Caribbean.
Sarracini said the Internet has been great at giving people the power to book airline seats and hotels. But the cruise market can be confusing, with so many options to choose from. Talking with a Tully agent on the phone can make that experience far simpler, and probably cheaper, he said.
“We send our agents on the cruise ships, so they know exactly what they’re selling. There are also something like 20 new ships being launched this year and we know what products are out there. We can make sure you get the selections you want at the best price.”
Richard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing at Viking Cruises, said his company offers early booking discounts so they can help plan for the year. “Our buying power also gives us a chance to give people significantly cheaper air fare, including transfers to and from our ships.”
Viking offers dozens of river cruise options, which is a huge growth area.
“Cruises in general are growing about 15 per cent a year, but we’re growing about 30 per cent,” he said.
Of course, what you get of wave season depends in part on what type of trip you want and where you want to go.
“River cruising appeals to an experienced, culturally interested traveller,” Marnell said. “The majority of river cruisers have taken an ocean cruise and been to Europe, so this gives them an opportunity to learn and go deeper. You can dock in the heart of some of the most beautiful cites in Europe and visit small towns that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”
Several cruise lines have cancelled stops in Istanbul due to terrorism issues. Cruise officials say that should mean better deals for trips in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Zika virus has scared some would-be Caribbean and South American visitors, which also could mean discounts.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Marriott Caribbean & Latin America Resorts is offering a “Time is Money” promotion, with savings up to to 30 percent off the price of regular leisure rates at participating properties, including Cancun, Aruba, Puerto Vallarta and Grand Cayman and many more. Visitors must reserve a minimum two-night stay during the booking window February 1 – 29, for travel dates between April 1 and June 30 (and beyond for select properties) with booking code 3CL.
This story originally appeared across Canada in Postmedia and Sun Media websites, to which I’m a regular contributor. For more of my Post/Sun stories, and other great travel stories, tips, videos and photos, please visit www.travel.canoe.com
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