Shared from Travel Pulse  NOVEMBER 25, 2020

Couple on an AmaWaterways river cruise. (photo via AmaWaterways)

We’re facing a long, cold winter with surging COVID-19 cases, but there is a bright spot for those longing for a vacation on the world’s waterways.

It’s a great time to book a cruise vacation. No, probably not for February or spring break, but maybe for summer, early fall or later.

Of course, exactly when cruising will resume with a vengeance depends on the rise and fall of the coronavirus. But by booking now, you’ll miss the onslaught of pent-up demand that will be unleashed at some point, likely when testing becomes routine and/or vaccines are available.

There’s also something to be said for the anticipation of a vacation after a year-long drought – looking forward to a trip can lift spirits during dark days – and most companies still have flexible cancellation and rebooking policies in place.

Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of franchise operator Cruise Planners, said advisors are briskly booking summer 2021 voyages.

“Our travel advisors have been advising their clients that destinations such as Europe and Alaska are filling up for 2021 and to act quickly if they wish to get the stateroom and itinerary they desire,” she said.

Claire Schoeder, of Elevations Travel in Atlanta, said she is not recommending booking cruises any earlier than late April or early May.

“I have been suggesting to clients that they book when they think the deal is what they are looking for,” she said. “And if final payment has not been made and a better deal comes out, I can speak with the cruise line to see if we can amend the booking to get the improved offering – be it lower price or more inclusions.”

James Ferguson of Travel Edge in La Jolla, Calif., noted his seasoned cruise clients are unquestionably eager to begin sailing again.

“The Black Friday and other added-value offers do represent a solid investment in keeping that dream alive,” he said.

While there are undoubtedly price cuts at this time of year, Fee said they haven’t been all-encompassing. Ships will return to the seas in a phased manner, with reduced capacity, and much of that space may already be booked by people with future cruise certificates (FCCs) from this year’s canceled sailings.

“We’ve seen a few discounted rates, but not to where we see price drops across the board,” Fee said. “Coupled with high redemption rates of FCCs, cruise lines are already expecting a high demand considering the limited number of ships and decreased capacity onboard the ship.”

Instead, some cruise lines are taking a different tack to attract loyal and new clientele – adding attractive extras for free, such as drinks, shore excursions, tips, Wi-Fi and even air transportation.

Luxury line Silversea Cruises recently announced that, starting in 2022, it will include free roundtrip air and transfers and at least one complimentary shore excursion in every port of call.

Silver Explorer, silversea, expedition, Chilean Fjords, tour, glacier
Silversea Cruises is becoming even more inclusive in 2022. Pictured is the Silver Explorer. (photo via Silversea Creative Assets)

Also noteworthy was Celebrity Cruises’ announcement that its new standard rate includes unlimited Wi-Fi, gratuities and unlimited drinks, including classic cocktails, wines by the glass, beer, sodas, specialty coffees and teas, juices and bottled water. The deal went into effect for all departures starting Nov. 17, 2020, through open deployment, excluding Galapagos sailings.

For many travelers, those kinds of value-added extras are more attractive than a discount.

“For a while now, adding amenities has been a much better solution to drive sales,” Fee said. “It’s a better experience for the customer and better for the advisor’s commissions.”

She said the extras provide convenience and minimize what is seen as nickel-and-diming on a cruise ship. “By bundling airfare, transfers, beverage packages and gratuities, to name a few, cruise lines can attract people who are looking for great service and premium accommodations without having to pay additional fees once onboard. … We highly encourage more cruise lines to offer similar inclusions.”

Claudette Covey contributed to this story.