From the Bridge: Is This A Great Year to Cruise Europe? It Might Be.

From the Bridge: Is This A Great Year to Cruise Europe? It Might Be.

If you could score a Europe cruise for under $60 a day, would you snap it up? Or just say no?

At Cruise Critic, we’re seeing bargains aplenty on cruises in and around Europe, including the Baltic, Western Europe, rivers, and both the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. In the past, we’ve considered any fares under $100 per person per day for mass market cruises to be a fine value in Europe.

This year? The game’s changed. In June — the nicest month of the year in Europe —  we found the newly refurbished Norwegian Epic, sailing 7-night Barcelona roundtrips, for $399, available all four weeks. That’s a $57 per diem. The usually premium priced Celebrity is offering sailings on Equinox, from Istanbul to Rome, for $599 or $81 a day. $75 a day is an outstanding deal on a line like Holland America; a 12-night Civitavecchia to Rome run is priced at $899.

Still want to stay home this summer?

Of course, it’s not that Europe itself has suddenly lost its allure as a cruise destination. Geopolitical issues, from the refugee crisis in Greece to terrorist activity in Paris and Belgium, have affected demand, particularly from North American travelers (interestingly, European lines like MSC and Costa, which typically source most passengers from Europe, are offering fire sales at this point). Istanbul (as we wrote a few weeks ago) is seeing the most challenges as some cruise lines and others — Delta Airlines has announced that it’s canceling summer flights between New York’s JFK Airport and Istanbul — have pulled out of the region due to threat possibilities.

So should we be concerned about traveling in Europe just now?

“Travel is such a personal decision,” says Jennifer Michels Jones, vice president of communications at the American Society of Travel Agents. “How safe you feel is a personal thing. We find that the majority of American travelers don’t cancel trips when bad things are going on around the world.” Indeed, says MSC Cruises’ USA president Rick Sasso, “the measurement I use is cancellations, when customers decide to pull back. The cancellation factor has been minimal. That’s a good sign.”

I’m among those travelers who aren’t canceling and am flying to Barcelona this week to check out Oceania’s new Sirena. Still, Europe this year presents both challenges and opportunities, and here are six things to keep in mind if you’re on the fence about a cruise in Europe this year.

  • In conversations with cruise line executives over the past couple of weeks, we’ve learned that, understandably, the Eastern Mediterranean isn’t as popular as usual. The Brussels’ bombings have slowed down bookings, slightly, for Western European itineraries. And France’s river cruises — the Seine, Rhone and in the region of Bordeaux — are soft sellers, at least at the moment.
  • Europe’s cruise appeal is robust in other spots. River cruises on the Rhine and Danube are reasonably busy, and on the oceans, Baltic cruises are on an uptick.
  • We’re not seeing Mediterranean cruises priced at bargain basement fares (rule of thumb, if you see a cruise-only deal for less than $40 per person per day, that qualifies as an insanely good price). What we have seen is cruise lines bundling more value into fares. Among them: Free airfare; eliminating or significantly reducing the dreaded single supplement for solo travelers; added perks such as onboard spending money; and even, from a couple of cruise lines, a hugely unusual “cancel for any reason” promotion.
  • One caveat to that rule: Cruise lines may well resort to more drastic price cuts if ships are still pretty less-than-full about a month or so before the departure dates.
  • Europe is still a good bet for another reason, Toni Lanotte-Day tells us. “The dollar to euro relationship hasn’t been this strong [for Americans] in quite some time,” notes the Long Island, NY-based agent. “You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. And for anyone who might be a bit tentative about safety, nobody is getting on that cruise ship who doesn’t belong on the cruise ship — there’s an added level of security.”
  • Protect your vacation investment. We always recommend that travelers planning a cruise should buy travel insurance once they book. This year, we add this tip: Select your policy carefully. Read the fine print and look for more inclusive policies, such as those that offer compensation for canceling-for-any-reason. We also suggest booking through a travel agent, on the off chance that trips are impacted by unforeseen events. “There’s nothing better than having a concierge on the road and that’s what a travel agent does,” ASTA’s Michel Jones says.
  • In port, be aware of your surroundings. “I don’t care if you are in Times Square or Istanbul,” Lanotte-Day tells us. “Everyone needs to be vigilant and pay attention to what’s going on around them.” As well, ships can move from place to place, and if there are concerns about port safety, cruise lines can cancel calls.

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