With so many big new cruise ships coming into service, a potential passenger might be excused for thinking that there are plenty of cabins to choose from, even on a last-minute booking.
That's usually true on heavily traveled routes off season, such as spring in Alaska and fall in the Caribbean. But veteran cruisers know there are certain perennial favorites that require booking well ahead of departure to get any cabin at all.
First of all is the Christmas cruise. More and more families are opting to travel during or just after Christmas. Southern Californians flock to Christmas and New Year's cruises sailing from the port of Los Angeles, especially round-trip schedules that let them avoid the holiday crush at airports.
Ships with a home port in Los Angeles and with holiday cruises include Carnival's Jubilee, which sails Dec. 21 and 28 on its regular Mexican Riviera itinerary (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico) at rates from $1,459 per person, double occupancy, including port charges and a holiday surcharge.
The same line's Holiday, usually making three- and four-day cruises to Ensenada, will offer special 10- and 11-day cruises along the Mexican Riviera departing on Dec. 19 and 29, and Jan. 9 and 19. Ports of call include Manzanillo, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas and, on the 11-day itinerary, Huatulco. Fares begin at $1,589 per person, double occupancy, including port charges. A $150 holiday surcharge is added to the sailings of Dec. 19 and 29.
Royal Caribbean International's Viking Serenade maintains its three- and four-night round-trip sailings from Los Angeles, calling at Ensenada, Mexico, at fares from $658 per person, double occupancy, including port charges. Add $75 surcharge for a holiday sailing. And RCI's Song of America is scheduled for a winter season of seven-night round-trip sailings to the Mexican Riviera beginning Nov. 30 at brochure fares from $1,249 per person, double occupancy, including port charges, plus a surcharge of $150 per person for holiday sailings.
This year's holiday sailings on ships not based here all season include a round-trip cruise to Hawaii aboard Crystal Cruises' Crystal Harmony, leaving Los Angeles Dec. 21 and calling in Ensenada, Maui's port of Lahaina, Nawiliwili in Kauai, Honolulu and Kailua on the Big Island of Hawaii before returning to Los Angeles Jan. 6. Brochure fares start at $5,265 per person, double occupancy, but area residents can deduct $200 air credit (or apply it to the $140 port tax) since they don't need to fly to the ship. For more information, ask a travel agent or call Crystal at (310) 785-9300.
Cunard Line's Royal Viking Sun sails round trip from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera Dec. 21 to Jan. 5, with calls at Mazatlan, Zihuatanejo, Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, at fares from $6,050 per person, double occupancy. An air allowance of $400 per person can be deducted for passengers not requiring air fare, and a port tax of $220 is extra. For more information, see a travel agent or call Cunard at (800) 5-CUNARD.
Traditional cruises, such as the annual Great Steamboat Race between the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen in June, are frequently booked months or even a year ahead. Delta Queen Steamboat Co. says although many cabins for the 1998 event were booked during the 1997 race by repeat passengers, there are some cabins in E category and above still available with round-trip air fare included beginning at $2,990 per person, double occupancy. F category, the lowest-priced cabins aboard the two vessels, begins at $1,990 per person, double occupancy, without air fare.
The 11-night sailings leave New Orleans on June 24, cruising 1,200 miles of the Mississippi. A gala fireworks display follows that evening, and passengers disembark in St. Louis July 5. To find out more about the Great Steamboat Race, see a travel agent or call (800) 543-1949.
For jazz fans, the big event each fall is the Floating Jazz Festival aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's flagship Norway. This year's theme is "Saxophones at Sea" on the 15th year of the festival, which is now spread across two-weeklong cruises. The Norway sails from Miami Oct. 25 on an eastern Caribbean itinerary calling in St. Maarten, St. John, St. Thomas and Great Stirrup Cay, the line's private beach island in the Bahamas. Jazz stars scheduled for this sailing include Illinois Jacquet, being saluted on his 75th birthday; the Phil Woods Quintet; the Terry Gibbs/Buddy DeFranco Quintet; the Jay McShann Trio; and gospel performer Carrie Smith and her quintet.
On Nov. 1, the Norway cruises the western Caribbean, calling at Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Playa del Carmen/Cozumel and Great Stirrup Cay, with jazz greats such as Joe Williams and his quartet; the Billy Taylor Trio; the Clark Terry Quintet; the Stanley Turrentine Quartet; the Tommy Newsome Big Band; "Tenor Titans" Red Holloway and Harold Land and their quintet; and Juanita Brooks and her New Orleans band playing "Sunday Gospel" jazz. Ask a travel agent or call (800) 327-7030 for more about these sailings, which start at $699 per person, double occupancy, plus air fare.
Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.