Though the lazy, hazy days of summer are normally a high season for cruise lines, especially in Alaska and Europe, the rush in the past several years to build more and bigger boats has resulted in something of a glut of cabin space, especially in a few key markets such as the Caribbean (across the board) and even occasionally in the popular summer waters off our 49th state.
The key is to seek out these deals from brokers or consolidators who specialize in getting their customers exceptional discounts by getting rid of the cruise lines' excess capacity. Among several reliable sources are the Travel Co., telephone (800) 777-0707; Cruises of Distinction, tel. (800) 434-7447; Spur of the Moment Cruises, tel. (800) 343-1991; Cruises Only, tel. (800) 683-7447, and Cruises International, tel. (800) 255-7447.
Check out this brief sampling of what's out there this summer, keeping in mind that the prices shown do not include air fare:
* Alaska: If you look hard enough, there are several pretty good deals afloat in these crowded waters this year. Take Holland America's classy Ryndam, which has inside cabins available for just $1,099 per person (a saving of nearly $800) even on popular July and August departure dates. The seven-night floats leave from Vancouver, Canada, for a spin around the Inside Passage, along the way hitting glaciers and such ports as Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchikan before ending up in Anchorage, Alaska, or sometimes back in Vancouver.
Royal Caribbean has a budget entry in this race too, in the 2,000-passenger Rhapsody of the Seas. Inside cabins on its weekly sailings until Aug. 7 are going for just $954 per person.
* Caribbean: If you like your ships gigantic, you'll like the similarly generous-size bargain available on Carnival Cruise Lines' 2,600-passenger Destiny, based in Miami. For seven-night sailings, a $1,419-per-person inside cabin is on sale this summer (from the cruise brokers named above) starting at $856 per person (based on double occupancy). Itineraries alternate between the eastern Caribbean (San Juan, St. Croix and St. Thomas) and the western Caribbean (Mexico's Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios in Jamaica). Download more details on the ship and routes from Carnival's Web site at http://www.carnival.com.
An equally impressive Caribbean deal is available on Majesty of the Seas from Royal Caribbean (http:// www.rccl.com). This 2,000-passenger tub is doing seven nights around the western end of the Caribbean Sea with inside cabins going for as little as $750 per person.
* Mexico: Royal Caribbean is operating nifty little three-nighters out of Los Angeles down the west coast of Baja California. For this trip, with departures through Aug. 20, the Viking Serenade has $600-per-person inside cabins that, through the above consolidators, can be snagged for as little as $288 a head.
* Canada: Another good deal on a long weekend away in climes cooler than Mexico's is available on the other side of North America. Carnival's newest ship, the Triumph (2,600 passengers), has several four-day, three-night round trips through the Atlantic between New York City and Halifax, Nova Scotia, on which inside cabins start at a mere $494 per person (the regular price is more than $900). Just enough to get a bracing taste of Canada's Maritimes and enjoy this impressive ship's many bells and whistles.
* Transatlantic: If you plan to be in Europe this August and are looking to get back to the States in style, consider Holland America's Maasdam, whose Aug. 29-to-Sept. 5 crossing from London to Boston will give you seven nights' run of this 1,300-passenger ship for just $799 if you book an inside cabin. For more details on the Maasdam, see Holland America's Web site: http://www.hollandamerica.com.