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It can pay to go your own way when booking a hotel in port

July 16, 2006|Mary Lu Abbott | Special to The Times

YOU may have snagged a bargain on your cruise, but the cost of staying one night at a hotel in your port of departure could blow those savings out of the water.

Travelers may need to fly in early and spend a night in a city before a cruise because of flight schedules between home and port. Other times it's wise to arrive a day early to protect you from unexpected flight delays or simply to rest up from a long trip.

But that additional expense can boost the vacation tab substantially, according to a survey I did of pre- and post-trip hotel packages offered by major cruise lines. An overnight in hotels in popular Florida ports, such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and in New York City easily can add $150 to $300 or more to cruise costs for two. In Europe, an overnight in Rome or London can wallop the wallet by $300 to $600 or more for two.

So are the hotel packages offered by cruise lines good deals? It depends. Sometimes it's cheaper to book the same hotel on your own.

For example, in New York City, Holland America offered $578 to $614 for doubles, including taxes, for the Sheraton Manhattan. But I found rates at the same hotel in September for about $365 for two.

When you see an enticing price in cruise line brochures or online, check the fine print. The price may be listed per person, based on double occupancy, which means it's double the price you see. For its sailings from Fort Lauderdale, Princess Cruises offered $89 per person, based on double occupancy, but excluding taxes ($178 total), for the Renaissance Fort Lauderdale in early September. But the hotel offered rooms for two at $166.39 a night.

The cruise line prices may be more expensive, but booking through the line offers the convenience of one-stop shopping and you often get some extras, such as transfers from the airport to the hotel and the hotel to the ship.

If only hotel-to-ship transfers are included, decide whether the extra cost is worth it. For instance, for the Courtyard by Marriott Miami Beach, with taxes and transfers to the ship, Royal Caribbean International offered a package of $316 for two in mid-September. The hotel charged $157 for a room in mid-September. A taxi from the hotel to the Miami port would cost $20 to $25. By booking directly and getting to the ship on your own, you would save $134.

For some European cruises, both the airport and the departure port can be considerable distances from the city, and transfers may be an added value. For London, most ships depart from Southampton, 78 miles, or Harwich, 83 miles.

Here are some things consumers should watch out for:

* Hotel choices are limited. Most hotels are name-brand properties, among them Crowne Plaza, Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt and Best Western. Some packages may be as good a deal as you might find in a lower-quality hotel for such large cities as Miami, particularly in high season.

* The included extras vary by line. Many packages include hotel taxes, but some don't. Taxes can be 13% to 17% of your hotel bill a day. Most include bellman gratuities.

* Some lines include transfers between the airport and ship when you purchase their air arrangements with your cruise. Depending on a ship's sailing time, Carnival provides free overnight lodgings for travelers flying from West Coast cities to Florida ports, when passengers buy the line's airfare-cruise package.

All rates above are subject to change, and hotels may offer some lower rates than quoted.

*

Mary Lu Abbott can be reached at cruisecolumn@aol.com.

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