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Originally published April 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 26, 2009 at 4:36 AM

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Cruise briefs | Last-minute bookings for cruises, and more

Cruises used to be bought months in advance. If this were a normal year, for example, then most of the 2009 cruises would already be booked...

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Last-minute bookings for cruises

Cruises used to be bought months in advance. If this were a normal year, for example, then most of the 2009 cruises would already be booked by now (many are bought during a time in January, February and early March called "wave" period). But this isn't a normal year. "I'm seeing them wait two weeks or less," says Jenny Reed, a travel agent for Atlanta-based Cruise Planners. It's a waiting game with cruise lines keeping prices as high as possible until it looks as if they'll sail with a lot of empty cabins. Then they slash rates. They're been trying to reverse the trend. In January, Carnival introduced what it called an "early saver" fare that guaranteed the lowest price on a cruise if you booked three months early. If you later find a lower fare for the same sailing and accommodations, Carnival will issue the difference in the form of an onboard credit.

A sampling of cruise deals

Cruise lines are offering deals to fill their ships. Two sail for the price of one on select Princess cruises. Called the "Escape the Economy" deal, it applies to dozens of sailings in Europe, Alaska, Asia, Australia, South America and the South Pacific. For example, a 16-night cruise from Los Angeles to Valparaiso, Chile, departing Nov. 22 starts at $969 per person double after the discount; the cruise aboard the Star Princess stops at 10 ports in five countries, including Mexico, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Fees and taxes are an additional $107. www.princess.com/escapetheeconomy.page.

Hurtigruten is offering 50 percent savings on most cabins on its six- and seven-night Norwegian Coastal Voyage. For example, May departures of a six-night cruise from Kirkenes to Bergen, Norway, start at $930 per person double, including taxes; discounted price starts at $1,020 for sailings departing June 1-15. Book by May 31. www.hurtigruten.us. Most cruise lines are offering discounts on some cruises; check with travel agents.

More cruise fees popping up

Cruise lines have imposed new fees in an apparent effort to raise onboard revenues. Perhaps the most aggressive to date has been Royal Caribbean, which recently added a $14.95 surcharge for passengers ordering a filet mignon in its main dining room and a $3.95 "late-night service charge" for onboard room service orders placed between midnight and 5 a.m.

Royal Caribbean says the fees are not about money, but convenience. Passengers who want to order a signature steak in the main dining room, as opposed to visiting one of its specialty restaurants, can now do so. And the room service fee, a spokeswoman added, is meant to "encourage responsible food ordering."

Carnival's $30 fee for its specialty restaurants, as well as its gratuity, is a choice, according to Tim Gallagher, a Carnival spokesman. "Guest feedback tells us they appreciate these options," he says, adding that a Carnival cruise remains a "very inclusive" vacation. "There are people who cruise and never spend a dollar in the casino, shops, spa or on shore excursions, photos or bingo."

Carnival's newest big ship

Carnival Cruise Line's newest ship, the Splendor, has all the requisite features of modern cruise ships: food enough for 10 meals a day, activities galore, Vegas-style shows, movies under the stars, a nine-hole mini golf course, a water slide and much more. The 3,006-passenger ship is f the largest in the Carnival fleet, measuring more than three football fields long.

Usually, Carnival's grand ships snag the more elite itineraries, sailing the Mediterranean or Caribbean routes. But now the Splendor will make year-round jaunts to the Mexican Riveria from Long Beach, Calif., making it the largest Carnival ship to ever sail the West Coast.

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Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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