The spring season usually is boom time for cruise lines, as Americans flock to ships for end-of-winter escapes. But this year, the Iraq war and a troubled economy have forced cruise...

Share story

The spring season usually is boom time for cruise lines, as Americans flock to ships for end-of-winter escapes.

But this year, the Iraq war and a troubled economy have forced cruise companies to drop prices and offer other incentives to get people afloat. Cruises are hundreds of dollars cheaper than a year ago.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Four-day Caribbean cruises that cost $549 last March were $299 as of last week. Weeklong Celebrity Cruises were nearly $200 cheaper than in March 2002. On top of that, many of the cruise lines offer incentives to buy now, to sail soon — and they’ll offer rebates and cancellation guarantees not seen since the last war with Iraq.

Those bargain rates are for the cheapest, inside cabins. But travelers who do some research on the Web and work with a travel agent can uncover deals for pricier cabins and on luxury lines, too.

Most big lines also are offering unheard-of reductions in cancellation fees.

Cancellation policies vary considerably, and travelers should carefully investigate them. There’s cash to be saved if one has to cancel, but it’s in the lowered prices where the best bargains exist.

“We’ve seen bargains before, but nothing like this,” says Jennifer de la Cruz, spokeswoman for Carnival Cruise Line in Miami. “We’re having to lower pricing to get people on the ships.”

Don’t expect such good deals on domestic cruises, however, such as Alaska sailings. Because of the war, more American travelers are looking for cruises closer to home, inspiring cruise lines to reposition ships from the Mediterranean to American waters.