I would like to take a W. Mediterranean cruise in mid-July, 2004 sailing from Italy. I have studied major lines (Celebrity, Princess, RCCL, NCL), and couldn't find one fitting my time frame. Then I surfed those Italian lines (Costa, First European/Festival, and MSC), and found both European Star and the coming MSC Opera (similar ships) will have a 7-night cruise from Genoa visiting Naples, Palermo, Tunis, Palma, Barcelona, and Marseille, which is good for me. Now, Costa only has schedule to April, 2004 on web. Because I have never cruised on those lines, I would like to learn from experienced cruisers.
1. Which line gives better value? Does Costa always decide their intinerary only 4 months in advance?
2. What is a reasonable price to expect to pay on a 7-day high season (July) cruise in an inside cabin (I found brochure prices are high, which is not a surprise).
3. Should we book as early as possible as dealing with those major lines and wait/hope for price drop? How to know when they will have a promotion or sale?
Also, all your booking/cruising experience with those lines are very appreciated.
My preference would be on the MSC line. They have some very nice ships coming out. I find Costa in Europe caters to the European customers, and just for my personal opinion, I was not impressed with their service in the Caribbean. I found it overall to be less desirable than any of the other lines i.e. holland, celebrity, RCCL,NCL and Princess. I have sailed on all those lines except for MSC, but the reports on MSC are very favorable - good value.I would be happy to check for you on pricing and availability and our agency always checks fares from day of booking to day of departure to check for lower fares. You know the cruise lines drop fares closer to sailing date and we have been successful in savings between deposit and sail date.
Also, it would depend on your tolerance for smokers. European lines tend to attract Europeans, who have a tendency to fill the public areas with smoke, including the dining rooms. And if the previous occupant of your stateroom was a smoker, prepare to enjoy the lingering aroma of second-hand smoke in your curtains and bedding.
I'm an Oceania fan - I like their smaller ships, which means easier access into and out of ports, especially if you have to use the tenders. It's much easier to offload 600 passengers than 3200. And the quality of service is comparable to Radisson or Crystal, without the high sticker prices.
They're offering early booking discounts right now for their summer cruises. They're also offering free or 2-for-1 airfare if you book earlier in the season.