One of the industry’s latest trends is giving travelers a chance to score some serious deals.
Looking for terrific value on your next—or first—cruise? It’s a simple but seriously insider tip: choose an older ship that just received a total makeover. In the past, cruise lines typically gave older ships a periodic update, bringing them in every two or three years for routine maintenance and a light refresh. But recently, a spate of major industry players have launched big renovation plans for entire classes of ships that not only upgrade their interiors and amenities for guests, but offer travelers a chance at considerably lower fares, too (not exactly by design; but older ships don’t command the same price points that newer ships do).
For years, cruise lines would send their ships into dry dock—the company’s maintenance facility—at regular intervals for a tune up. “They would invest in soft goods like new carpets, new décor, and new furniture,” says Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief at Cruise Critic. But part of what’s new in this latest trend, she says, is that they’re “reinventing entire spaces” on the ships—on a far more extensive level.
“What we’re seeing now is a reflection of cruise lines really investing in their older ships, and this is a relatively new thing,” McDaniel says. “The ‘wow’ factors traditionally reserved for new ships are now also being added to these older ships.”
Consider the 18-year-old Celebrity Summit—a middle-aged gal by cruise-ship standards—which has never looked more gorgeous. She emerged in March of this year from a 38-day, stem-to-stern transformation that gutted and rebuilt her staterooms from scratch and gave them a timeless designer look. Her once-dated restaurants and lounges are now bright, sleek, and sophisticated. Top-deck hangouts feel like swanky Manhattan rooftop bars. And all the behind-the-scenes technology, from navigational controls to Wi-Fi connectivity, is now up to the minute. Pretty timely for vacationers looking for cushy summer vacations, as she’ll sail to the Bahamas and New England through the summer.
Deals ahoy! How to compare fares
New ships will always be the industry’s brightest, shiniest objects, because they typically bring a raft load of new features. But they also command higher fares. For value-minded travelers, choosing a recently renovated older ship can be a savvy and moneywise strategy. “Sailing on a brand new ship is probably going to cost you 30 percent more, depending on the time of year and the itinerary,” says Doug Parker, founder and host of Cruise Radio. “When an older ship emerges from a big makeover in dry dock, you get a newer experience for not-a-new-ship price point.”
You see this most clearly when you compare fares for a new ship with a refurbished ship in the same cruise line; for example, revamped Celebrity Summit and four-month-old Celebrity Edge, which was just recognized on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 Hot List for its ability to nab hot designer talent like Patricia Urquiola and Tom Wright. As you’d expect, Edge has more bells and whistles, including first-at-sea innovations like the multi-purpose Magic Carpet platform that slides up and down the outside of the ship (which Wright designed). But Summit suddenly feels like a new ship, and her staterooms and public areas now sport the same chic, timeless designer look inspired by Edge.
Notably for travelers, “While it is great to have an older vessel take on the look and feel of the newest fleet mates, it does not really increase prices,” says Tom Baker, president of the travel agency CruiseCenter. It’s impossible to do an exact apples-to-apples comparison on pricing, but we can look at itineraries to the same part of the world in the same month. On Edge, a 9-night Southern Caribbean cruise in November runs $1,357 per person, on average, which translates to about $151 per day. On Summit, a 7-night Southern Caribbean cruise in the same month costs just $633 per person, on average, or $90 per day.
In this case, Summit’s fares are roughly 41 percent less than Edge’s. On a 7-day cruise, that $61-per-day savings works out to $427 per person—or $854 per couple.