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Find deals during 'shoulder season'

Last modified: 10/14/2012 12:00:00 AM
Just in case I'd forgotten (I hadn't), promotions in this week's mail reminded me that we're smack in the middle of 'shoulder season' for many popular destinations and vacation activities. In other words, summer cruises and land tours in Europe are about done. Summer vacation for school-bound families is over. The winter season in the Caribbean hasn't started yet. In fact, we're edging toward the end of the dreaded hurricane season. We're in the middle. So what deals are out there?

Re-positioning cruises: Most cruise lines assign a large portion of their fleets to waters where cruisers want to go, when they want to go there. In summer, that means the Mediterranean, Europe, Scandinavia, the Baltics. In winter, that means the Caribbean, Central America and parts of South America. The ships have to cross the Atlantic twice to get where the money is: eastbound in the spring, westbound in the fall. Since the ships have to sail anyway, and since the five or six days at sea mean fewer port fees and more on-board spending, cabins on these sailings go for great prices. Fall transatlantic repositioning cruises typically leave from Barcelona, hit a port like Lisbon and an island like Madeira, then shoot across the Atlantic for a quick stop in Bermuda before landing in a Florida port like Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Itineraries take 12 to 14 days and can start at about $1,000. You pay more for balconies, but in nice weather like Bud and I had a few years ago, reading the 'at-sea' days away under a blanket on a steamer chair is pretty close to heaven. Try repositioning.com (800-338-4862) for immediate options or call your favorite cruise line. If your schedule is too jammed now, think spring!

All-inclusives: The other deals that shine this time of year are at the all-inclusives and resorts from Florida right on down to South America. While re-positioning cruises are generally finished by mid or late November, resort deals can extend right up until just before Christmas. Why? Well, there's hurricane season - though many islands like Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao lie south of the hurricane belt. But there's also Thanksgiving and the run-up to Christmas. Americans are busy, focused on family and shopping. They need to be enticed to get away. The best deals can often be had at destinations where resorts are plentiful and (therefore) the competition is stiff. The Dominican Republic and Mexico's Cancun and the Mayan Riviera come to mind. If you have brand - say Iberostar, the Palace Resorts, or even the newly expanding Hard Rock Resorts - try them directly. But for shopping around, even for cruises, we've had excellent luck with cheapcarribean.com. If your days are too full to vacation-shop, try calling travel agent experts like AAA.com (228-0301, Fort Eddy Plaza) or Penny Pitou Travel in Laconia (pennypitoutravel.com, 524-2500).

Deals-on-deals: To make sure you're getting the very best deal out there, shop around, do the math and before you book, try talking to a person instead of just booking online. I've found that even at large online retailers like cheapcaribbean.com, talking to a representative can get some add-ons like wine in your cabin, transfers and more. In any case, you'll find many offers of free airfare, both for cruises and resorts, at this time of year. With today's airfares, that's a good deal!

(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at travelswithchase.blogspot.com.)


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