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At InsideFlyerUK we write a lot about airlines and hotels, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned one of my favourite ways to travel before – cruising.
I love pretty much everything about cruise ships: the incredible engineering and design, being at sea, the range of destinations you get to visit, good food, brilliant service, etc, etc.
One of the best things though is what ridiculously good value cruising can be – if you know where to look.
I will cover how to find the best deals (and even earn big stacks of Avios or hotel points on top!) in a more detailed post, but today I came across a deal I just had to share straight away.
Some of the best cruise bargains are for so-called ‘repositioning’ cruises, which is when a cruise line wants to move a ship from one region to another. Some of the most common repositioning cruises are transatlantic, because cruise lines like to have more capacity in Europe during the busy Spring/Summer season than in Autumn/Winter, when the ships usually head to the Caribbean.
Transatlantic cruising obviously means spending quite a few days at sea and (usually) stopping off at fewer ports than a normal cruise. It also means that you need to work out how to get to the ship in the first place if the cruise is to Europe, or back home if the destination is on the other side of the Atlantic – so you can see why cruise lines discount these voyages.
One-way transatlantic flights have historically been very expensive too (although this is changing with the likes of Wow Air and Norwegian beginning to shake things up), but for those of us who collect Avios/Miles, one-way flights are no problem at all!
I’ve been on a couple of transatlantic cruises to/from South America, and regularly book them between Europe and the USA for my parents, so I keep a close eye on the best deals.
£400.00-£500.00 per person for about 14 nights is fairly typical, and when you consider you get 24-hour food, great service (cabin cleaned twice a day etc), a wide mix of entertainment (everything from West End style shows to classical music, live jazz, comedians, magicians etc) and excellent facilities (pools, gyms, sports facilities like climbing walls, basketball courts etc) all included, it’s excellent value.
Transatlantic cruises also tend to stop at some interesting places that you might not otherwise get the chance to see, like the Azores, Bermuda and some wonderful places in the Caribbean.
Pullmantur Cruises are a Spanish cruise line owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. They aren’t very well known outside of Spain, but the ships they operate are actually old Royal Caribbean ones these days (‘Monarch of the Seas’ and ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ – if you ever wondered what had happened to them!), so should be fairly decent.
You can currently book a 13 night cruise from Colon (Panama) to Lisbon on the Pullmantur Monarch for ~ £542.00 (690 Euros) for two people, so £271.00 each. That’s just over £20.00 per night. The price they advertise is actually 205.00 Euros each, but there’s 140 Euros of taxes too.
Simply use this link to book.
The ship departs Panama on Friday 27th May 2016 (i.e. this month), and stops off in Cartagena De Indias (Colombia) and Philipsburg (Saint Martin) before arriving in Lisbon on 9th June.
The prices above are for an Inside Cabin (no window), but you can book a Cabin with a window for a few Euros more per person per day.
This is incredible value – and the deal is actually even sweeter…
If there’s one thing I don’t like about cruises it’s that my bar bill tends to end up being slightly ruinous. I’ve tried various ‘drinks packages’ that some of the cruise lines offer, and although they usually end up relatively good value, it still works out quite expensive (compared to the cost of my cruise!), at about £25.00 per day.
This wouldn’t be a problem here though because Pullmantur Cruises are All-Inclusive, including drinks!
On closer inspection, the included drinks list is actually very good (including standard cocktails, speciality coffees etc) and would suit me fine. If you prefer premium brands (Tanqueray No. 10 rather than Gordons in your G&T for example) or a wider variety of wine options, you can upgrade for a very reasonable 5-10 Euros per day.
So, a little over £20.00 per day gets you accommodation, transport from Panama to Lisbon, more food than you could ever possibly eat (24 hour basically), leisure facilities, entertainment, and free drinks. Absolutely unbelievable – I would genuinely spend more staying at home.
Are Pullmantur Cruises any good?
The honest answer is I don’t really know. I’ve never cruised with Pullmantur, but I have tried similarly rated European cruise lines like MSC and Costa and found them surprisingly impressive.
I’ve cruised with almost all the major lines (P&O, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Princess etc) and while some ships are certainly more luxurious than others, I’ve always had a good time and the difference between 3* and 5* ships isn’t as significant as you might think.
Cabins are always extremely clean and comfortable, you can always find something nice to eat, facilities are good, and service is almost always fantastic. Service on an average 3* ship is usually significantly better than at the vast majority of 5* hotels I’ve stayed at.
I like that the ships are ex-Royal Caribbean so the ‘bones’ should be good, and I can’t imagine Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (the parent company of Pullmantur) would allow standards to slip significantly.
For what works out at about £135.00 a week, my advice would be to go with low expectations and just enjoy it for what it is. I strongly suspect that low expectations would actually be blown away, but can’t guarantee it.
That said, cruising isn’t for everyone. Cruising on ships where the main language isn’t English might be problematic for some people too. If you haven’t cruised before, a 14 night transatlantic on a Spanish cruise line might not be the best way to test if you like it (at least make sure you pack your sense of adventure!), but for more experienced cruisers I would say go for it!
How on earth do I get to Panama?
Fortunately, Iberia have got us covered.
You can currently book Madrid-Panama in Economy (select Blue Class) for 21,250 Avios + £60.80 through Iberia Plus (or 6,400 Avios + £180.80 if you use ‘Avios & Money’) on the 25th or 26th May.
If you’d rather fly in Business (who wouldn’t!), there’s availability on the 26th May for 42,500 Avios + £68.60 (or 12,750 Avios + £488.60).
If you can make the cruise back to Europe part of a bigger trip to the Americas, even better! You can use Avios to fly to Panama on LAN from South America, or on American Airlines from the USA.
This sounds great, but there’s no way I can go at such late-notice
Ordinarily I would (sympathetically) say tough – the best deals tend to be last minute.
On this occasion I have better news.
You can do basically the same cruise in reverse (from Lisbon to Panama, stopping at Saint Martin and Aruba) departing on 19th September 2016 for £286.00 (365 Euros) per person. It’s also worth pointing out that there doesn’t appear to be any single supplement at all on this one!
To book in this direction, use this link.
I have spent years looking at and booking cheap cruises, and this has to be the best offer I have ever seen!