Tough economy? The perfect time for a repositioning cruise

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Among the first vacation sellers to get slammed by recession jitters were the cruise lines. When the stock market tanked in late September, the phones stopped ringing. Rather than spend their cash, vacationers would rather hang onto it until they see where things are headed.

Standard cruises are begging for customers, and they're now insanely cheap. Priceline.com is now listing cruises for between $40 to $80 a night whereas a few years ago, you could easily pay double that. But for even more insane savings, look beyond the regularly scheduled runs and do a one-way trip.

One of the best bargains in cruising has long been the so-called "repositioning cruise," during which ships are relocated from one part of the world to another in preparation for the next season. These trips, which often include long stretches at sea in total (i.e. forced) relaxation and few cattle-call stops at ports, are now so cheap they're practically being given away. How about $18 a day?

That incredible price, which of course includes all meals, your room, and more than offsets what you'll send in the open-jaw airfare to reach the starting and ending points of the trip, is for the Costa Fortuna, which in March will spend 17 nights going from the Caribbean to the Italian Mediterranean (stopping in the Canary Islands, Portugal, and Barcelona) for an astounding $300. For the whole trip. Even adding in the mandatory taxes, the whole 17 night getaway comes to just $743.

Repositioning cruises typically happen at the change of seasons. This one, for example, leaves the Caribbean at the end of winter to ready for the warm European summer. In the fall, the repositioning bargains will be for the reverse direction. They're not always so long; some are a week or less. The ones that transfer ships from America's West Coast to the Caribbean, or vice-versa, usually come with a trip through the Panama Canal (although that treat may draw so many passengers that the price may not be so cheap).

Every travel agent worth anything will know what one is, and any cruise line that operates in more than one hemisphere (including Celebrity and Norwegian) will have a few on offer each year. The cruise fan site Cruise Critic rounds up the upcoming options, although you'll have to get price quotes elsewhere (such as through Cruise Compete, where multiple travel agents bid on your business).

As with so many forms of transportation, prices usually rise as bookings mount, so it's always smartest to make reservations as far ahead as possible.
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