BETH J. HARPAZ
AP Travel Editor
NEW YORK (AP) -- Carnival Cruise Lines prices have taken a dip this spring, according to pricing data, and some industry observers are blaming headlines over problems on several Carnival ships.
Todd Elliott, owner of Cruise Vacation Outlet, said his agents have seen a drop in price of 20 percent or more for equivalent cruises.
"Rates are far lower than I have seen in a while for example, the Carnival Dream, seven nights, Eastern Caribbean out of Port Canaveral, May 4 is $299 per person," he said. "Last year a similar Carnival cruise would have been at least $399 or higher."
Elliott added that this "seems to be 100 percent a Carnival Cruise Lines issue and not across all cruise lines."
The drop in fares began following an engine fire on the Carnival Triumph in mid-February. The ship lost power and passengers endured filthy conditions as the Triumph was towed to Mobile, Ala., resurrecting stories of a similar incident from 2010 aboard the Carnival Splendor. A number of sailings on the Triumph were cancelled as it undergoes repairs. Since then, cruises were cancelled aboard the Carnival Sunshine while it undergoes a makeover; a trip on the Carnival Dream ended early, with passengers flown home from the Caribbean due to a generator failure, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's Vessel Sanitation Program gave a failing grade to the Carnival Fascination.
Priceline Cruises data showed Carnival prices down from a year ago for April-June departures, including Alaska trips down 20 percent, Bermuda down 18 percent and Mediterranean down 21 percent, but spokesman Brian Ek said Carnival fares appeared to be holding up for July on.
Prices for inside cabins on the Carnival Glory's July 21 sailing to Canada are down 40 percent -- $479 per person now compared to $799 last December, according to the price predictor at AllThingsCruise.com.
But there are also seasonal factors in lower prices. Stewart Chiron, who covers the industry at Cruiseguy.com, says "sailings this time of the year tend to have booking weakness as spring break ends and families are preparing for fourth quarter of school year."
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com, said prices dip in late spring not just because of the school calendar, but also due to seasonal popularity in destinations: "The Mediterranean and Alaska are just getting started and the Caribbean is winding up its high season."
Asked to comment, Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz acknowledged "there are some really fantastic rates available right now. That being said, the rates are not completely unprecedented. This sort of pricing has been offered tactically in the past" in the pre-summer, post-spring break period.
An April 4 industry research report from Morgan Stanley, the financial services corporation, blamed "recent incidents onboard various Carnival ships" for what travel agents said were "record levels of cancellations and very low bookings from new cruisers. We hadn't seen such a negative report since the Concordia incident." The Costa Concordia sank off Italy in 2012, killing 32 people.
Data in the Morgan Stanley report showed Carnival prices down 7 percent in April from a year ago for future sailings, compared to an increase in prices at other lines like Princess and Celebrity.
"When a major event affects cruise travel, prices will drop to increase volume," said Brad Tolkin, CEO of World Travel Holdings, a large seller of cruises. "This is evident with pricing on Carnival Cruises Lines, as well as on other cruise lines with similar itineraries." But he added that the price drop has stimulated "a significant increase" in bookings.
Liberty Travel said that while Carnival fares are lower in the past month than they were a year ago or at the start of 2013, there has been an overall increase in fares on other cruise lines for those periods.
Mike Driscoll, editor of Cruise Week, said that "historically, customers are tolerant of problems that happen on ships." But "some agents don't think that the media or late night comedians will leave Carnival alone anytime soon. This raises the potential of creating prolonged pricing problems" for the Carnival brand.
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