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Go ahead, cruise to anywhere

Email|Print| Text size + By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Correspondent / January 22, 2006

If you're new to cruising, nothing could be finer than a three- or four-night Caribbean sailing. Prices can be low -- sometimes as little as $300 or less -- and you will get an excellent introduction to what cruise-going is all about. Once you have tasted the meals, seen the shows, participated in the onboard activities, and visited the ports, you will pretty much know if a seagoing vacation is for you.

But what if you have taken a few cruises and those sunny Caribbean ports are beginning to blur in your mind? Fortunately, today's cruise ships ply most of the world's waters. You may pay more than for a Caribbean trip, but your cruise could still be a bargain, what with the aforementioned meals, shows, and onboard activities included in the price, plus frequent discounts off brochure prices. (Just don't get carried away with the ''extras," such as alcohol, gambling, shopping, art auctions, and shore tours, unless you have no fear of a hefty credit card bill.) Here are a few cruises afloat near and far from Caribbean waters:

Radisson Seven Seas has a What a Fare Deal on its July-August weeklong Baltic cruises, in which you get to choose your bonus: free round-trip economy air from 86 North American gateways including Boston, a $499 business-class air upgrade (with purchase of an economy air add-on), or $1,000 off the cruise fare. With the air deals, Baltic voyages aboard the Seven Seas Voyager start from $5,276 per person, and from $4,396 aboard the Seven Seas Navigator. For those choosing the $1,000 savings, starting prices are from $4,276 per person and $3,396 per person, respectively. Unlike with most cruise ships, these fares include shipboard gratuities, wine with dinner, and an in-suite bar setup. Sailings are from Stockholm to Copenhagen; among the ports are St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tallinn, Estonia.

For more information, call 800-285-1835 or visit www.rssc.com. To reserve, see a travel agent.

American Express Travel is offering introductory rates on the Queen Mary 2's 2006 sailings. On the April 15 six-day trans-Atlantic crossing from New York to Southampton, England, $1,749 per person buys a balcony cabin and $100 shipboard credit per cabin. On the May 17 crossing, each cabin will receive a complimentary bottle of champagne and $50 shipboard credit for the same fare.

Those offers must be booked at www.americanexpress.com/cunard. Discounts on some other sailings are available at www.americanexpress.com/cruise.

You can cruise American waters, too. The Mississippi Queen begins its 2006 steamboating season with a seven-night Quilting on the River cruise, April 23-30, which begins and ends in Memphis. Passengers learn the history of quilting as they travel along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The riverboat will spend two days in Paducah, Ky., for the annual Quilting Show, and Dianne S. Hire, a fiber artist quiltmaker, will offer presentations and show quilt works during the cruise. Fares begin at $1,712 per person on an inside stateroom, a savings of $428 per person off brochure prices, and $3,564 per person for an outside stateroom, a savings of nearly $900 per person. The Mississippi Queen and its sister boat the Delta Queen have several other itineraries. Another sister ship, the American Queen, which operates primarily out of New Orleans, has canceled its season because of the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina.

Reservations are through travel agents. For information and a brochure, call 800-543-1949 or visit www.deltaqueen.com.

Canada's rivers also offer smooth sailing. The replica riverboat Canadian Empress cruises the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers and among Ontario's Thousand Islands. St. Lawrence Cruise Line's current special is a Celebration of Spring, from Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario, May 13-19, with six nights at the five-night rate. Prices begin at $1,318 US instead of $1,582.

Call 800-267-7868 or visit www.stlawrencecruiselines.com.

When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at carpenter@globe.com.

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