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Making the most of a change in itinerary

Email|Print| Text size + By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Correspondent / September 23, 2007

Hurricane Dean, with winds that would reach 165 miles per hour, was headed for the Yucatan Peninsula. So, no matter what the itinerary said, the Carnival Fantasy was not. Before the start of a recent five-day cruise, Carnival decided to forgo a visit to Costa Maya, Mexico, in favor of one to Key West, Fla. Wise move: Damage to Costa Maya was severe.

Travelers should be aware that the possibility of ports being changed or eliminated is written into the contract that they sign. The Carnival agreement, for instance, says it may "omit or change any or all port calls, arrival or departure times, with or without notice, for any reason whatsoever." So, you need to be flexible when planning a cruise.

Flexibility has its rewards, though. Surely some passengers were disappointed that they would not be going to Costa Maya, with its beaches and historic ruins, and Carnival let passengers cancel without penalty if they did so within 24 hours of being notified. But for most, the unexpected port call was a delightful development.

In their half-dozen hours in Key West, many began with an Old Town Trolley, Conch Train tour, or electric car rental. Cruisegoers saw a warm and wondrous city, filled with colorful characters and unique architecture, including tiny tin-roofed conch houses and gingerbready eyebrow homes. Some visited the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, either to learn about the author or to admire the descendants of his cats (47 at this writing). Others went to Harry Truman's Little White House, where the president enjoyed card games and flashy Hawaiian shirts. Nature lovers, meanwhile, may have dropped in at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center.

Others were content just to do the Duval Crawl - walking up and down Duval Street, with its funky shops (how can you not love a store named Fast-Buck Freddie's). Still others hastened to have their picture taken next to a marker declaring this the southernmost point in the continental United States. There were also walking tours and unique attractions like Mel Fisher's Treasures, housing shipwreck bounty.

As always in Key West, the eating was good - maybe conch chowder and a pan-seared fish sandwich at the Conch Republic Seafood Company, a caloric but wonderful frozen Key lime pie dipped in chocolate from the Key West Key Lime Shoppe, or just a hot, strong, and sweet coffee or café con leche from the Five Brothers Grocery. Dining choices, of course, went well beyond those.

A postscript: The ship did pay a call on Mexico after the hurricane had passed, visiting the scheduled port of Cozumel, where damage was relatively minor. So, those who were flexible and accepted the changes got to see two diverse ports and may even have doubled their enjoyment.

The 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy was launched in 1990 but recently underwent a multimillion-dollar refurbishment. The Fantasy conducts four- and five-day sailings out of New Orleans, with prices on selected sailings starting at $259 for four days and $279 for five. Visit carnival.com or see a travel agent. For Key West information, helpful sites are fla-keys.com/keywest and keywestchamber.com.

Speaking of Carnival

Not everything you buy on a cruise ship is a bargain, but it is hard to go very wrong at a store where everything costs $10. The Bijoux Terner store, a fixture on Carnival ships, sells watches, bags, neckties, hats, purses, and assorted baubles, bangles, and beads. We don't know about the longevity of the items, but at the very least they provide an easy and economical way to spiff yourself up for formal night.

Insurance included

ECruises.com is providing travel insurance with every booking, saying it is the only cruise retailer to offer such an incentive. Insurance for portions of a trip other than the sailing are at your expense, however. The website also has Cruise Encyclopedia, offering information on the fleets of major lines.

No single supplement

New Hampshire-based General Tours' new Singles Ahoy program omits the single supplement on 43 luxury sailings on the Rhine, Moselle, and Elbe rivers. Solo travelers can choose from middle and upper-deck cabins and have a private outside stateroom. Prices for these cruises start at $1,999. General Tours also has a variety of early booking discounts.

Visit generaltours.com or call 800-221-2216.

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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