Is taking a Carnival cruise, post Triumph, really cheaper than staying at a Motel 6?
A news story that appeared Wednesday on Bloomberg compared the cost of these two experiences. Was the cruise line's recent troubles, including the stranding of 3,143 passengers at sea on the Carnival Triumph for days after it lost power in the Gulf of Mexico, responsible for the rock-bottom pricing?
The comparison used in the story -- a four-night trip on Carnival's Imagination, leaving Miami on April 22, to the lowest nightly rate at the Motel 6 chain of $39.99 -- concluded that the nightly Carnival rate of $38 was cheaper than Motel 6.
But it's not so clear cut.
The weeks in late April and early May are traditionally slow for the cruise lines. It's the period after spring break and before summer travel when lines routinely cut prices to entice potential passengers.
Laura Christian, Travelocity's manager of Cruise Marketing Strategy, said these prices "have definitely been seen before. But it's getting visibility now that the industry has been in the news so much."
Carnival said the cheapest rates were only on a few, last-minute sailings in the least-expensive cabins on older ships. These cheap rates are for inside cabins with bunk beds. The Carnival Imagination launched in 1995 and was refurbished in 2007.
"It's not unusual to see a select number of cabins in this price range during this time period," Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told ABC News. "If you look at some of the other lines, you'll see similar pricing."
A search on Travelocity revealed a four-night Bahamas cruise on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas departing April 15 and April 22 priced from $37 per person, per night. The ship launched in 1992. A four-night Bahamas cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line's Sky, launched in 1999, is priced from $32 per person per night, departing on April 15.
"This happens seasonally," said Christian. "A Caribbean cruise on a family-oriented ship is a tough sell during the school year. The prices reflect the demand." Prices will go up for summer sailings, she said, and then drop again in the fall.
The price of $38 per night is per person and based on double occupancy. In other words, if you were you to stay in a Motel 6 as one person or two, the price doesn't change. But were you to book the Carnival deal as a single person, the single supplement doubles the price. The total price for one passenger would be $76 per night.
Keep in mind too that none of the cruise prices we've quoted include port fees, taxes or tips, which can add substantially to the total.
What affect the Triumph stranding and several other subsequent issues on Carnival ships will have on the cruise line's bottom line remains to be seen. Christian said the possibility for the Triumph incident to drive pricing south was very real.
But it may be too soon to tell. "There's no way to determine if it [the Triumph incident] is affecting prices. We just don't know yet," said Gulliksen.
Christian said first-time cruisers in particular might be scared away from booking, a scenario that would lead to lower cruise prices in general. "But if we learned anything from [Costa] Concordia, if the cruise lines drop prices low enough that fear goes away," she said.
And if there's a silver lining in all of the bad cruise news, Christian said, it's that "what's bad news for the cruise industry is good news for the consumer."
Travelocity just kicked off the Colossal Cruise Sale. There's a last-minute, three-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on sale on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas from Colon, Panama, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for $23 per person per night.