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If you're the kind of shopper who likes to check out all the options and make sure you are getting a competitive price, this cruise website is for you. You can review a relatively comprehensive listing of cruises available, and ask travel agencies to bid against each other for your business.

Lowdown

The site lets you search your options by cruise line, destination and dates right into 2006. You can also check for cruises that happen around holidays, from Christmas to Cinco de Mayo, or trips that cater to special interests, such as singles, faith-based or gourmet.

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But the site can be baffling for neophytes to cruising because it consists mostly of lists and identical pictures and quotes prices only in U.S. dollars. There is no description of the differences between cruise lines or what you will find in the destinations the cruises visit. A toll-free number is given, which you can call to be connected with an agency for advice, but you're likely to find that the agency is in Texas or Florida.

The only Canadian agency on the site is Cruise Connections of Vancouver, which offers most of the same cruises and some exclusive specials in Canadian dollars on its own website: http://www.cruise-connections.com.

If you do decide to request a competitive quote, the process is supposed to be anonymous, but you have to give a legitimate e-mail address to get a reply. When you get an offer, you don't have to book it immediately, although the price and the type of cabin can't be guaranteed if you wait, because cruises can sell out and prices can change, says Heidi Allison-Shane, a spokeswoman for Cruise Compete.

Navigability

A click on the straightforward list of searches can literally inundate you with options. Search for Caribbean cruises and you will get more than 10 pages of listings that look very much the same but vary by itinerary or date. If you try to narrow the field and search only by date or departure port, you may get too specific and receive a message saying "sorry but we could not find any cruises that match these criteria."

One interesting twist with the search possibilities is that if you click on a destination in any itinerary, you can find out what other ships are going there as well.

Design

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This site is strictly no-frills; there aren't any enticing graphics or brochure photos or descriptions of the ships or their destinations. There is also no background information on the size or location of the travel agencies that are making the offers.

High points

You are certain to find lots to choose from and options you didn't think of, because you don't have to limit your search to the offerings of a single cruise line or price range.

Low points

You really have to do additional homework to find out if what you're getting meets your needs for a vacation. The site is all about the lowest price and it's important to remember that the cheapest cabin on a ship is generally inside and inconvenient. Unless you do more research elsewhere, you might not find out what better cabins might be available.

And not everything is up for competitive bids. The home page lists specials available through only a single agency. For instance, a special offered on the site last week was a Caribbean cruise next October that had only one cabin available and the price was $150 (U.S.) less than the brochure price. However, if you go to the Caribbean cruise listings, trips on the same ship for other weeks were listed with discounts of $225.

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Bottom line

A good reference for people who have some idea of what they are looking for in a ship, what kind of accommodations and itinerary they want.

Canadians should remember that if they buy a cruise through a U.S. agency, there is no buyer protection in case of default of the agency.

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