Despite reports that cruise prices are at their highest level in several years due to increased demand, a cruise vacation is a much better bargain than it was 25 years ago.

The current minimum price of a seven-day Carnival Caribbean cruise from Miami is $599 -- just as it was 25 years ago. But when adjusted for inflation, a seven-day Carnival cruise that sold for $599 in 1980 would cost $1,373 today.

"Price is not the story -- it's value," said Bob Dickinson, Carnival president and CEO. "And when comparing today's ultra-modern 'floating resorts' to cruise ships of 25 years ago, your $599 buys so much more."

Indeed, where older ships were mostly converted transatlantic ocean liners with smallish cabins and little in the way of on-board amenities, today's cruise ships are stocked with features such as an array of formal and casual dining options, expansive spa and children's facilities, soaring atriums, and double-width promenades lined with myriad entertainment venues -- all available at roughly half what vacationers paid in 1980.

"There's really no comparison between the seagoing vacations of today and yesterday. Everything -- from dining options and health and fitness centers to children's facilities and in-cabin amenities -- has been upgraded dramatically. Factor in today's affordable pricing, and cruising is the best vacation value, hands down," Dickinson said.

In addition to a greater variety of culinary choices -- from expansive casual poolside eateries with 24-hour pizzerias and New York-style delis to intimate upscale supper clubs -- today's mega-liners feature a seemingly endless array of bars, lounges and nightspots, everything from sports bars and wine bars to multi-level theaters showcasing lavish Vegas-style revues.

Staterooms are not only roomier but ships feature more ocean view and balcony accommodations than ever before. For instance, 80 percent of the 1,062 staterooms on Carnival's 88,500-ton Spirit-class ships offer either an ocean view or private verandah.

Even younger cruisers have spaces to call their own, with expansive children's facilities -- as large as 4,200 square feet on Carnival's 110,000-ton Conquest-class vessels -- stocked with computer labs, indoor climbing mazes, arts and crafts centers and more.

Internet cafes -- unheard of 25 years ago -- have also been introduced, enabling guests to access e-mail, surf the Web, and send video postcards.

And today's health-conscious consumers have access to spacious health and fitness centers with equipment and pampering treatments rivaling the best facilities ashore.