Next »

Repositioning Cruises 101

Discounted rates, access to off-the-path ports, and lots of time for onboard R&R make repositioning cruises a popular choice – use our expert 101 guide to plan your next repositioning cruise vacation

By Elissa Richard

ShermansTravel.com

August 31st, 2011

“Repositioning” cruises touch on a tantalizing trifecta for cruisers, offering tremendous value, unique (albeit lengthy) itineraries, and lots of long, laid-back days at sea. Occurring mostly in spring and fall, these one-off seasonal sailings typically unfold whenever a ship needs to relocate from one location where tourism is dwindling to another where it’s just picking up – a phenomenon usually dictated by warming weather patterns; as such, the lot of cruise ships will move twice a year (on a round-trip itinerary). Tagging along on these ships’ mandatory migrations from point A to point B provides a unique opportunity to navigate the globe on rare itineraries, often from one continent to the next.

The most popular points for repositioning are in seasonal destinations like Alaska and Europe: Spring sees ships move towards their summer home in Alaska from Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera, Asia, and the Caribbean, or towards Europe from the Caribbean, South America, and beyond. Come fall, the ships reverse route. The unusual combinations are often an engaging combination, mixing the likes of European capitals and Caribbean shores, or Alaskan glaciers and Hawaiian volcanoes. However, with cruise companies focused on getting their ships to their new homeports in as direct a shot as possible, the itineraries are not highly port-intensive, leaving plenty of time for R&R during extra days at sea.

Obviously, the cruise lines would much rather operate these repositioning voyages with paying passengers onboard, and often price them at jaw-dropping rates to seal the deal, and to help offset some of the commonly viewed drawbacks of these trips. Namely, passengers are responsible for their return trip, and a one-way or multi-leg plane ticket can prove pricey; those preferring port-intensive sailings will be largely out of luck (there’s not a whole lot between here and there when transiting the Atlantic, for instance); and it’s likely guests will experience questionable shoulder-season weather on both ends of the trip.

In order to help you plan your perfect repositioning cruise vacation, our cruise expert has rounded up answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, as well as some useful tips for booking repositioning cruises. We’ve also broken down the repositioning cruise offerings by cruise destination and cruise line so you can decide which voyage is right for you. Once you’ve got your feet wet, head over to our Cruise News blog for the latest updates on the industry, or check out our cruise deals section for ways to stretch your travel budget a bit further.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When is repositioning cruise season?
How long do repositioning cruises last?
What regions and ports do repositioning cruises serve?
How much do repositioning cruises cost?
What kind of cruise lines offer repositioning cruises?
What should I expect onboard a repositioning cruise ship?

When is repositioning cruise season?
Repositioning cruises are seasonally scheduled throughout the year, usually whenever weather conditions dictate that the vessels head out in search of more tourism-friendly climes. Not unlike the migratory marine wildlife with which they share the waters, these ships will go where the “fishing” is best; in their case, for prospective cruisers. The bulk of the sailings are slated for the spring and fall, when ships make way for their summer and winter destinations. One of the most popular times of year is in spring, when ships move from the Caribbean north towards Alaska and Europe, and again in the fall, when those ships point their hulls back south, towards the warm waters of the tropics. Note that each cruise line operates on its own independent schedule, so expect some deviations in the “norm” – with some destination flexibility, you’ll likely be able to find a repositioning cruise operating somewhere in the globe at just about any time of year.

How long do repositioning cruises last?
Repositioning cruises tend to run longer in duration than standard sailings, due to the large swaths of water they’re typically expected to traverse – cruise lengths can range from six days to as much as a month or more in duration, though most number around seven to 18 days. Keep in mind that the long distances involved often translate to less time spent in port and more days at sea (a boon to some, a bore for others).

What regions and ports do repositioning cruises serve?
What better way to experience several continents, sweep an entire coastline, or hit entirely off-the-beaten path ports (the Azores, anyone?) in a single vacation than via a repositioning cruise? It’s a surefire way to experience a unique blend of ports that you just won’t get on ordinary itineraries, and the perfect remedy for the indecisive cruiser not wanting to choose just one region (who said it had to be the Hawaiian islands or Alaskan glaciers, anyhow?).

As a rule of thumb, cruise lines typically chase optimum climes (the old migratory rules of heading north for the summer, south for the winter generally also apply here), so look to any seasonal destination as a starting point for your repositioning cruise hunt. Alaska, for instance, is a summer-only cruise destination, and as the season kicks off in May and winds down in September, you’ll see corresponding repositioning itineraries that encompass ports in Hawaii, the western U.S. coast, the Mexican Riviera, Asia, the South Pacific, or the Caribbean (the latter comes with a Panama Canal transit). Europe – both at its northern reaches and in the southerly Mediterranean – is another summer-centric locale, where many ships will traverse the Atlantic from (in spring) or to (in fall) the Caribbean or the rest of the Americas. Likewise, Asia is a booming cruise destination that often swaps ships with the Mediterranean in spring and autumn; other offerings can be found for the Middle East, Africa, and beyond. See our repositioning cruise destinations section for more details. 

Just note that these longer sailings are not nearly as port-intensive as standard sailings, so expect to be spending less time landlubbing and more time stretching out your sea legs, a plus or minus, depending on your taste for onboard relaxation or land-based adventure.

How much do repositioning cruises cost?
Repositioning voyages offer significant value compared to standard sailings, and there are plenty of deals to be had, with cruise prices offering a well-below-average per diem rate. We’ve seen rates as little as $519 (or $35/night) for a 15-night sailing, though fares more regularly run around the same rate for 7- or 8-night cruises (or $65/night).

The cruise lines are happy to discount repositioning cruise rates for two reasons – one, it’s more economically sensible to travel with a boatload of paying passengers than with an empty vessel (even travelers who prefer more port-intensive trips can oft be swayed by a bargain fare), and two, they’re aware that passengers will be spending more days at sea, and be more inclined to drop extra cash onboard in the casino, bars, spa, and shops accordingly.

Also keep in mind that because these types of sailing mean embarking in one city and disembarking in another – sometimes a continent apart – you’ll have to factor in the cost of airfare. You’re responsible for your own return trip, and one-way or multi-leg flights can cost more than a standard round-trip. Make sure to inquire with the cruise line or travel agent about the assistance they can provide with return airfare when booking, and don’t snap up a bargain cruise fare until you’re sure of the associated airfare costs – that great-looking cruise-only rate might not be such a steal-of-a-deal if you have to offset it with staggering airfare costs.

What kind of cruise lines offer repositioning cruises?
Almost all cruise lines, large and small, choose to relocate their ships based on weather patterns and tourism high seasons. On occasion, ships will also “reposition” on their maiden voyages from their building yards, making these sailings a unique opportunity to christen the ship on its first run.

Though most cruise lines will offer real bargains to lure travelers in on the journeys, be sure to choose a ship that will meet your needs for lengthier repositioning itineraries, which often incorporate plenty of days at sea. Small ships with few amenities can become boring quickly, not to mention prove more arduous to those prone to seasickness when out on the high seas.
Nearly 20 major cruise companies currently offer repositioning cruises. Find the one that’s right for you in our repositioning cruise lines section.

What should I expect onboard a repositioning cruise ship?
As repositioning cruises tend to cover longer distances and require more days at sea, cruise lines will often compensate by increasing the offerings onboard, with extra activities, special guest lecturers, classes, special themes and enrichment programs (like culinary programs), and additional “formal nights.” Of course, the resort-style ship’s amenities that oft get overlooked on hectic port-to-port itineraries are best utilized here, with the spa, library, fitness center, lounges, theater, casino, and pools and decks all helping to ensure an engaging voyage.

As for your company onboard, note that the longer the cruise, the more limited its potential passenger pool, with some of the lengthier itineraries left largely to retirees or those lucky few blessed with substantial vacation time. Plus, repositioning cruises are rarely sold out, so you’ll have fewer fellow passengers to bump elbows with. Though the cruise staff may be reduced, oftentimes those onboard will appear fresh and extra-attentive towards guests, having just stepped onboard for the start of a new cruise season.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates and travel deals on repositioning cruises and one-way airfare for the other leg of your journey. 

See Next Page »






Our Experts save you money with travel deals and advice

Sign up for the Top 25 Newsletter to get exclusive weekly deals