Each summer, the majority of U.S.-based cruise lines deploy several ships to Europe. In order to move the vessels from their stateside winter homeports, the cruise lines organize springtime trans-Atlantic voyages; in autumn, it's the reverse. These are known as repositioning cruises.
Typically, consumers can find decent deals on these so-called repositioning cruises. The cruise lines' logic is this – they have to shell out for fuel and staff costs no matter what, so it's better to have a half-full ship crossing the Atlantic rather than a completely empty one.
This week, Royal Caribbean International decided to rename their repositioning cruises in an effort to make them sound more appealing to consumers. The new Ocean Voyages program will launch in spring 2014, with eleven ships sailing between Europe and the USA. To spur interest, Royal Caribbean even announced a limited-time offer that includes a free premium beverage package for the first two passengers in each balcony or suite stateroom on bookings made by Oct. 15. The premium package includes name-brand liquor, wine, beer and all non-alcoholic beverages.
Let's take a closer look at the value...
On a 13-night cruise next May from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, England, aboard the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas, interior cabin fares start at $649 per person with double occupancy, based on the line's online rates this week. The fare jumps to $1,594 per person in a balcony cabin, but the beverage plan, which normally would cost $55 per person, per day ($110 per couple) would add up to $1,430 total for this voyage. That's a big incentive.
For those booking a 2014 cruise in a balcony cabin or higher after Oct. 15, the deal isn't quite as sweet when you compare Royal's 13-night cruise with some competitors. Princess Cruises, as an example, is selling a 14-night transatlantic cruise next April 18 aboard the Emerald Princess. It's also traveling from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, with balcony accommodations priced at $1,499 per person, double – about $100 cheaper than Royal, and one day longer.
Aside from Royal Caribbean, with its new Ocean Voyage branding, the only other cruise line that spends substantial time and money marketing transatlantic cruises is Cunard. Since Cunard is a luxury line that concentrates on passengers in the U.K. and Germany, a direct comparison with Royal wouldn't be fair. (Cunard's balcony fares for May, 2014 transatlantic cruises from Southampton to New York are $1,648 per person based on double occupancy, but the cruise is just seven days.)
For American consumers who'd like to try a transatlantic cruise with port calls in places such as Lisbon, Portugal; Malaga, Spain; or Cork, Ireland, to name a few, Royal's Ocean Voyages cruise fares are a good deal. If you book a balcony cabin before Oct. 15, the premium beverage package makes it a great deal for the right cruiser (refer to code SVP3 when booking to receive the drinks deal). Teetotalers looking for a transatlantic cruise, however, might do a little better by shopping around.