If you’ve been following us on here on the blog or on Facebook, you probably have noticed that a few times per year we take something called a “repositioning cruise” to get from one continent to another. On the surface, taking a two-week luxury cruise may seem like an extravagant and expensive way to travel. We’re here to let you in on one of travel’s best-kept secrets: its not.
So what is a repositioning cruise?
Where do repositioning cruises go?
How much does a repositioning cruise cost?
We’re here to give you the scoop!
What Is A Repositioning Cruise?
When seasons in certain regions change, the cruise lines move their ships based on the change in demand. For example, those summer Alaskan cruises aren’t going to make any money sailing the frozen Artic waters during the winter, so they need to be moved, or “repositioned,” elsewhere.
Transatlantic routes are among the most common of repositioning cruises. High season for Caribbean sailings is roughly November through April. Meanwhile high season for Mediterranean and European cruises is roughly May to September. So every year around April the major cruise lines begin to reposition their megaships from Florida ports over to European ports for those summer months. Rather than sail directly over and leave the cabins empty, the cruise lines turn the voyage into a lovely transatlantic sailing that will usually stop at a handful of ports along the way.
Despite these port calls, there are inevitably a number of consecutive sea days, which may not give the cruise as broad of appeal as an island-inensive 7-day Caribbean cruise. Therefor, with a lack of demand, prices for repositioning cruises tend to drop unusually low.
And for the uninitiated, I’d be remiss to not remind you that these rock bottom prices not only includes your 5-star cabin on the ship, but also provides you with live entertainment, fun-filled activities, gourmet meals, even complimentary room service, and so much more.
Common Misconceptions of Repositioning Cruises
It’s All Sea Days
While there are a few sailings that simply make a straight shot or perhaps only visit a single port, this is not the norm. Most repositioning cruises make several port calls during their voyages, as this will appeal more to potential cruise goers. Sometimes these ports will be exotic remote destinations that aren’t typically reached by cruises. Our sailing with the Eclipse took us to Nassau (Bahamas), a two-day overnight stay in Bermuda, and yet we loved our time in the far-off Azores best of all. The most consecutive sea days we had on our itinerary were four in a row, so these ports were a great way to break up the time spent crossing the Atlantic.
Our transatlantic sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas took us to not one but two of the beautiful Canary Islands. And the repositioning cruise we took on the Celebrity Infinity from Florida to Chile had us stopping in wonderfully exotic port calls nearly every other day as we journeyed down the western coast of South America.
There’s Nothing To Do
Many people falsely believe that since the cruise is being repositioned, there is a lack of entertainment and things to do onboard. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead the cruise lines work tirelessly to book top entertainment, lecturers, and scheduled activities to fill those extra sea days. Nightly entertainment will range from award-winning Broadway performers to hilarious comedians usually on the late-night circuits.
Fascinating lecturers fill some time slots during the day. During our recent cruise; we were delighted to attend the engaging lectures of fellow travel blogger Shane Dallas (of the TheTravelCamel.com) as he highlighted his intriguing experiences on the road less traveled.
Typical cruise activities such as bingo, trivia, and other competitions also fill the day. And if that all isn’t enough for you, there are even more social activities organized by passengers on sites such as CruiseCritic.com. During our Celebrity Eclipse repositioning cruise, we participated in a multi day Amazing Race-style competition organized by fellow passengers, which turned out to be a highlight of our two-week voyage.
With all there was to do, we actually found it was necessary to schedule some down time to relax by the pool or watch a movie. Rest assured, you will not go bored. …Unless, of course, you want to, and that’s okay too!
The Seas Are Too Rough in the Open Ocean:
While the seas can be rough in the middle of the ocean, this is not always the case. Modern cruise ships are becoming so large and stable that it’s often difficult to even feel like you’re on a boat during a moderate chop. But if the seas do get rough, most ships have what’s known as stabilizers, which greatly lessen any rocking sensation.
The exact route and time of year may impact your chance of rough seas too. If you’re on a transatlantic at the end of September, this is the height of hurricane season. While all ships will steer far clear of a storm of such magnitude, hurricanes still have the capacity to churn up the sea hundreds of miles away. So this is something to keep in mind. But the middle of the ocean can also be remarkably calm. You will have better chances of flat seas in the Spring, but we’ve experienced calm seas in both Spring and Fall.
Our Atlantic crossings have all been flat. There were some pleasant swells of maybe a few feet, which you could not feel. We simply couldn’t get over how calm the ocean was smack dab in the middle of the mighty Atlantic.
How Much Does a Repositioning Cruise Cost?
While our repositioning cruise certainly was very luxurious, it actually cost less than a ticket for a coach seat on a cramped redeye flight from the States to Europe. Ok, so how much is it exactly? For Spring 2014 sailings, the lowest price we saw for any long distance reposition cruise was $299 per person for an inside cabin on the 5-star Norwegian Epic from Miami to Barcelona. Yes, that low! Its almost hard to believe. But you can see from the screen capture below (taken in early March), that it absolutely is true.
Each year you can typically find at least a few dozen ships for under $1,000 and usually a handful of those are under $500, like this Norwegian Epic itinerary. But we had been on the Norwegian Epic before, really wanted to try out Celebrity, liked the Eclipse’s itinerary, and splurged on a balcony cabin. With all this, our cruise was a bit more than the Epic’s $299 price tag but even with a balcony on a popular 5.5-star ship, we kept it well under $1,000. And actually we technically got our cruise for free using travel hacking and credit card points (but that’s a whole ‘nother post to come entirely). Right now we’re simply here to fill you in about what is a repositioning cruise.
But if you are intrigued on how to uncover such a crazy deal, we’ve written a very detailed 6-step guide that uncovers exactly: How to Find Repositioning Cruise Deals.
Where Do Reposition Cruises Go?: Repositioning Cruise Routes
The most common repositioning cruise routes are “transatlantic” from Caribbean/Florida ports to European ports and vice versa. You will see many ships who base themselves in ports like Fort Lauderdale or Miami in the winter, reposition their ships to the Mediterranean (commonly Barcelona or Rome) over the summer.
But there are actually many more repositioning cruise routes. Here’s a look at some of the more common Spring (March-May) repositioning cruise routes.
- Caribbean, Florida, and other Southern US ports to European ports
- Caribbean, Florida, and other Southern US ports to Pacific Northwest ports such as Vancouver
- South America to Europe (less frequent and often European lines)
- Australia to Asia (particularly Singapore)
- Asia/Oceania to Pacific Northwest (less frequent)
- Other: Every once in while, there is just an odd repositioning route in which a cruise line may be repositioning a ship not just for a season, but changing a ship’s itinerary on a more permanent basis. Or they may just be less common repositioning cruise routes. Use some creative search filters and find these unique voyages, which may pack a very rare and interesting repositioning cruise itinerary. We’ve seen some interesting itineraries, for example, from Australia through the Pacific islands to Hawaii!
Here’s a look at some of the more common Fall (September-November) repositioning cruise routes. (You’ll notice it is essentially it is the opposite of what was mentioned above.)
- Europe to Caribbean, Florida, and other Southern US ports
- Pacific Northwest (e.g., Vancouver) to the Caribbean, Florida, and other Southern US ports.
- Europe to South America ports (less frequent and often European lines)
- Asia (particularly Singapore) to Australia
- Pacific Northwest to Asia/Oceania (less frequent)
- Other: Every once in while, there is just an odd repositioning route in which a cruise line may be repositioning a ship not just for a season, but changing a ship’s itinerary on a more permanent basis. Or they may just be less common. Use some creative search filters and find these unique voyages, which may pack a very rare and interesting itinerary. We’ve seen interesting itineraries to India and Dubai through the Suez Canal from Europe!
So What’s the Catch?
Really there is no big catch. But here are a few items worth being aware of:
1) Time of Year:
Most repositioning cruises occur in mid-Fall and mid-Spring when the seasons change. For example, most transatlantic sailings occur April and perhaps a few lingering into May. From Europe back to the States, you can look for voyages starting in September, into October, and lasting into early November. So if you’re lucky enough to have summers off and decide you’d like to do a transatlantic sailing in June; sorry, it simply doesn’t exist.
2) Length of Trip
The average transatlantic crossing takes about two weeks while transpacific cruises and other routes can take even longer. Since many working Americans only get about two weeks of vacation time per year, such a crossing may not make sense to you. It could be a bit nonsensical to spend two weeks crossing the Atlantic, only to hop on a flight back home. But for those who do have the time, repositioning cruises can be a fantastic way to take advantage of that.
3) Return Ticket:
Most people will still need a flight to return home. Sometimes one-way international flights can be costly and can even be the same as a round-trip ticket itself. If you are not continuing to travel onward, the repositioning cruise may not be financially practical for you. But even with a flight back, these cruises are still bargains, perhaps just less so.
So who can take advantage of repositioning cruises? Location independent professionals, long-term travelers, people on sabbatical, those who are relocating, digital nomads, and retirees (which leads us to the fourth point).
4) Fellow Passengers
Retirees have long known about this travel secret and many savvy seniors rightfully take full advantage of it. If you’re below the age of 60, you’ll likely be among the youngest 5% on the ship. This may be a turnoff to some younger folks, so I find it worth mentioning.
For us (in our mid-30’s), we enjoyed the company of everyone, whether it was the few people our age, to the 80-year-olds on the ship, and everyone in between. Besides, 60’s are the new 40’s! This isn’t your geriatric retirement center. The folks who are on these cruises tend to be adventurous souls who like to have a good time. Many of them have done a hell of a lot more traveling than we have and have some incredible stories to share. They tend to be a fun loving group too and many can party harder than we can. Just think about that crazy drunk aunt or uncle you love. There’s lots of them onboard, and they are awesome!
And there’s always at least a handful of other people onboard who are our age. They stick out, just like we do, so you’ll be able to easily spot them. Being among the only youngsters on the ship, you’ll have something to immediately bond over. After two weeks at sea together, you may have just developed a lifelong friendship.
5) Flexibility on Itinerary and Last Minute Booking:
If you’re the type of person that likes to plan way in advance, it may not bode well for getting a highly discounted rate on a repositioning cruise. Rates fluctuate greatly based on simple supply and demand. Some ships may sell cabins particularly well and won’t have the need to greatly slash prices. So the more flexible you are, the better. And if you can be brave enough to wait until just a few months before the sailing, this is often the best time to strike. But I’ll get more into that during tomorrow’s post.
How Can You Score A Bargain on a Repositioning Cruise?
Our next post reveals our thoroughly vetted 6-step approach on a surefire way to get a rock bottom deal on a repositioning cruise (or any cruise for that matter).
Also, be sure to check out all of our favorite cruise tips in our latest article about cruising: Top 50 Cruise Hacks to Save You Money, Hassle, and Weight Gain.