If you’ve been following this blog or the Facebook Page, you probably have noticed that a few times each year we take something called a “repositioning cruise” to get from one continent to another. We talk about utilizing repositioning cruises often as they have become our primary means of transportation for us to get from one continent to another while indulging in affordable luxury.
In fact, this past year we even traveled entirely around the globe without flights, by instead using repositioning cruises. We’ve now spent nearly six months as passengers on repositioning cruises. So we know a thing a two about how they work.
These one-way cruises that are often found at discounted rates are can be an ultimate travel bargain. Yet repositioning cruises can be somewhat of a complex concept. We’re here to break it all down and explain everything about repositioning cruises.
So what exactly is a repositioning cruise?
Where do repositioning cruises go?
How much does a repositioning cruise cost?
What’s the catch?
We’re here to give you the scoop!
What Is A Repositioning Cruise?
Repositioning cruises are one-way cruises, with paying passengers, that are used to move of cruise ship from one region to another. When the seasons change, the cruise lines have a need to move their fleet of cruise ships based upon the seasonal changes in demand. So cruise lines reposition their ships from one area to another, hence the etymology of repositioning cruise. It’s also sometimes shorted to “repo cruise.”
A perfect example for the need of a repositioning cruise is with Alaska cruises in the winter. That doesn’t exist. Alaskan cruises only operate from the late spring to the early autumn.
Weather during the winter is prohibitive to Alaska cruise itineraries. So usually around September those Alaska cruise ships need to be moved, or repositioned, elsewhere. Alaskan cruises tend to get repositioned across the Pacific to Asia, down South America, or over to Florida, among other destinations.
Rather than transfer empty cruise ships for two or more weeks to their next seasonal home base, cruise lines instead form what is called a “repositioning cruise,” by offering passengers a chance to join the repositioning voyage.
These repositioning cruises are almost never direct cruises. Instead, there are typically interesting ports scheduled along the way, in an effort to make them more enticing. These one-way repositioning cruises tend to be a long (2+ weeks) in order to have time to cross an ocean or change hemispheres.
There are inevitably a number of consecutive sea days during repositioning cruises, which may not give such cruises as broad of an appeal as a packed Caribbean cruise that stops at a different island each day. Therefore, with a lack of demand, prices for repositioning cruises tend to drop to very attractive rates.
Cruises attempt to fill their ships to capacity. So when repositioning cruises aren’t selling, prices often become slashed to attract passengers who may further spend on drinks, in the casino, and in the shops onboard.
Why Take A Repositioning Cruise?
The discounted price point of repositioning cruises is a great appeal for many. You can have a chance to experience some elegant luxury cruises for a fraction of the price of the normal sailing.
Other people simply enjoy all the fun and relaxation that sea days can offer.
Meanwhile, others still like repositioning cruises because it can be an interesting way to travel great distances between different continents.
These are all great reasons to consider taking a repositioning cruise.
Common Misconceptions of Repositioning Cruises
We regularly hear so many misconceptions about repositioning cruises. Whenever people hear about us getting a good deal on a repositioning cruise, we always field comments like “you must be washing the dishes.” I assure you we’re not.
Repositioning cruises are NOT stripped down versions of a cruise. They are full-on cruises, with all the same great complementary dining options, entertainment, activities, and high standards as their regular itineraries.
We want to debunk these myths and tell you what repositioning cruises are really like.
Repositioning Cruises Are Full of Days At Sea
While there are a few repositioning cruise itineraries that do 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. Often the ports during repositioning cruises will be exotic remote destinations that aren’t typically reached by cruises.
Our repositioning cruise across the Atlantic on the Celebrity Eclipse took us to Nassau (Bahamas), a two-day overnight stay in Bermuda, and to the far-flung Azores islands that are way out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The most consecutive sea days we had on that itinerary were four days in a row between Bermuda and the Azores, so those ports acted as a great way to break apart the time spent crossing the Atlantic.
The transatlantic repositioning cruise that we took on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas had an itinerary that included two of the beautiful Canary Islands. And the repositioning cruise we took on the Celebrity Infinity from Florida to Chile stopped in some amazing Latin American ports nearly every other day as we journeyed through the Panama Canal down the western coast of South America.
Perhaps best of all is when we took a transpacific repositioning cruise that included stops in Alaska (including cruising through Glacier Bay – wow!) and a handful of ports in Japan. Meanwhile, a two-week repositioning cruise we took from Hong Kong to Singapore only had three sea days the entire trip! On that voyage, we actually wanted a few more days to relax in between so many busy port days. It all just goes to show that repositioning cruises are not all boring cruises completely filled with sea days every single day.
Cruise lines know that potential customers won’t be attracted to boring repositioning cruise itineraries. So they almost always plan many interesting ports along the way.
There’s Nothing To Do on Repositioning Cruises
Many people falsely believe that since the cruise is being repositioned, there is a lack of entertainment and things to do onboard. It’s actually the opposite.
Cruise lines book extra entertainment, added lecturers, and pencil in more scheduled activities to fill those additional days sea days. Nightly entertainment will range from award-winning Broadway performers to hilarious comedians that have been featured on the popular late night shows to rocks shows straight from Vegas.
Fascinating lecturers fill some time slots during the day. These aren’t just dull lectures on obscure topics. The lectures on repositioning cruises tend to be both relevant and fascinating.
For example, on a transpacific repositioning cruise, we took with Holland America to Japan, there were daily lectures on Japanese culture, which was so helpful for us to understand. We learned about proper etiquette at a tea ceremony, we were taught the basics of origami, and even took some Japanese language lessons. By the time we arrived in Japan, we were thoroughly briefed on the culture.
We’ve taken lectures about the marine life in the waters we were traveling through, then put it to practice by spotting whales. We’ve sat in on some astronomy experts and later went stargazing on the top deck. We love learning new recipes when attending cooking demonstrations. And we’ve even been delighted to attend the engaging lectures of fellow travel bloggers. We were dazzled by Shane Dallas, of the TheTravelCamel.com, who highlighted his intriguing experiences on the road less traveled with tales from his journeys through North Korea and Somaliland.
Typical cruise activities such as bingo, trivia, and other competitions also fill the day. Repositioning cruises usually offer a progressive trivia competition that takes place each sea day. Since it’s the same teams and groups that come every day, this usually gets to be really fun and highly competitive.
Meanwhile, there are all features that these megaships offer. Rock climbing walls, go-kart tracks, surfing waves, ice skating rinks, laser tag, water slides and more. There’s usually so much to do! Even on repositioning cruises with many sea days, we often find ourselves scrambling towards the last few days trying to experience all the things we haven’t done yet. And during repositioning cruises, there tends to never be any lines or waits for these activities that are otherwise packed during the single sea day of a regular cruise itinerary.
And if that all isn’t enough, 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 that there is to do, we sometimes find it was necessary to schedule downtime to relax by the pool or watch a movie. Otherwise, we have a bad habit of packing our schedule during sea days with activities during nearly every hour.
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 of each repositioning cruise will impact your chance of rough seas too. If you’re on a transatlantic repositioning cruise 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 these repositioning cruises are very luxurious, they often cost less than a ticket for a coach seat on a cramped redeye flight between the same two points.
Ok, so how much does a repositioning cruise cost? It always depends. Different ships and different itineraries will have different prices. Those prices fluctuate too, based on the demand of each repositioning cruise.
The lowest price we’ve ever seen for a long-distance repositioning cruise was $159 per person for an inside cabin on the Pullmantur Monarch. That came out to only $12.23 per person, per day to live in luxury as we crossed the Atlantic for two weeks! Yes, that low! It’s almost hard to believe.
The best part is that particular repositioning cruise is that it even included alcoholic drinks, which is extremely rare on cruises. So we took that super cheap repositioning cruise just to see what it was like. We couldn’t afford NOT to go! So how was it? You can read our full review of our $159 Pullmantur Monarch cruise here.
Meanwhile, the cheapest repositioning cruise we’ve seen on a 5-star ship on one of the major cruise lines is on the Norwegian Epic, cruising from Miami to Barcelona. We’ve regularly seen this transatlantic passage for less than $300!
Those are fairly extreme scenarios. But we simply want to show that the deals are out there.
Each year you can typically find at least several dozen repositioning cruises for under $1,000. Usually, there is always a handful of repositioning cruises for under $500 for two-week voyages. For repositioning cruises, we aim to shoot for a rate of about $50 per day. And we always find them, every fall and spring.
So where the heck do you find deals of repositioning cruise deals for $50 per day? If you are intrigued on how to uncover such crazy bargains, we’ve written a very detailed 6-step guide that shows exactly: How to Find Repositioning Cruise Deals. But before you dive into that, take a moment to understand where repositioning cruises go and some challenges these cruises can present.
Where Do Repositioning Cruises Go?
The most common repositioning cruise routes are “transatlantic” from Caribbean/Florida ports to European ports and vice versa. The winter and spring months are a very popular time to cruise the Caribbean and weather tends to be ideal too. But come summer, Mediterranean and European cruises are the popular itineraries.
As a result, the cruise lines must reposition their fleets from Florida to Europe in the late Spring. There are many ships that base themselves in ports like Fort Lauderdale or Miami in the winter that are transferred to ports like Barcelona and Rome to run summer itineraries. In the Fall months, it’s the reverse repositioning cruise routes and this cycle starts all over again.
These transatlantic repositioning cruises are the most common routes. But there are actually many more repositioning cruise routes that happen during these seasonal changes. 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 awhile, 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 awhile, 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. Repositioning cruises are truly fantastic travel bargains. Yet there are some challenges that repositioning cruises present that should be aware of. We
1) The Time of Year of Repositioning Cruises
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 let’s say you able to take some time off in the month of June and want to take a repositioning cruise then – sorry, there aren’t any happening.
How to overcome: Try to plan your travels around repositioning cruise, if possible. Travel in the Spring and Fall. In doing so, you not only take advantage of a great repositioning cruise deal, but you’ll arrive in a destination that is in shoulder season. This is the period in between high season and low season. During this time weather tends to be nice yet the busy season and higher accommodation rates haven’t yet gone into effect.
2) The Need for a Return Ticket
Most people will still need a flight to return home. Sometimes one-way international flights can be costly. If you are not continuing to travel onward, the repositioning cruise may not be financially practical.
How to overcome: You can do like we do and just continue traveling. That’s one solution. Yet even with a flight back, these cruises are still bargains, perhaps just slightly less so. There are some great budget airlines that are doing inter-continental flights now too. It’s now easily possible to score flight deals across between Europe and the US for under $500.
3) Length of Voyage of Repositioning Cruises
The average transatlantic repositioning cruise takes about two weeks, while transpacific cruises and other routes can take three weeks or even longer. Since many working Americans only get about two weeks of vacation time per year, such a crossing may not make sense. It could be completely illogical to spend two weeks crossing the Atlantic, only to then immediately take a flight back home.
How to overcome: Repositioning cruise may not be ideal for people with limited vacation time. So who can take advantage of repositioning cruises? Location independent professionals, long-term travelers, people on sabbatical or a gap year, those who are relocating, digital nomads, and retirees (which leads us to the next point).
4) It’s Not a Young Crowd on Repositioning Cruises
Retirees have long known about this travel secret of repositioning cruises. 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% of passengers on a repositioning cruise. This may be a turnoff to some younger folks, so we find it worth mentioning. If you’re looking to hang out with a bunch of like-minded millennials, then you may want to rethink taking a repositioning cruise.
How to overcome: Enjoy everyone! For us (in our mid-30’s), we love meeting interesting people regardless of whether their one of the few passengers on repositioning cruises that are around our age to the 80-year-olds on the cruises and everyone in between.
Besides, 60’s are the new 40’s! This isn’t your geriatric retirement center. The folks who go on repositioning cruises tend to be adventurous souls who like to have a good time. Many of them have done a heck of a lot more traveling than we have and have some incredible stories to share. They’re often savvy travelers too and understand great travel value, so we always share that in common with our fellow repositioning cruisers.
These adventurous cross-ocean cruise itineraries tend to attract fun loving group and many can party harder than we can. Just think about your crazy drunk uncle or your fun aunt. There are lots of them onboard, and they are awesome!
And there’s always at least a handful of other people onboard who are around our age. They stick out, just like we do, so the younger people are easy to spot. Being among the only younger passengers 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) Securing a Cheap Rate on Repositioning Cruises Can Be a Gamble
Sometimes it takes a bit of knowledge and watching rates to score a highly discounted price on a repositioning cruise. Repositioning cruise rates fluctuate greatly based on supply and demand. So it can be tricky to score a repositioning cruise bargain at the super-cheap prices we’ve touted in this post.
We’ve found that it’s often a proven to be a good strategy to wait until the last minute to score a bargain. Yet you run the very real risk of prices rising. It’s a gamble.
How to overcome: If you see a price within your budget, just book it. Booking far in advance to secure a low price can be a good bet. Yet if you’re flexible with the cruise line and exact itinerary, it’s usually easy to score a last-minute deal on transatlantic repositioning cruises. 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. We further detail all of our strategies in this post:
6) The Single Supplement Fee on Repositioning Cruises
Solo travelers can have a difficult time finding great deals on repositioning since cruises tend to impose a single supplement fee. It’s usually double the price – ouch! Therefor repositioning cruises, or cruising in general, can often become cost prohibitive for solo travelers.
How to overcome: Sometimes repositioning cruise rates go so low, that they’re still affordable even with the single supplement. Another way around this is trying to find a travel buddy. Lastly, some cruise lines will be nice and waive a single supplement fee. We’ve found that Norwegian tends to be the most generous at doing this and some of the NCL ships even have special solo cruiser rooms and lounges.
7) The Wifi on Repositioning Cruises
For those who need to stay connected for work or other responsibilities, repositioning cruises can become problematic. Wifi during repositioning cruise tends to be painfully slow and very expensive. Often the cost for unlimited wifi can exceed the cost of the entire repositioning cruise. It’s that expensive! And the wifi runs on a satellite signal, so while out in the middle of the ocean, it can become extremely sluggish or will go out entirely.
How to overcome: If you’re able to take a digital detox without having work obligations, it can be so refreshing to disconnect for a few weeks. For those who need some minimal connectivity, like us, repositioning cruises can still be very feasible. Whenever in port, visit cafes with free wifi or use your phone to connect if it has an international data plan. Buy small internet packages to take care of crucial tasks while at sea. And use these Cruise Wifi Hacks.
8) Extra Costs That Add To the Total Price of Repositioning Cruises
Wifi isn’t the only item that’ll add dramatically to the cost of a repositioning cruise. First, you know that the prices you see listed online usually don’t include port fees and taxes, which often tacks on an extra few hundred dollars to the total cost of the cruise. In addition to that once onboard, you’re charged an additional $10-$15 per person, per day for gratuities to the deserving waitstaff and cabin steward. For a two-week repositioning cruise that can add up to an extra $400 for a couple.
Additionally, alcoholic drinks are often pricey, as are shore excursions to take while in port.
How to overcome: Budget for port fees and gratuities to understand the real price of a repositioning cruise. Don’t throw money away in the casino. Go ashore independently to avoid expensive group tours offered by the cruise line. Limit your drinking and take advantage of these Top 10 Ways to Get Cheap Drinks on a Cruise.
How To Score A Bargain on a Repositioning Cruise And More!
Are you intrigued about repositioning cruises? Don’t stop reading now! We’ve still got lots more to spill. Be sure to check out these articles below for further reading all about repo cruises:
🚢 This post reveals exactly how How To Score a Rock Bottom Deal on a Repositioning Cruise.
🚢 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.
🚢 And see how we used a series of repositioning cruises to string together an entire Cheap World Cruise on A Budget.