For cruisers, fall and spring mean more than just transitioning wardrobes. These seasons are among the prime times of year for repositioning cruises.
Though some ships spend 365 days sailing the same itineraries or sticking to the same regions, many relocate a few times a year, depending on the season, from Canada/New England to the Caribbean or Alaska to Mexico, for example. Cruise lines sell these one-way routes (usually at a discount), rather than sail the ships without passengers. These voyages, known as repositioning cruises, are sometimes themed with subjects ranging from theater to wine, and others are enhanced with enrichment options, such as guest lecturers.
The following are answers to some of the questions about repo cruises that we're asked most frequently here at Cruise Critic.
How do I find a repositioning cruise?
Look to regions that have very specific annual seasons. For example, ships that spend summertime in Alaska have no choice but to relocate come September, and they frequently offer unique itineraries along the California coast to Hawaii or through the Panama Canal. They travel the opposite route in the springtime. Also look for transatlantic cruises as ships reposition from East Coast ports (like New York and Fort Lauderdale) to Europe for a season of Mediterranean or Northern European sailings. This often happens in fall and spring. Other repositioning itineraries journey to Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Why should I take a repositioning cruise?
You can visit broad swaths of the Caribbean or an entire coastline all at once, cross the Atlantic with pit stops in off-the-beaten-path places like Greenland, or hit several cruise regions and continents on one trip. Repositioning cruises often incorporate a multitude of sea days, offering a more relaxing vacation without hectic, back-to-back port calls. Finally, when ships reposition, you save: Per-diem rates for repositioning cruises are often much lower than they are for "regular" sailings. However, this brings us to our next point ...
What are the downsides?
Because repositioning cruises begin in one city and end in another -- sometimes many, many miles away -- passengers are often responsible for picking up typically expensive one-way or open-jaw flights. Be on the lookout for cruise deals that include the one-way fare, which makes a repositioning cruise an extraordinarily good value. For some passengers, spending days on end in the middle of nowhere, particularly on ocean crossings, is more maddening than relaxing. Plus, repositioning voyages tend to be long (some nearly a month), which often limits them to retired seafarers and the lucky few with a decent amount of vacation time.
Intrigued? Read on for details on several of our favorite repositioning cruises for spring 2015 and fall 2015.
Editor's Note: Remember, these are just a few of the many repositioning cruises available. Contact your favorite cruise line or travel agent for more options.
The Ship: Carnival Legend
The Trip: Honolulu to Vancouver, 10-night Hawaii cruise
Departs: May 7
Itinerary: Honolulu, Maui, Hilo, Kona, Kauai, Vancouver
The Perks: After spending a season in Australia, where it will be off-limits to the American market, 2,124-passenger Carnival Legend will arrive in Honolulu on May 7. The ship will spend a day and a half docked in Honolulu before sailing to Maui, Kona, Hilo and Kauai for a day in each port, followed by five consecutive sea days as the ship makes its way to Vancouver for a summer season in Alaska. Legend is smaller than many of Carnival's newer ships, but it underwent a major refurbishment early in 2014 and now boasts a water park, updated pools and fitness center, and several new restaurants, so there's plenty to do during all those sea days.
Who Should Go: This sailing is ideal for cruisers who don't mind multiple sea days in a row, but who don't have the two weeks or more required of many repos. It's also a great way to sample some of Carnival's newest amenities without dealing with the crowds on the newer mega-ships.
The Ship: Caribbean Princess
The Trip: Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, 14-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: April 25
Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, Bermuda, Glasgow, Dublin, Cork, Southampton
The Perks: Caribbean Princess offers plenty of amenities, including upscale Italian and steak restaurants, an adults-only relaxation area and a variety of enrichment activities ideal for sea days. If you don't mind the cooler spring temps on the Atlantic, you can enjoy the fresh sea air on the top decks at several pools, a jogging track, a basketball court and a putting green. Late departure times in Dublin and Cork will give you extra time to grab a meal -- or a pint -- ashore.
Who Should Go: Anglophiles who want to visit current and former British territories on either side of the Atlantic will relish this unique mix of cruise ports. Sunbathers and heat-seekers might want to choose a different vacation.
The Ship: Norwegian Epic
The Trip: Miami to Barcelona, 11-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: April 19
Itinerary: Miami, Funchal, Barcelona
The Perks: Norwegian makes a beeline for Europe on the heels of its Caribbean season, with a sailing that begins in Miami and makes just a single stop before arriving in Barcelona for Epic's annual summertime jaunt in the Mediterranean. The biggest draw of the sailing is the dirt-cheap starting fares for one of the line's most popular and amenity-laden ships.
Who Should Go: Social types who will enjoy Epic's varied public spaces and seasoned cruisers looking to do more relaxing than sightseeing will enjoy this sailing. Epic offers a huge variety of onboard activities, from Blue Man Group performances and ice bar cocktails to a rappelling wall and massive water park, making it easier for passengers to not feel cooped up during a solid week of sea days. If you have a bit more vacation time and want to do some exploring, you might consider booking passage on Epic's last Caribbean sailing, as well, and making your trip a back-to-back.
The Ship: Serenade of the Seas
The Trip: New Orleans to Boston, 13-night cruise
Departs: April 11
Itinerary: New Orleans, Grand Cayman, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Boston
The Perks: Having spent the winter in the Caribbean, Serenade of the Seas will travel from New Orleans to Boston before it departs on a transatlantic sailing prior to a summer season in Europe. This itinerary lets you cover a lot of cruising ground and take advantage of the benefits of a repositioning cruise without having to cross an ocean and break the bank on airfare. Plus, it stops at Aruba and Bonaire, which are not as heavily trafficked by cruise ships as other Caribbean ports. Serenade of the Seas is a smaller ship that offers lots of modern amenities and activities and is consistently rated highly by Cruise Critic members.
Who Should Go: This sailing is a great option for cruisers who prefer not to have too many sea days in a row. Just keep in mind that the change in weather might be stark as the ship moves from the deep south toward New England. It's also a good choice for those who live in or near the embarkation or disembarkation ports and only need to purchase a one-way flight.
The Ship: Zuiderdam
The Trip: Fort Lauderdale to Rome, 25-night Panama Canal and transatlantic cruise
Departs: March 6
Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Curacao, Colon, Puerto Limon, Fort Lauderdale, Funchal, Cadiz, Malaga, Cartagena, Rome
The Perks: This itinerary is actually a combination of two back-to-back cruises -- a Panama Canal cruise that sails roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale and an Atlantic crossing from Fort Lauderdale to Rome -- so it offers not only a lot of value for your money but also a truly immersive cruise experience. The first and last segments of the cruise are jam-packed with port days and lots of scenic cruising and sightseeing opportunities. Yet, with more than a week of sea days as the ship makes its way across the ocean, you'll have plenty of time to rest up before arriving in the Mediterranean. For onboard fun, check out Zuiderdam's film screenings, B.B. King's Blues Club experience and the Culinary Arts Center.
Who Should Go: This is a great trip for well-seasoned cruisers who can handle the fast-paced port stops during the beginning and tail ends of the sailing, as well as the lengthy time at sea in between. Being that Zuiderdam is a rather small ship, social types will likely enjoy it all the more, as they'll have plenty of opportunity to get to know their fellow cruisers. The cruise is not for folks looking to fully traverse the Panama Canal, as the ship sails only as far as Gatun Lake before turning back.
The Ship: Disney Wonder
The Trip: Vancouver to San Diego, four-night Pacific Coast cruise
Departs: September 27
Itinerary: Vancouver, Victoria, San Diego
The Perks: This quick getaway will take you from British Columbia to Southern California as Disney Wonder concludes its summer season in Alaska. You'll have one day to explore Victoria, followed by two sea days, allowing plenty of time for playing onboard and meeting up with your favorite Disney characters. Disney appeals to all ages with dedicated adults-only areas, spacious standard cabins, top-rated kids clubs and first-run Disney movies.
Who Should Go: This sailing is perfect for West Coasters who want to try out a Disney cruise without contending with the school vacation crowds. The short getaway would be ideal for families with babies and toddlers who aren't yet in school.
The Ship: Celebrity Solstice
The Trip: Vancouver to Honolulu, 10-night Hawaii cruise
Departs: September 22
Itinerary: Vancouver, Hilo, Kona, Maui, Honolulu
The Perks: With five consecutive sea days immediately following departure from Vancouver, you'll have plenty of time to rest up for the subsequent four days and one night you'll get to spend on the Hawaiian islands. A late-night departure from Maui and an overnight in Honolulu allow for plenty of time to enjoy dinner or catch a luau in the islands. Solstice is loaded with many fun ways to pass the days, including glass-blowing demonstrations, cooking classes, competitive trivia competitions, an expansive spa and gym, and the Lawn Club, where you'll find a half-acre of living grass for picnicking, putting or playing games.
Who Should Go: This cruise is ideal for vacationers who wish to cruise to Hawaii but who would like extra time for a post-cruise land stay in the islands. It's also great for anyone worried they'll be bored with five straight days at sea. Solstice is one of Celebrity's most amenity-laden ships, and it will keep passengers entertained with multiple restaurants, daily activities and plenty of nightlife.
The Ship: Norwegian Jade
The Trip: Venice to Houston, 21-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: October 24
Itinerary: Venice, Malta, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Funchal, St. Thomas, Miami, Houston
The Perks: Relaxation is the name of the game on this three-week-long sailing. There is only a smattering of port days -- just two of which are consecutive -- broken up by lots of time at sea as the ship makes its way from Europe to the Caribbean. The itinerary offers a nice mix of island destinations and big cities. At press time, Norwegian is offering low fares in every category to travelers willing to book early.
Who Should Go: Veteran cruisers who don't mind spending a lot of time on the ship will love this sailing's spaced-out itinerary. If you live in or near Houston and can drive or take public transportation to the port, this cruise is an even better value.
The Ship: Liberty of the Seas
The Trip: Cape Liberty to Galveston, 12-night Eastern Caribbean cruise
Departs: November 1
Itinerary: Cape Liberty, San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Curacao, Grand Cayman, Galveston
The Perks: This sailing offers a neat opportunity for Northeasterners to experience a classic Caribbean cruise itinerary without having to fly south for embarkation. The Cape Liberty cruise port in Bayonne, New Jersey, is easily accessible and a short drive from many of the surrounding states. The sailing itself offers a nice mix of sea days and port days; you're never onboard or in port for too many days in a row. However, Liberty of the Seas is absolutely loaded with fun amenities, including a surf park, outdoor movie screen, big-name stage shows, an ice skating rink and a rock climbing wall.
Who Should Go: Active types will make the most of the action-packed ship and ports, but you have to be flexible enough to ignore the chilly start to an otherwise warm-weather sailing. Of course, if you live in the Northeast or near Texas, you'll have the convenience and savings of only needing one flight.
The Ship: Regal Princess
The Trip: Copenhagen to New York, 15-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: September 11
Itinerary: Copenhagen, Kristiansand, Bergen, Glasgow, Belfast, Cork, St. Johns, Halifax, New York
The Perks: With a bit longer than two weeks to cross the Atlantic from Copenhagen to New York, this sailing is a good balance between busy days of sightseeing and relaxing days at sea. But the most interesting part of this cruise is the unique itinerary -- stops in Denmark, Scotland, Ireland and Canada -- which will take you to ports that are rich in both history and culture. The ship itself is lovely with excellent dining options, a sophisticated atmosphere and plenty of beautiful spaces.
Who Should Go: Princess fans who want to experience the line's newest ships or tick off some bucket-list destinations should sign up, even though fares for this sailing are on the pricier side for repo cruises. If you live in or near New York and can drive or take public transportation home from the cruise port, even better. This cruise is suited to more adventurous travelers looking to experience as many interesting locales as possible in a single trip.
--By Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor