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, while 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.
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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 coast of California to Hawaii or through the Panama Canal. (They travel the opposite route in the springtime.) Also look for transatlantic cruises as ships reposition from U.S. 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 make 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.
The Ship: Disney Magic
Departs: May 15
Itinerary: Port Canaveral, Boston, Sydney (Nova Scotia), Dublin, Liverpool, Dover
The Perks: This two-week transatlantic voyage is great for passengers interested in a Disney cruise without the summer crowds. Rather than sailing directly to Dover, Disney Magic will travel up the East Coast -- with stops in Boston and Nova Scotia -- before making its way across the Atlantic. Disney appeals to all ages with its dedicated adults-only areas, spacious standard cabins, top-rated kids clubs and first-run Disney movies.
Who Should Go: This itinerary is ideal for travelers looking for a rare two-week Disney cruise or one that has fewer kids onboard than normal. It's also great for the dedicated Disney Cruise Line fan who wants to try a different itinerary than the line's standard Bahamas and Caribbean.
The Ship: Star Princess
Departs: March 14
Itinerary: Santiago (Valparaiso), La Serena (Coquimbo), Pisco (San Martin), Lima (Callao), Puntarenas, San Juan del Sur, Cabo San Lucas, Los Angeles
The Perks: 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 its unique itinerary -- stops throughout Chile, Peru, Costa Rica Nicaragua and Mexico -- which will take you to ports rich in culture, cuisines and shore excursion opportunities. The ship itself has great drink and dining offerings, strong enrichment programs and a sophisticated ambiance that only add to the 5,600-mile journey.
Who Should Go: This cruise is suited to more adventurous travelers looking to experience as many interesting locales as possible during a single voyage. For passengers who live in or near Los Angeles, this sailing is an even better value, and only requires airfare one way.
The Ship: Norwegian Pearl
Departs: May 5
Itinerary: Vancouver, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Victoria, Seattle
The Perks: The month of May marks the start of Alaska season, and this port-heavy itinerary is perfect for passengers seeking a good balance of scenic cruising, diverse wildlife and city stops. Apart from scenic cruising of the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay, this sailing includes a single sea day and full-day stops at some of Alaska's most popular ports.
Who Should Go: People looking for a longer-than-normal Alaska cruise with extra port stops will enjoy this action-packed 10-night itinerary. Just be aware that the weather can still be chilly in the spring months, and open-jaw airfare into Vancouver and out of Seattle might be more expensive than a round trip out of either city. Cruisers with lots of time on their hands can opt for the full, 31-night repositioning from Miami, which sails through the Panama Canal and up the west coast of Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.
The Ship: Celebrity Summit
Departs: April 23
Itinerary: San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, King's Wharf, Cape Liberty
The Perks: The sailing offers a nice mix of sea days and port days; you're never onboard or in port for too many days in a row. Plus, Celebrity Summit is absolutely loaded with fun amenities, including a special Top Chef menu, big-name stage shows, themed events (including a "Frozen"-inspired white party) and live music at the ship's bars and lounges.
Who Should Go: This cruise is the perfect Caribbean getaway for passengers living in the Northeast, especially those who can get away with just booking a one-way flight to San Juan and then driving home from New Jersey. Active types will make the most of the dynamic ship and ports.
The Ship: Crown Princess
Departs: April 30
Itinerary: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Astoria, Victoria, Vancouver
The Perks: This short sailing lets cruisers experience a repositioning cruise without the time and expense mandated by many other repo sailings. With a total of two days at sea, cruisers have plenty of time to explore beautiful coastal cities and a wide variety of Northwest landscapes, from lush vineyards and forests to breathtaking beaches and cliffs. Onboard Crown Princess, you'll find plenty to do from dining at multiple venues, watching Movies Under the Stars and participating in an array of onboard activities.
Who Should Go: West Coasters looking for a quick, easy getaway will enjoy this weeklong voyage up the Pacific Coast. However, cruisers should be prepared: chilly weather and rough seas are still common during the Northwest's early spring months.
The Ship: Carnival Vista
Departs: October 21
Itinerary: Barcelona, Gibraltar, Ponta Delgada, King's Wharf, New York City
The Perks: Carnival Vista will take just under two weeks to cross the Atlantic from Barcelona to New York, and the itinerary features eight sea days, stops in unique ports like Gibraltar and the Azores Islands and an overnight stay in King's Wharf, Bermuda. The ship, which is the first in its class and the largest Carnival ship to date, includes new "fun" features such as an IMAX theater, a more than 450-foot- long water tube slide and an onboard brewery.
Who Should Go: This sailing is ideal for Carnival fans looking to experience the line's newest ship, with plenty of time to explore the vessel from top to bottom. If you live in or near New York and don't need to fly home from the cruise port, even better.
The Ship: Serenade of the Seas
Departs: October 30
Itinerary: Boston, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Curacao, Aruba, Fort Lauderdale
The Perks: Royal Caribbean's highly rated Serenade of the Seas offers an impressive array of dining and entertainment options for a ship of its size. This mid-sized vessel offers modern features and activities, including a rotating bar, glitzy stage productions, a 10-story all-glass atrium and a rock-climbing wall. With six days at sea, cruisers will have no problem keeping busy between Caribbean ports.
Who Should Go: Cruisers looking to escape the cool Northeast weather will enjoy this sailing, which travels into the warm-all-year-round Southern Caribbean. However, this at sea-onboard combo is ideal for just about any cruiser, with plenty of offerings for families, singles, couples and groups alike.
The Ship: Celebrity Millennium
Departs: September 2
Itinerary: Vancouver, Petropavlovsk, Otaru, Hakodate, Tokyo, Yokohama
The Perks: From Vancouver to Yokohama -- and from seascapes to mountaintops -- Celebrity Millennium travels to far-off regions that are rich in tradition and culture. You'll voyage across the international date line and visit off-the-beaten-bath ports like Petropavlovsk, Russia. Even better, the ship projects an intimate atmosphere, and offers an excellent spa and fitness center, plentiful dining options and a bustling entertainment hub on Deck 4 to help pass long sea days.
Who Should Go: Calling all culture and history buffs: This is your cruise. You can make headway on your bucket list with a wide variety of destinations not commonly found on cruise itineraries. Cruisers who want to avoid an abundance of sea days should opt for a different itinerary, as this ship spends a week straight at sea before arriving at its first port of call.
The Ship: Norwegian Dawn
Departs: October 28
Itinerary: Boston, San Juan, Bonaire, Curacao, Aruba, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, New Orleans
The Perks: This itinerary lets you cover a lot of cruising ground without crossing an ocean or breaking the bank on airfare. Plus, port stops in Aruba and Bonaire are less heavily trafficked by cruise ships than other Caribbean ports, and the southern destinations provide a tropical escape from the approaching winter. Norwegian Dawn is a highly rated ship with plenty of dining, family and entertainment options for all ages.
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 first few days onboard might be chilly as the ship moves from New England toward the Caribbean. If you've got extra time, both embark and debark ports are fabulous cities for pre- or post-cruise stays.
The Ship: Eurodam
Departs: November 4
Itinerary: Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Malaga, Cadiz, Funchal, Fort Lauderdale
The Perks: Relaxation is the name of the game on this two-week transatlantic voyage, packed with sea days and a smattering of ports. Eurodam -- one of Holland America Line's highest-rated vessels -- offers a mix of tradition and innovation with a variety of cuisine options, Las Vegas-style revues and sophisticated lounges. Despite a week straight at sea, this itinerary offers a neat mix of landscapes and cityscapes as it makes its way through Spain and Portugal, and across the Atlantic.
Who Should Go: This is a prime trip for veteran cruisers who can handle the fast-paced port stops during the beginning of the sailing, and the lengthy time at sea at the end. If you live in or near Fort Lauderdale, this sailing becomes an even better value.
--By Christina Janansky, Cruise Critic contributor