For cruisers, fall and spring mean more than just transitioning wardrobes. These seasons feature 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 -- subjects can range from theater to wine -- or enhanced with enrichment options, such as guest lecturers.
World voyages and ocean crossings continue to grow in popularity; the following are answers to some of the questions we're most frequently asked 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 generally expensive one-way or open-jaw flights. (We suggest browsing diligently for the best deals at IndependentTraveler.com, which posts discount airfares, or looking for cruise deals that include airfare.) However, there are some cruise lines -- MSC Cruises for example -- that include the one-way fare, which makes a repositioning extraordinarily good value. For some passengers, spending days on end in the middle of nowhere -- particularly on ocean crossings -- is more maddening than it is 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 2014.
The Trip: San Diego to Port Canaveral, 14-night Panama Canal transit cruise
Departs: September 12
Itinerary: San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Cartagena, Cozumel, Port Canaveral
The Perks: With a chunk of sea days in between a short Mexican Rivera trek and a transit of the Panama Canal, passengers will have lots of time to experience Disney's famed service and high-quality activities. Onboard entertainment includes performances of original productions featuring favorite Disney characters, Disney movies, interactive games in the Studio Sea entertainment center, wine tastings and cooking demos, character meet-and-greets and Disney's famous deck parties. Excursions in these Central and South American ports include such adventures as swimming in an underground river in Cozumel and learning how to make tequila in Puerto Vallarta.
Who Should Go: This is an easy cruise for West Coast residents looking to save on airfare. While Disney is always a hit with kids, parents probably would need to pull school-age kids from their first week or two of classes to make this trip. Disney does plan plenty of fun for adults, too, with more than 18 venues that include Italian restaurant Palo (fee required), the Route 66 nightclub district and the Quiet Cove pool. Plus, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal, so it's a great year to experience the engineering marvel for yourself.
The Trip: Los Angeles to Sydney, 23-night South Pacific cruise
Departs: August 30
Itinerary: Los Angeles, Puerto Vallarta, Papeete, Moorea, Bora Bora, Suva, Noumea, Sydney
The Perks: The itinerary features a nice mix of port calls and sea days, and it's a great opportunity to see ports throughout Polynesia and the Fiji Islands without busting the bank. Carnival Legend offers tons of modern amenities to fill up sea days, including 16 lounges and bars, a medieval-themed casino, a two-deck spa and fitness center and multiple pools.
Who Should Go: This sailing is ideal for travelers who have some time on their hands and might consider adding a post-cruise land stay in Australia to get the most vacation bang for their buck. This sailing is also the final opportunity of the year for U.S.-based cruisers to sail aboard Legend. Once the ship reaches Sydney, it will be off the market for Americans, catering to Australians instead. A long cruise with plenty of sea days is the perfect opportunity for Legend's fans to say farewell for a while.
The Trip: Los Angeles to Houston, 16-night Panama Canal transit
Departs: September 25
Itinerary: Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas, Puntarenas, Cartagena, Houston
The Perks: The itinerary features a full daylight transit of the Panama Canal, plus a nice mix of Pacific and Caribbean Central American ports. Sea days are liberally sprinkled between ports, and travelers can choose to rest up from port adventures or take advantage of Jewel's onboard attractions -- karaoke, Nintendo Wii, cooking and dancing classes, Ping-Pong, a spa and a casino. Restaurants range from Latin and Asian to French; after dinner, you can visit the martini bar and whiskey lounge or any of the nearly dozen other watering holes. This cruise is also available as a back-to-back with Jewel's first Western Caribbean sailing of the season, which will take you to Cozumel, Belize City and Roatan. If you're looking for something different from the standard Caribbean itinerary, you might also consider boarding Jewel several days earlier for the full repositioning out of Vancouver, which will allow you to take in ports on the U.S. Pacific Coast including Astoria, Oregon and San Francisco.
Who Should Go: Norwegian sailings are ideal for travelers of all ages, especially those who like the flexibility of multiple activity options, the choice of when and where to eat and relaxed dress codes. This cruise is particularly suited to those looking for a thorough introduction to Mexico and Central America with plenty of time to spare. As the sailing is bookended by cruises featuring very different ports in the Pacific Coast and Caribbean, it's also ideal for travelers looking to put together a longer trip with lots of variety.
The Trip: Boston to Tampa, 13-night Eastern Caribbean cruise
Departs: October 26
Itinerary: Boston, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Barbados, Curacao, Aruba, Tampa
The Perks: This autumn cruise starts in chilly Boston and, after three full days at sea, begins a whirlwind, three-day tour of the West Indies -- a day each in St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Barbados -- before continuing on to the Dutch islands of Curacao and Aruba. Then there are three more at-sea days before the voyage ends in Tampa. On the beginning (cooler) sea days, travelers can seek solace in the ship's Latte-tudes coffee bar, the Internet cafe with gorgeous sea views or the Solarium, which, with its sliding roof, is a perfect place for any-weather lounging.
Who Should Go: Flexible souls who don't mind a chilly start and extended time at sea (seven days in total) are best suited for this October / November sailing. The port stops offer a good way to sample several different and fun Caribbean islands during the off-season, and the easy flight back to Boston from Tampa is welcome after a long vacation. This midsize ship is particularly friendly to first-time cruisers, with easy-to-understand programs and an engaging staff.
The Trip: Venice to Fort Lauderdale, 17-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: October 17
Itinerary: Venice, Messina, Naples, Rome, Toulon, Barcelona, Madeira, Fort Lauderdale
The Perks: Spend more than two weeks on Princess' newest ship. Regal Princess makes its debut this spring, when it will embark on a series of Mediterranean cruises before crossing the Atlantic to spend a season in the Caribbean. The first half of the cruise is jam-packed with port stops throughout Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, but then you'll have a week to explore everything this new ship has to offer, including the onboard television studio, Princess Live!, where you can watch game shows, cooking demos and more; the SeaWalk, a glass-enclosed walkway that extends out 128 feet over the water; and some unique spa options like the Hammam, a Turkish-style bath. Consider booking an outside cabin; every single one on the ship has a balcony.
Who Should Go: Since this is a brand-spanking-new ship, fares are on the pricey side, and of course you'll have to book airfare to Venice to board the ship. But if cost isn't a huge factor, this cruise is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to explore one of the freshest ships in mainstream cruising, from a line that specializes in rest and relaxation, while also experiencing a fairly comprehensive tour of the Western Mediterranean.
--Updated by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson, Cruise Critic Contributor