Savvy cruisers who yearn for days at sea, as well as great deals, look forward to spring and autumn more than any other time of year. This is when repositioning cruises feature as an unsung element of cruise lines' rosters.
Though some ships spend the entire year sailing the same itineraries, many relocate to follow the sun. Few ships stay in Europe when the weather turns, so between September and November there is a veritable armada of ships crossing from Britain to the U.S. and Caribbean, calling at Iceland and the Canadian Maritimes en route. Likewise, in spring many ships, having spent winter in the Caribbean and South America, head back to Britain via the Azores, Canary Islands and Iberian Peninsula.
These one-way voyages are often sold at discount prices as they are not part of regular sailing schedules. To attract passengers, cruise lines may theme them with topics ranging from food and wine, to theatre, and big band music. Enhanced enrichment programmes also make these voyages appealing.
How do I find a repositioning cruise?
Some cruise lines' websites have a transatlantic or oceanic voyages category in their search options. For those that don't, entering March, April and May in the sailing months search box usually reveals springtime sailings from North American ports as well as hubs in the Caribbean and sometimes cities in Latin America. Similarly, searching for cruises between September and November will show westbound repositioning voyages.
Why should I take a repositioning cruise?
With unbelievably low rates per day, these voyages offer great value for money. Cruise companies occasionally take delivery of a new vessel from a European shipyard before it sails in U.S. waters and these trips are snapped up by those who want to be the first to sail on new ships.
Plus you get to make a Transatlantic crossing – which for more many years was offered by just one cruise line, Cunard, as a formal voyage from Southampton to New York with no port stops. The definable difference between a repositioning cruise and a regular scheduled voyage is the added advantage of ports of call. There is the chance to visit off-the-beaten-track ports -- the bragging rights of places such as Qaqortoq, Greenland; Trois-Rivieres, Canada; or Ponta Delgada, the Azores are legion. These blended with restful sea days as you cross a vast expanse of ocean.
What are the downsides?
The Atlantic can be tempestuous and ships have to navigate many nautical miles of open sea. Fortunately, eastbound courses call for a southerly track -- avoiding the storms -- while westbound sailings hug the Eastern Seaboard after calling at the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and Canadian Maritimes. Repositioning cruises are one-way voyages. Nearly all cruise companies include the outbound or return flight as part of the package -- but it does mean a transatlantic flight of around eight hours.
Read on for details of repositioning cruises to and from U.K. ports coming up next spring and autumn.
Editor's note: Contact your favourite cruise line or travel agency for other options to and from European ports.
Cunard's Queen Mary 2 will undergo a programme of refurbishment in May/June 2016.
The Trip: San Francisco to Southampton, 23-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: 12 April
Itinerary: San Francisco, San Diego, Huatulco, Panama Canal, Aruba, St Maarten, Ponta Delgada, Southampton
The Perks: Aboard this mid-size, adults-only ship there is the chance to enjoy memorable meals in the Ocean Grill by Marco Pierre White, and Sindhu created by Michelin-stared chef Atul Kochhar. P&O offer flights to San Francisco from Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, and Manchester.Who Should Go: Arcadia hugs the Pacific coast before transiting the Panama Canal; then visits two sun-kissed Caribbean ports before taking a southerly course across the Atlantic -- a perfect tonic for those bitten by winter blues.
The Trip: Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, 13-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: 10 April
Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, Lisbon, Vigo, Le Havre, Southampton
The Perks: Little short of ground-breaking in design, the five Solstice-Class vessels of Celebrity Cruises are akin to stylish resorts with Zen-like notions of calm. Each showcases what Celebrity Cruises calls "modern luxury". The Lawn Club features bowling, a putting course, and Patio on the Lawn where passengers can enjoy picnics.Who Should Go: This spring-time Atlantic crossing offers the chance for lovers of leisurely days at sea to appreciate the vast expanse of the Atlantic before Lisbon's Monument to the Navigators heralds arrival in Europe. Then the surprising city of Vigo offers the freshest of seafood; while you can head to Paris from Le Havre.
The Trip: Houston to Southampton, 21-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: 17 April
Itinerary: Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Bermuda, Liverpool, Holyhead, Hamburg, Le Havre, Southampton
The Perks: Those seeking indulgence at sea can head to the adults-only Sanctuary which has cabanas with television, sofas, robes, a fully-stocked mini-bar as well as fruit and snacks. There's also a huge "Movies Under the Stars" screen on deck; and the Lotus Spa for some serious pampering.Who Should Go: For over 50 years Princess Cruises has built up legions of loyal passengers who wouldn't consider cruising with any other line. Exploring British, German and French ports is an undoubted bonus.
The Trip: Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, 13-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: 1 May
Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, Nassau, San Juan, St Maarten, Southampton
The Perks: Located at the heart of the vessel is the Royal Promenade. This shopping, dining and entertainment boulevard is longer than a football pitch. Putting the central, glass and steel descending Entertainment Bridge to full effect, the nightly street parades using music, lasers and lights are a cavalcade of boisterous fun.Who Should Go: Those who want eight days at sea to enjoy this fun-packed ship, combined with excellent duty-free shopping in Nassau, San Juan and St Maarten.
The Trip: Barbados to Dover, 15-night Caribbean cruise
Departs: 3 March
Itinerary: Barbados (overnight), Antigua, St Maarten, Ponta Delgada (overnight), Dover
The Perks: Fred. Olsen is unique in the cruise industry by offering bridge instruction on all transatlantic voyages. Licensed by the English Bridge Union, these cruises have competitive sessions and points play each afternoon on days at sea.Who Should Go: Good for sights, this voyage fuses days at sea with popular Caribbean ports and the volcanic archipelago of the Azores -- renowned as the land of hydrangeas and hot springs.
The Trip: Southampton to New York, 17-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: 5 September
Itinerary: Southampton, Rotterdam, Bergen, Flaam, Lerwick, Akureyri, Isafjordur, Reykjavik, Boston, New York
The Perks: Enjoy the new cuisine created by celebrity chef and restaurateur Curtis Stone. Discover "Crafted by Curtis" menu items available in the main dining room where you can also sign up for "Chef's Table by Curtis Stone" -- including a galley tour and special multi-course meal prepared by the executive chef.Who Should Go: Passengers who want the best of both worlds. This "Iceland and Norway" cruise lives up to its name and offers the chance to experience Nordic cruise destinations when other ships have sailed elsewhere, plus there's five days at sea.
The Trip: Southampton to Miami, 15-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: 29 October
Itinerary: Southampton, Boston, New York, Bermuda, Port Canaveral, Miami
The Perks: Founded in 1990, Celebrity Cruises has a well-earned reputation for punching above its weight when it comes to cuisine. The Solstice-class ships are no exception and have taken food and service to new heights. Nowhere is this more evident than in Qsine, Blu, Murano, and Tuscan Grille aboard Celebrity Eclipse.Who Should Go: Foodies who want to head non-stop across the Atlantic, with the added bonus of visiting Bermuda and Port Canaveral, in addition to Boston and New York.
The Trip: Dover to Montreal, 22-night Icelandic cruise
Departs: 20 August
Itinerary: Dover, Dublin, Greenock, Isle of Mull, Stornoway, Heimaey, Reykjavik, Isafjordur, Qaqortoq, Nanortalik, Corner Brook, Saguenay, Quebec City (overnight), Trois-Rivieres, Montreal.
The Perks: The all-inclusive Seabourn Quest offers an ultra-luxe take on boutique ships, with a space ratio of 71.1 tons per passenger, and a crew ratio of one to every 1.4 passengers.Who Should Go: This "Route of the Vikings" voyage is ideal for armchair explorers who have Iceland and Greenland on their bucket-list but don't want to rough it. The overnight stay in exciting Quebec City and the chance to explore Haute-Ville is a bonus.
The Trip: Southampton to Montreal, 17-night Icelandic cruise
Departs: 6 September
Itinerary: Southampton, Fowey, Cobh, Dublin, Belfast, Reykjavik, Narsaruaq, L'Anse aux Meadows, Corner Brook, Gaspe, Quebec City (overnight), Montreal.
The Perks: Since 1994 Silversea Cruises has been a trail-blazer, offering all-inclusive, ultra-deluxe cruising that has found favour with the cognoscenti. The culinary creations and choices are of a calibre to rival anything at sea.Who Should Go: Those who want to travel in style and enjoy the combination of the stark beauty of ice-shrouded Greenland with myriad colours of the American "fall".
The Trip: Southampton to Barbados, 15-night Caribbean cruise
Departs: 21 October
Itinerary: Southampton, Ponta Delgada, St Maarten, St Kitts, Dominica, Grenada, Barbados (overnight).
The Perks: Awarded "Best New Ship" in the 2015 Cruise Critic UK Editors' Picks Awards, Britannia is boldly going where no British cruise ship has gone before -- certainly in terms of design and facilities. Just one of the ship's stand-out features is the U.K. 's first onboard cookery school run by celebrity chef James Martin.Who Should Go: P&O Cruises' flagship is perfect for this southerly Atlantic crossing which chases the sun to idyllic Caribbean ports, plus there's the added attraction of an overnight in Barbados -- with the chance to soak up some nightlife before heading home.
--by Gary Buchanan, Cruise Critic contributor