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: 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