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 cruise vessels stay in Europe when thermometers drop, so between September and November there is a veritable armada of ships crossing from Britain to the United States, calling at Iceland and the Canadian Maritimes en route. Likewise in spring many ships, having spent winter months in the Caribbean and South America, head back to Britain via the Azores and the Iberian Peninsula.
These one-way voyages are often sold at a discount 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 are also scheduled to make these voyages appealing to those who seek a more stimulating experience.
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 these springtime sailings from North American ports as well as hubs in the Caribbean and sometimes cities in Latin America. Likewise searching for cruises between September and November will reveal westbound repositioning voyages.
Why should I take a repositioning cruise?
With unbelievably low rates per day, there is no denying the value of these voyages. Cruise companies occasionally take delivery of a new vessel from a European shipyard before it sails in U.S. waters and sometimes these trips are snapped up by those who want to be the first to sail on new ships –- such as Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas sailing from Southampton to New York in November 2014.
For almost 175 years transatlantic travel has been the prerogative of Cunard Line. Before the advent of air travel, taking a sea-route was "the only way to cross" and famous ships made the North Atlantic their home. Indeed an oceanic crossing between the Old World and the New was seen by many as a rite of passage. So it is today, for those who seek out the wide variety of repositioning cruises that are on offer between such ports as Southampton and Harwich and American destinations, for instance Boston, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa. The definable difference between a repositioning cruise and a regular scheduled voyage is the added advantage of ports of call.
Apart from catching up on all those best-sellers you received at Christmas, there is the chance to visit off-the-beaten-track ports –- the bragging rights of places such as Qaqortoq, Havre-Saint-Pierre, or Horta are legion. These are blended with a procession of restful sea days under cloudless skies as you cross a vast expanse of ocean. However, this brings us to the next point...
What are the downsides?
The Atlantic Ocean 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 and Greenland. Repositioning cruises are, by their very nature, 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.
Intrigued? Read on for details on several of our favourite repositioning cruises coming up this autumn and next spring.
Editor's note: Remember, these are just a few of the many repositioning cruises available – contact your favourite cruise line or travel agency for more options.
The Ship: Crystal Serenity (Crystal Cruises)
The Trip: Southampton to Boston, 14-night Transatlantic Traditions cruise
Departs: 5 September 2014
Itinerary: Southampton, Guernsey, Waterford, Dublin, Belfast, Reykjavik (overnight), Halifax, Bar Harbour, Boston.
The Perks: The larger of Crystal Cruises' two ultra-deluxe vessels, the 1,100-passenger Crystal Serenity has recently emerged from a multi-million-dollar refurbishment. This cruise company's passion for taking care of guests has earned them more "World's Best" awards than any other cruise line, resort or hotel in history.
Who Should Go: This cruise is perfect for sybarites who seek impeccable cuisine, unparalleled service, sublime entertainment and enthralling enrichment at knock-down prices.
The Ship: Insignia (Oceania Cruises)
The Trip: Southampton to New York, 15-night transatlantic cruise
Departs: 2 October 2014
Itinerary: Southampton, Belfast, Dublin, Cork, St John's, Halifax, Saint John, Portland, Boston, New York
The Perks: Oceania Cruises are the embodiment of refined yet casually elegant travel. As the world's only upper premium cruise line, their ships are the antithesis of gimmick-driven cruising and deliver value to inquisitive travellers who want to explore the world.
Who Should Go: This cruise is perfect for foodies who revel in long, leisurely meals, as well as those who want to enjoy the best of the Canadian Maritimes.
The Ship: Azura (P&O Cruises)
The Trip: Southampton to Barbados, 14-night repositioning cruise
Departs: 31 October 2014
Itinerary: Southampton, Ponta Delgada, St Maarten, St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia, Barbados
The Perks: Azura offers a floating distillation of all things British; plus you can savour the Oriental flavours that are a feature in Sindhu, the restaurant created by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar. On long days at sea there is nothing better than enjoying a "wine flight" in the Glass House, sampling some of TV wine guru Olly Smith's recommendations.
Who Should Go: If you're seeking a restful sea voyage with time to recharge before enjoying the best of the Caribbean, this cruise is hard to beat.
The Ship: Quantum of the Seas (Royal Caribbean International)
The Trip: Southampton to New York, 8-night repositioning cruise
Departs: 2 November 2014
Itinerary: Southampton, New York (Cape Liberty, New Jersey)
The Perks: Weather permitting, you can be the first to experience Royal Caribbean's next generation of adrenalin-rush joyrides, such as the North Star engineering marvel that cantilevers guests 300 feet above the ocean; or RipCord by iFly -- the first skydiving experience at sea. Less adventurous can go roller-skating or sign up for bumper-car rides in SeaPlex, before sampling Jamie's Italian –- the first sea-going venture for Jamie Oliver.
Who Should Go: Inaugural groupies, as well as Abba devotees who will be the first to see the Tony Award-winning musical Mamma Mia! show.
The Ship: Silver Whisper (Silversea Cruises)
The Trip: Southampton to Montreal, 17-night repositioning cruise
Departs: 9 September 2014
Itinerary: Southampton, Fowey, Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Reykjavik, Qaqortoq, L'Anse Aux Meadows, Corner Brook, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec (overnight), Montreal
The Perks: A cruise line for which mediocrity has no meaning: guests enjoy a new canvas of on board lifestyle that includes such luxuries as personal butlers. The uber-opulent Silver Whisper offers a sassy vibe shot through with sophistication. This voyage has been designated as a cruise for bridge players as well as offering culinary classes from visiting members of L'Ecole des Chefs.
Who Should Go: Those who seek a repositioning voyage filled with recherche ports, as well as gourmands who yearn to savour Asian specialities at Seishin; Italian delights at La Terrazza; and the Relais & Chateaux menu of seasonally-inspired dishes in Le Champagne.
The Ship: Ventura (P&O Cruises)
The Trip: Barbados to Southampton, 13-night repositioning cruise
Departs: 14 March 2015
Itinerary: Barbados, St Lucia, St Kitts, Tortola, Ponta Delgada, Southampton
The Perks: P&O Cruises offer flights to Barbados from Birmingham, Gatwick, and Manchester. There is also the chance to enjoy memorable meals in the sumptuous White Room by Marco Pierre White –- as well as 11 other dining venues.
Who Should Go: After Ventura bids farewell to the quintessential Caribbean, the jet-stream keeps the decks warm –- a perfect tonic for those bitten by winter blues.
The Ship: Ryndam (Holland America Line)
The Trip: Tampa to Harwich, 15-night Azores and Normandy Expedition
Departs: 19 April 2015
Itinerary: Tampa, Horta, Brest, Cherbourg, Zeebrugge, Harwich
The Perks: The volcanic archipelago of the Azores is renowned as the land of hydrangeas and hot springs and is in stark contrast to the bucolic villages of Normandy where you can visit Mont St Michel and the beaches that stand as a testament to the heroic D-Day Landings.
Who Should Go: Foodies can pick up new recipes at the Culinary Arts Center where the demonstration kitchen offers interactive cooking lessons by guest chefs; there's also the chance to chillax in the Greenhouse Spa.
The Ship: Celebrity Eclipse (Celebrity Cruises)
The Trip: Miami to Southampton, 16-day repositioning cruise
Departs: 21 April 2015
Itinerary: Miami, Bermuda (overnight), Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Bilbao, 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 a contemporary iteration of 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 to spend the night in Bermuda; explore the tranquil Azores; discover Lisbon's bohemian Alfama district; visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao; and lunch in Paris.
The Ship: Royal Princess (Princess Cruises)
The Trip: Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, 14-night repositioning cruise
Departs: 25 April 2015
Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale, Ponta Delgada, Cork, Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Southampton
The Perks: The on-trend Royal Princess -- christened last year by the Duchess of Cambridge –- has the largest Movies Under The Stars screen on a Princess Cruises' ship.
Who Should Go: Those seeking the ultimate 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 are also comfortable sun-loungers where Serenity Stewards bring cold towels and iced water infused with fruit essence –- bliss!
The Ship: Black Watch (Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines)
The Trip: Buenos Aires to Southampton, 46-night cruise
Departs: 30 January 2015
Itinerary: Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Chacabuco, Puerto Montt, Valparaiso, Arica, Callao (overnight), Manta, Panama Canal, Colon (overnight), Cartagena, Curacao, Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, Ponta Delgada, Southampton
The Perks: Fred. Olsen is unique in the cruise industry for offering bridge instruction on all transatlantic voyages. Licensed by the EBU, these cruises have competitive sessions and points play each afternoon on days at sea.
Who Should Go: This cruise could merit the overused cliche "journey of a lifetime". Those who revel in experiencing the natural wonders of Tierra del Fuego and a transit of the Panama Canal -- an engineering miracle that changed the world by dividing a continent –- will not be disappointed.
--by Gary Buchanan, Cruise Critic contributor