Updated August 21, 2018
We all know cruises are fun, and most of us would give anything to prolong the experience at the end of each voyage we've sailed. That's where back-to-back cruises come in. Passengers who book them can maximize their cruise time while usually only having to go through the embarkation and disembarkation process once. Below, we answer several common questions cruisers have about these types of sailings.
What are back-to-back cruises?
Back-to-back cruises are two cruises booked consecutively, whether on the same ship or on different ships. You'll want to let someone at the front desk know you're a back-to-back cruiser during the first part of your trip so arrangements can be made for you during the changeover day between the two sailings.
Editor's note: For the purposes of this article, we're focusing on back-to-back sailings on the same ship. If you're thinking of booking back to back on two separate ships, please skip directly to the last three questions below.
Will I be able to stay in the same cabin for both sailings?
It depends on how the sailing is booked. If you choose the same cabin for both sailings, then, yes, you'll be able to stay. If, however, you decide you'd like to be on one side of the ship for one sailing and on the other side for the second sailing, that's also possible. We recommend finding a travel agent to help you make the arrangements you prefer. Keep in mind that you're more likely to be able to book the same cabin for both parts of your trip if you book early.
If you stay in the same stateroom for both legs of your vacation, you will be able to leave your belongings in your cabin during the changeover between sailings. If you'll be in a different cabin for each cruise, you'll be required to relocate your luggage. Sometimes your room steward can offer assistance.
Do I have to attend the muster drill on the second sailing if I've already gone to it on the first one?
Yes. Plan to go to the drill on both voyages, or you risk being thrown off the ship. It's mandatory for all passengers on every cruise, and since back-to-backs are considered separate sailings, you're required to attend at the beginning of each new segment.
Can I stay onboard at the end of the first sailing, or do I have to disembark?
This process varies by cruise line and according to the laws that are in place in the port of disembarkation, but generally you'll need to clear immigration. Some lines will have all back-to-back passengers meet in a designated area, such as the front desk or a lounge, and clear them all from onboard the ship. Others will have passengers meet and escort them off the ship to clear immigration and escort them immediately back onboard. Either way, back-to-back cruisers are aboard before passengers just coming onto the ship for the first time, and they'll have the vessel to themselves for a couple of hours. (Note that onboard services, such as food and entertainment, are likely to be limited during the changeover.)
Do I have to go through the check-in process all over again at the start of the second sailing?
It's unlikely you'll have to go through the whole thing a second time. As mentioned above, clearing immigration is generally quick and painless, and you won't have to go back to the terminal desks to check in, get your keycard and fill out health forms.
However, since back-to-back sailings are considered two separate cruises -- even if you're sailing on the same ship -- you'll have to settle your onboard account from the first sailing and open a new onboard account for the second. That means you'll also have to obtain a new keycard; some cruise lines send them to your cabin on the last night of the first sailing, while others will require you to visit the front desk. Often, when you leave the ship for the first time after obtaining your new keycard, you'll be required to have a new security photo taken at the kiosk near the gangway.
Once I'm cleared, am I allowed to leave the ship and re-board whenever I want?
Yes, but keep in mind that you might need your old keycard when leaving the ship and your new one when you return, so be sure to take both with you. Once your new one is activated, you won't need to carry your old one anymore.
Are discounts offered if I book consecutive cruises?
We've never heard of discounts offered specifically as incentives for people to book two sailings in a row. Your best bet is to look for deals that apply individually to each of the two sailings you want to take. General cruise bargains range from straight-up price reductions and free onboard credit to discounts on third and fourth passengers and free add-ons like bottles of wine or dinner in a for-fee restaurant. Check with your cruise line or a travel agent for specific options.
I'm a member of my cruise line's loyalty program. How will back-to-back cruising affect me?
Obviously, the more cruises you take and the more days you sail, the more points you accrue, and the more quickly you'll move up the tiers of your line's passenger loyalty program. You won't receive any more -- or any fewer -- points for taking back-to-back voyages than if you were to take two cruises six months apart. However, back-to-back sailings are still considered two separate cruises, so if you reach a new level in your line's program during the first sailing, you'll receive the perks afforded to that tier upon the start of the second cruise.
What happens to the alcohol I purchase on back-to-back cruises?
Generally, any alcohol you purchase ashore or onboard in one of the ship's duty-free shops will remain checked for the duration of both sailings. However, some cruise lines will allow passengers to take alcohol back to their cabins if it's purchased on the last night of a sailing. If you're on a back-to-back and buy booze on the last night of the first cruise, there's a chance you'll be able to keep it in your cabin to have for the second voyage. (Check our article on cruise line alcohol policies for details.)
Alcohol -- such as a bottle of wine -- purchased for consumption onboard in the ship's dining room can be carried over from one sailing to the next.
What are the major differences between booking consecutive cruises on the same ship versus sailing back to back on two different ships?
If you've booked back-to-back cruises on two different ships, much of the above information does not apply. You obviously won't be in the same cabin for both sailings, and at the end of the first sailing, you'll have to disembark, clear immigration and customs, and go through the embarkation process again at the port and terminal where your second ship is docked.
You're also likely to encounter more logistical challenges with back-to-backs on two different ships. You'll have to take all of your luggage with you and arrange for transportation between ports or terminals, depending on where your second ship is located.
What should I pack for back-to-back cruises?
Packing for a long cruise can be a challenge. What you should pack depends on two main factors: the itineraries and whether or not you're willing to do laundry onboard.
If you're headed to similar climates for both sailings, our advice is to pack enough for the longer of the two voyages, and do laundry if a self-service option is available. You can also pay to have your laundry sent out if your ship offers a laundry service. Even if you decide not to wash your clothes onboard, you can still wear them again; keep in mind that your fellow cruisers on the second leg of your journey won't know what you wore during the first leg.
If you're sailing to two regions that greatly differ in terms of temperature and weather, you'll have to get creative. Pack enough clothing for half of your sailing to the first climate and half of your sailing to the second; then do laundry halfway through each cruise.
How can I find out more about back-to-back cruising?
The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.