With cruises coming back after the pause brought on by the ongoing global health pandemic, more travelers are looking to make up for the time they spent stuck at home.
For some, this means booking bucket-list destinations and longer voyages to far-off places. But what if a longer voyage just isn't available? That's where the idea of back-to-back cruises comes into play.
A back-to-back cruise (often abbreviated as B2B on Cruise Critic's message board community) is simply two voyages booked one after another on the same ship. Rather than getting off after one seven-day Caribbean cruise, for example, a couple might elect to stay onboard for the next voyage the ship operates.
Sometimes -- in the case of Caribbean cruises in particular -- this can be a great way to create a 14-day cruise where no others exist. Some lines operate so-called "butterfly" itineraries that offer a weeklong Eastern Caribbean itinerary one weekand a weeklong Western Caribbean itinerary the next, creating a voyage with little (or no) overlap in ports.
But even if the itinerary doesn't differ, a back-to-back voyage is a great way to spend more time enjoying the ship and the destination you're in. They are also a great choice for those looking to maximize their vacation time; if 14 days is too long to take off, a three-night voyage coupled with a five-night sailing just might be the perfect length.
While some cruise lines offer back-to-back itineraries as one set voyage (Cunard, for example, allows cruisers to book two-night sailings on Queen Mary 2 between Hamburg and Southampton together with a weeklong transatlantic crossing to create one nine-night voyage), most cruise lines don't even advertise to passengers that this is possible.
Know this: With few exceptions, almost every cruise can be paired with the voyage after it to create a back-to-back journey.
How to Book a Back-To-Back Cruise?
There's really no trick to it. All you have to do is book two voyages on the same ship, and you have yourself a back-to-back cruise.
A travel agent can be helpful in this process, as booking two cruises will net you two separate booking numbers. A travel agent can link these numbers and even try to ensure you get the same cabin for both sailings, thereby avoiding the need to pack and unpack after each segment.
But that doesn't mean you necessarily have to stay in the same cabin on each voyage. Maybe a balcony stateroom or a suite is a better deal on one sailing over the other. There's no reason (other than convenience, of course) why you couldn't book an oceanview cabin on one sailing, then splurge for a suite on the other. Need help deciding which stateroom to choose? Read our guide to picking your cruise ship cabin.
What to do When You Board
Once you board your ship, you really don't need to do anything special, though it is worth talking to the guest services team onboard to let them know you will be sailing back-to-back cruises. They will be able to advise you of any special procedures you need to know about (see below) and will ensure that your reservations are linked on their internal systems so you are included on the manifest for "in-transit" passengers who are continuing on with the ship on its next sailing.
Doing this on the first day is just a good idea in general, as it eliminates potential complications when one voyage ends and the other begins. In the event you have to change staterooms, guest relations might even be able to assist you with that process.
What Happens When One Cruise Ends and The Other Begins?
Generally speaking, when one voyage ends, those passengers on back-to-back cruises will receive instructions on where to go and what to do from the ship's guest relations team. Usually, this involves first meeting in a designated public room set aside for in-transit passengers.
Typically, back-to-back passengers also have to clear customs and complete some formalities, which can include being seen by Customs and Border Patrol officers, and might include a trip to the cruise terminal.
Back-to-back passengers who do have to make the trek to the cruise terminal are typically allowed back onboard fairly quickly, long before the other passengers on the voyage start embarking.
These days, passengers traveling on back-to-back sailings will also need to complete a negative COVID-19 test between cruises, but these are done onboard the ship before arrival into port. There's no need to run to Walgreens or CVS on turnaround day to be retested.
Why is Now a Great Time to Book a Back-To-Back Cruise?
With the cruise restart still underway following the shutdown during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, ships are still sailing with capacity restrictions and prices are generally good overall for many sailings.
Often, sailings have been going out well under their maximum capacities, which are already lower than typical because of the pandemic. That raises the possibility for those who are onboard and having a good time to extend their vacation by another week simply by visiting the Future Cruise desk onboard and inquring.
While lines aren't doing the deep-discounting on fares that was prevalent a decade ago, they are throwing in a number of money-saving perks, like complimentary beverage and specialty dining packages, free gratuities, Wi-Fi and, in some cases, even free or discounted airfare.
Those perks reduce the costs that really add up over the course of 14 days -- having inclusive drink packages and gratuities, for example, really takes a chunk out of the final shipboard account statement. (If you're pricing out a cruise, beware of these hidden costs.)
During the course of our own travels, Cruise Critic's editorial team has met countless passengers doing back-to-back cruises -- and even back-to-back-to-back voyages, abbreviated B2B2B by frequent cruisers.
One group of passengers aboard our Norwegian Encore sailing to Alaska were doing B2B2Bs on several lines, switching between Holland America, Norwegian and Princess over the course of a month.
On our Silver Moon sailing in August 2021, one passenger had booked several back-to-back sailings -- lasting all the way into October.
So dream big! Perhaps this is the time that you, too, could join the back-to-back cruise club.