Imagine finding a luxury hotel room that costs just $62 a night, a price that includes all of your meals and a view of the ocean from your private balcony.
Sounds like a pretty great deal right? Well, it’s for real.
That’s the kind of nightly room price you can find when booking a vacation on a repositioning cruise.
Haven’t heard of them? They’ve been around for a very long time. And when you think about it, they make perfect sense.
Repositioning cruises are one-way trips offered by cruise lines that are moving their ship inventory around the globe, from one location to another. Repositioning cruises will take you to places like Spain, Italy, or Greenland, often for just several hundred dollars.
“The deals are amazing,” says Faraz Qureshi, general manager of Cruiseline.com, a website that launched in 2012 to provide independent, objective information about cruises. “Right now we have close to 200 repositioning cruises. The cruise lines are constantly moving ships around.”
One of the best deals to be had when it comes to a repositioning cruise is to book a trip on a brand new ship for that cut-rate repositioning price, says Qureshi.
For example, among the deals that can be found on Cruiseline.com is a repositioning voyage on the Celebrity Reflection, which is less than three years old and rated very highly. Typically, balcony rooms on the ship cost about $200 per night, per person. That’s $400 a night for couples. But the cost of that same balcony room during a repositioning cruise on this ship in April (sailing from Miami to Rome) is just $62 per night.
“If you book an inside cabin, the cost is even less,” says Qureshi.
Want another example? Holland America is offering rooms on a repositioning cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Rome for just $33 per night aboard the Zuiderdam.
“That’s $500 for a 15-night cruise,” says Qureshi. “You can’t find a hotel room in any major city for less than $50 a night. And this is a hotel room, all meals, and housekeeping.”
The discounted price is just one of the upsides when it comes to booking a repositioning cruise. Another perk is that these cruises will go to ports that the cruise line does not typically visit, which means you will find more unique or off-the-beaten-path port itineraries.
“Usually they choose places where there’s not as many port fees,” says Qureshi.
Christine Hardenberger, owner of MMP Travel, a full-service travel agency that specializes in Orlando and cruise travel, says the unique itineraries are her favorite thing about sailing on a repositioning cruise. In fact, she says, the opportunity to go to more unusual ports is a bigger draw than the discounted fare.
“For instance, when they move ships from the Caribbean to Alaska, they go up the coast of California and stop in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. Normally those are ports that are not on the usual itineraries,” says Hardenberger.
The Disney Cruise Line is Hardenberger’s personal favorite when it comes to booking a repositioning trip. She says the service is amazing and the line offers very interesting itineraries, even on these cut-rate trips.
In addition to the California coast itinerary she mentioned, Disney offers a trans-Atlantic repositioning cruise that includes a stop on a private Caribbean island and ports in Portugal and Spain.
Yet another perk of repositioning cruises is the lack of crowds in the ports you visit. That’s because these cruises typically occur off-season.
“Since repositioning cruises take place in the off-season, the ports they do stop at are not at the height of their tourist rush. For example, England and Portugal in April or October, en route between the Caribbean and Mediterranean, are less crowded than in the summer months of July and August,” says Qureshi.
You are also more likely to have the ship to yourself. While these same ships are typically fully booked at the height of their seasons, repositioning cruises do not sail at full capacity, offering you more space and easy access to restaurant reservations and spa appointments.
They’re Not Without Some Downsides
However, you should also be fully aware of the downsides that come along with repositioning cruises before booking.
To begin with, as mentioned earlier, these are one-way cruises. In other words, you will have to find your own way home. Also, don’t expect the same amount of port visits or stops on a repositioning cruise as there would be on a full-fare cruise.
The vast majority of the repositioning cruises offered are between the United States and Europe. In other words, these are long, trans-Atlantic trips without many port visits. Depending on what you’re seeking from a vacation, that can be a bonus or a drawback.
“You won’t have anywhere you have to be. With fewer ports and less pressure to plan what you’re going to do in them, you can truly relax,” says Qureshi. “Repositioning cruises are ideal for people who don’t need to be constantly stimulated or entertained, or who need a break from their intensely scheduled days at home.”
Cruise lines try to keep it interesting on long sea voyages by upping their onboard programming. Because repositioning cruises have more sea days, cruise lines — especially the luxury ones — break up these days with interesting lectures from guest authors, academics, and other experts on everything from politics in the Middle East to oceanography.
Activities such as wine tastings, movies, and classes ranging from painting to dancing and languages are also scheduled for these sea days.
It’s also important to note that there is very little flexibility with the departure dates of repositioning cruises. If its chosen departure date does not work for your schedule, there is typically not another similar repositioning cruise being offered.
“They are only leaving on that one date, there is no possibility to say, ‘I will take the cruise the week before or the week after,'” says Qureshi.
For families considering such a trip, the age of your children is also a consideration. There are pros and cons. The trans-Atlantic voyages, for instance, tend to be long, an average of two weeks, with the shortest being around 11 days. Very young children may be bored trapped on a ship that long. But if your kids are of an age where they enjoy onboard activities, it all may work out well.
“If you have adult kids and are looking for family time, absolutely these are a great way for the family to bond. With these larger ships there is so much to do, you can go to the driving range, the arcade, rock climbing,” says Qureshi. “Most people who take these cruises, though, are adults. People who are bookworms, and who don’t mind sitting on the deck and reading 10 books in a week. This will appeal to them.”