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When I first started cruising, I had no idea that repositioning cruises even existed.  It was like the secret door most didn’t know about.  Now, it’s one of the first types of sailings I look for. 

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I’ve enjoyed these types of cruises from ports in Vancouver, Barcelona, and London (Greenwich really) just to name a few.

This list of tips is a collection of advice I’ve learned from experience and from our awesome Cruise Fever community.

A repositioning cruise is cheaper but does come with some challenges. Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

Repositioning cruises have long been a “cheat code” for regular cruisers trying to rank up loyalty perks and save money at the same time.

But they are more common than you might think.  According to numbers derived from CruisePlum, about 21% of cruises are one-way voyages. 

Yes, repositioning cruises are almost always cheaper on a per day basis.  It’s not uncommon to find these cruises for 25% to 40% less than the equivalent round-trip cruise in the same category.

These are often longer voyages that have more sea days and often awkward itineraries, so they are definitely not for everyone.

Simply put, a repositioning cruise is a one-way cruise that cruise lines offer so they can move a ship to a new area for the season.  These aren’t always seasonal moves, but it’s the most common cause for the one-way trips.

These sailings require more planning and often don’t have many port days, so the demand is not as high for them, opening a window for value cruisers to grab up a great deal.

In this article we will look at some of the best tips and advice I’ve gathered after 15 years of cruising.

1. Know when repositioning cruises are usually offered

Most of these cruises take place in the spring and fall when cruise lines relocate their ships to meet higher seasonal demand.

Knowing what dates to look at for various destinations can help you plan accordingly.  Here are a few popular regions for repositioning cruises and when ships move in and out.

Alaska: Because of the long winters and harsh climate in the winter, there is a shorter window for cruises in Alaska.  Ships will start leaving in the fall (September and October) and they will move to California and Mexico.  In the spring (April or May) ships will start repositioning to Alaska.
Europe: Just like Alaska, the fall months will see some cruise ships moving out of Europe and to the Caribbean and South America to get away from colder weather. In the spring many of these ships will return.
Caribbean: While some cruise ships will stay in the Caribbean all year long, other ships will move to somewhat cooler climates during the hot summer months.
Transatlantic: These cruises will coincide with the relocations of ships to and from the Caribbean and North America.  Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 does a Transatlantic crossing almost every week of the year, although not as many during the colder months as the ship will enjoy some longer stays in the Caribbean in January and February.

2. Choose a final destination you’d want to enjoy for a few days

At the end of a long repositioning cruise, you probably want to enjoy some time on land for a while.  When I am doing research on these types of sailings I always like to make the final destination the main priority. 

Because honestly, what’s the point of spending all that time heading to a final port only to book a flight right back home?

You can use cruise search engines to search by ports of debarkation to find a place you’ve always wanted to visit and explore. 

That way you also have something to look forward to during the entire cruise.    

These affordable cruises offer the perfect time to have a land-based vacation.  I recommend spending at least 2-3 days in the final port city so you don’t have to rush back.  Just make sure to add that allotment of time in your travel plans and for time off work.

3. Work out the transportation logistics before you book

I don’t mean you need to have every detail worked out.  But these are one-way international trips.  The extra cost and time of transportation to various airports or train stations should be taken into account.

After all, there’s no sense in booking a repositioning cruise to save $500 if you spend an extra $800 on one-way plane tickets.

On a one-way cruise from Barcelona, Spain to Genoa, Italy I had a lot of logistics to work out.  My cruise was cheap, but how much would it cost to book two one-way flights in and out of Europe?

Here’s what I ended up doing.  I booked a round-trip flight from the U.S. to Barcelona (even though my ship wasn’t coming back to Barcelona).  At the time flights were pretty cheap for this option.  When I disembarked my ship in Genoa I took a train to Milan and another train to the airport in the city.  I had found a $70 plane ticket from Milan back to Barcelona on Ryanair. 

All in, traveling from Genoa back to Barcelona was only $100, but I did have to jump through some hoops to do it, and all while traveling solo. 

4. Make sure it’s on a ship you will love

On this kind of sailing, there aren’t typically as many ports of call to explore.  The ship itself will be your destination for most of the journey.  That’s why you want to do as much research as possible to make sure the cruise ship has all the amenities and features you want out of a vacation at sea.

Do you want a thermal suite on board?   Is a solarium a must-have?  Are you into activities like pickleball, mini-golf, or zip-lining?

Find a ship that fits your style of vacation.  After all, you will be spending more time on the ship than on other types of cruises.  You shouldn’t feel trapped.  You should feel free, as you sail across the ocean and find all the unique treasures a ship has to offer.

5. Embrace the daily planner and onboard activities

Speaking of onboard activities, with extra sea days on your cruise you will have plenty of time to try out the different events and activities listed in the daily cruise planner.

Of course, you can just lounge around and get some rest and relaxation.  But on a 15- or 20-day repositioning cruise you might need some outlets for all that pent up energy too.

Try something new.  Go to an exercise class, cooking class, or gameshow challenge.  Those long sea days make for the best karaoke too, so save your vocal chords for that concert you’ve always wanted to give.

6. Choose the right side of ship (on trans-ocean cruises)

By “right side” I don’t actually mean the side on the right.  After all, we all know that’s the starboard side when facing forward, right?  

What I mean is that you should think about the sun’s location,  whether you’re traveling from east to west or west to east.  Especially on a transatlantic cruise in the summer, one side of the ship is constantly getting much more sun, and thus more heat.

On an eastern Transatlantic cruise, the starboard side gets a lot more sun.   The port side gets more sun on a Transatlantic cruise to the west.

And since the ship is facing the same basic direction the entire time, you should choose your cabin location wisely if you’re booking a balcony stateroom.

7. Go East to West and turn time backwards (for long trans-ocean cruises)

You know that feeling in the fall when you set your clocks back and you get that extra hour of sleep?

Imagine having that happen all throughout your cruise.  Getting an extra hour of sleep each day sounds way better than losing that hour.    

I know you will have to make up for that eventually, but still, choosing an East to West route on a trans-socean cruise will help make your vacation even more relaxing and stress-free. 

Almost every day you will gain another hour.  So, use this time machine wisely.

8. Try a short repositioning cruise to try out a new ship

By “new ship” I don’t mean a ship that was just built.  I mean a ship you haven’t sailed on yet.  My first several repositioning cruises had this exact purpose.

Also, contrary to popular belief, there are short – very short – repositioning cruises as well.  It might seem crazy to book a 1-day cruise from Seattle to Vancouver, but for less money than you would spend on a hotel for one night you can get amazing food, entertainment, and an awesome experience at sea.  I’ll take that as often as I can get it.

I booked a few of these before so I could try out a couple Holland America ships I had been eyeing.  The listed price for these cruises was around $60 if I remember correctly.   

It was a perfect way to explore the ship and see if I wanted to book a longer cruise on that vessel in the future.   And spoiler alert – I did!

9. Be ready for weather issues

Because longer cruises like this involve repositioning the ship to a different region, you’ll get to experience more open ocean sailing.

This means you might encounter rough seas, especially on transatlantic or transpacific voyages. Be sure to pack motion sickness medication that works well for you.

Even in calmer stretches on these routes, the ship will likely move more than on shorter cruises, particularly for those accustomed to smooth sailing in the Bahamas.

Photo Credit: Cruise Fever

10. Know what kinds of reposition cruises are available

Transatlantic cruises from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean are not your only options (although those are good ones). 

With just a preliminary search this morning I saw repositioning cruises like the ones below:

16-day cruise from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Genoa, Italy (MSC Cruises)
15-day cruise from Barcelona to New Orleans (Carnival)
18-day cruise from Los Angeles to Tokyo (Carnival)
14-day cruise from Seattle to Tokyo (Royal Caribbean)
12-day cruise from London to Reykjavik (Norwegian Cruise Line)

All of the above cruises have an interior cabin price under $200 per day for two people.  In another post I will detail how I go about finding repositioning cruises if readers are interested in that.

But most cruise lines have a page or two on their websites that advertise repositioning cruises.  You can also find some cruise search engines that have dedicated pages for these types of sailings.

Bonus tip

11. Find the cruise you want and set a price alert

This tip is only for the patient.  I’m all about price alerts, though.  You can follow our guide on how to monitor the fluctuating price of a cruise, but once you get it set up it’s just a waiting game. 

Keep in mind, you could also miss out on it entirely.  But if you’re budget conscious and want to try out a repositioning cruise but only for a rock-bottom deal, this is the way to do it. 

Several services will watch the price for you and let you know when it hits that sweet spot.  Even when using a travel agent I recommend setting up an alert just in case they miss it.   Trust issues?  Maybe. 

Bottom Line

Know what you’re getting into and embrace the odd itinerary.  You might just come to love these types of cruises.

Oh, and remind yourself how much money you’re saving.  I mentioned in the beginning about this being an almost “cheat code” for ranking up loyalty perks.  Since repositioning cruises are usually longer and are also cheap on a per-day-basis, it’s one of the easiest ways to get your loyalty status to the next tier.

I hope these tips have been helpful and that you enjoy every moment of your next one-way cruise.

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