Canny cruise enthusiasts have long realised that the best way to score an instant bargain is to choose a repositioning voyage.
For those who’ve never tried them, these sailings are something of an enigma, yet they can be less than half the price of regular departures and just as enjoyable – but you need to be aware of what to expect.
Repositioning cruises come about when ships relocate from one part of the world to another, basically chasing the sun and warmer weather, with most departing during spring and autumn in preparation for their summer or winter cruising seasons.
Itineraries are generally point-to-point (literally sailing from one destination to another) with irregular durations that tend to be longer and contain more sea days than standard cruises. Such sailings are usually categorised as “transoceanic” and described as “discovery” voyages or given names that reflect the destinations involved.
With more ships sailing between continents, there is a greater variety of repositioning options and cruise companies have tried to make them more appealing by incorporating additional port stops, while some specialist cruise travel agencies offer packages containing hotel stays to ramp up interest.
There’s also a wider choice of ships, meaning you could sail across the Atlantic on the world’s biggest ships holding thousands of passengers or follow the ocean currents on the tall ships of Star Clippers, giving an authentic wind-in-the-hair flavour of crossing the ocean.
Arguably the prime repositioning route is across the Atlantic as ships sail eastwards from the Caribbean and the Americas every spring after spending the winter there, and head for the Mediterranean and northern Europe. In autumn, the same thing happens in reverse.
Several such voyages start or finish in the UK – mainly Southampton – meaning that passengers only need to fly one-way, with the cost of the flight sometimes included in the cruise fare.
Not only does this halve airport stress, passengers who fly to join their ship and sail back to the UK also don’t need to worry about luggage limits once on-board if they’re tempted to splurge on shopping trips during their cruise.
Several such repositioning sailings serve various points in America, such as Miami, New York and Fort Lauderdale, or the Caribbean, including Barbados and Antigua, invariably calling at the Portuguese isles of Madeira and Azores, or Cape Verde, the Canary Islands or Bermuda.
Others may start or finish at European ports such as Barcelona, Civitavecchia (for Rome) and Genoa, while some travel to the Americas via the likes of Iceland and Canada or in the opposite direction towards the Middle East and Asia.
Eastbound sailings involve the added bonus of traversing the Suez Canal, while anyone wanting to sail along the Panama Canal should look out for ships travelling between America’s West Coast, including Alaska, Hawaii and the Mexican Riviera, and the Caribbean or US East Coast.
A defining feature of repositioning cruises is the number of sea days involved as ships traverse the oceans. This is something experienced cruisers relish, though to stop guests getting bored ships put on a programme of activities that can include guest speakers and activities to help fill the time. But if the weather is good, relaxing on deck is the most popular pastime.
Some repositioning sailings are also themed along topics such as fine wines, gastronomy, theatre productions or music.
For anyone considering this type of cruise, it is worth splashing out on a balcony cabin to ensure your own slice of outdoor space during the many sea days and try to choose a cabin location you are happy with that is away from noisy areas, such as under the pool deck.
It’s also worth considering a drinks package as you’ll be spending more time aboard than on regular sailings. Also, for peace of mind, as you’ll be crossing long stretches of ocean over several days, make sure you remember seasickness tablets – just in case.
Five repositioning cruises to consider
Southampton to Barbados
Catch some autumnal tropical heat on this 14-night sailing with P&O Cruises aboard its newest ship Arvia from Southampton to Barbados. It costs from £899pp, which works out at £64pppn, and also includes the return flight. Departing October 27, it calls at Gran Canaria, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Martinique (0344 338 8003; pocruises.com).
Transatlantic under sail
Ride the waves in the spirit of transatlantic sailors and explorers of old aboard Royal Clipper, the flagship of tall ship line Star Clippers. This 16-night voyage departs Barbados on March 30, 2024, for a crossing that includes 10 straight days at sea before reaching the Azores, followed by another four sea days before arriving at Lisbon, where the voyage ends. From £1,820pp (01473 242666; starclippers.co.uk).
Sail to Fort Lauderdale and stay in Orlando
This 21-night package combines a three-night stay in Orlando with a 17-night Princess Cruises sailing on Sky Princess from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale. Departing on November 28, 2024, it calls at Cherbourg, Vigo, Lisbon, Madeira and Bermuda before arriving in Fort Lauderdale where guests are transferred to Orlando. From £1,499pp, which includes hotel accommodation, transfers, return flight and upgrade to balcony cabin (0870 990 8824; cruise.co.uk).
Italy to the USA
Pick up an incredible bargain on this 17-night MSC Cruises sailing from Genoa to Miami aboard MSC Divina that costs just £519pp, which works out at £30pppn. Departing on November 27, it calls at Barcelona, Cadiz, Madeira, Tenerife, St Maarten and Puerto Rico. Flights extra (020 3953 7458; msccruises.co.uk).
Luxury Lisbon to Barbados
Even the six-star lines offer cheaper repositioning deals. Seabourn has knocked around 50 per cent off the price of this 14-night Atlantic Sunsets & Caribbean voyage from Lisbon to Barbados on Seabourn Ovation. Departing November 19, it visits Madeira, Porto Santo, Antigua, St Kitts (for its signature Caviar in the Surf beach barbecue) and Martinique. From £3,509pp cruise-only, based on suite accommodation and all-inclusive (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com).