Since my report last year, I continue to receive questions about one-way cruises. The latest: "I plan to move to Australia. Can I get there via cruise ship?"
The short answer is "yes, but infrequently, and slowly if all you want is travel." Although round-trip cruises are the norm, you can find quite a few one-way trips: some part of air/cruise packages, others offered alone. And for basic transportation on a few routes, freighter trips or ferries may be the best answer.
Conventional one-way cruise packages
Many mass-market cruise programs routinely involve one-way sailings with return trips by air:
- Alaska. Quite a few of the Alaska cruises between Seattle/Vancouver and Whittier/Anchorage involve one-way ship, one-way air. Depending on the program, both trips can be to/from the cruise port or the air portion can be open jaw, including travel to/from any major airport in the U.S. You can usually buy these cruises without air if you prefer.
- Caribbean. Many cruises originate and terminate at different ports, again with round-trip or open-jaw air travel.
- European Rivers. Similarly, most European river cruises originate and terminate at different points, with optional opposite-direction travel by rail or open-jaw air.
- Hawaii. Although most Hawaiian cruises are round-trip—either from/to the mainland or within the islands—a few operate one-way between Hawaii and the mainland. The mainland terminal is often Ensenada, to avoid the requirement that only U.S.-based cruise lines can operate between U.S. ports without stopping in a foreign country. Again, opposite-direction air is optional or flexible-date.
- Repositioning cruises. Every year, more than a dozen large cruise ships operate one-way voyages between the U.S. and Europe. In the spring, ships relocate from warm-weather areas of the Caribbean and Mexico to Europe for summer programs and return to the warm-weather areas in the fall. Trips typically take at least 10 days and call at a few continental and island ports along the way. Transatlantic positioning cruises offer what are probably the lowest per-day rates for a big-line cruise you'll find anywhere.
Most Panama Canal voyages are also repositioning cruises, as the big ships migrate between summer in Alaska and winter in the warm-weather areas. Although they typically sell the trip as two segments, you can combine them to sail between Alaska or the U.S. West Coast and the East Coast.
Point-to-point sea travel
If you really just want to get from point A to point B by sea rather than air, your choices are far more limited.
- Queen Mary 2. As far as I know, Cunard's QM2 is the only luxury ship that regularly plies the Atlantic, either nonstop between the U.S. and Britain, or with a short stop or two to take on/leave off travelers, with minimal port time. Although the ship is one of the world's most modern, its itinerary is a throwback to the days when flying was a novelty and almost all transatlantic travelers went by sea.
- Seagoing Ferries. You can travel one-way along the entire paths of the Alaska ferry, and with extended stopovers at intermediate points along the way if you wish. When you total the costs of base fare, cabin space, and meals, the Alaska Ferry is really not any less expensive than the cheapest cabin on a conventional cruise ship to/from Alaska, but the added flexibility appeals to many travelers.
Other multi-day ferry trips link coastal communities along Norway's fjords, Scandinavia with Scotland or Iceland, and a few other areas in Europe. Overnight ferry trips are quite common in Europe' Adriatic, Baltic, Black, Mediterranean, and North Seas. You also find a few in the South Pacific and East Asia.
The ferry experience, of course, is much different from that of a cruise ship. Cabins are usually Spartan and food service is basic. Few, if any, offer air packages.
- Freighters. Freighter travel offers still another approach to one-way sailing. Freighter trips from the U.S. operate to Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and South America, and in the reverse direction. (A freighter from Los Angeles to Sydney is our reader's other option.) A few one-way trips are as short as a week, but most take from several weeks to more than a month. As with long-haul cruises, very long freighter trips usually sell smaller segments. In the U.S., freighter trips start/end in a few big ocean and Great Lakes ports.
Freighter travel is a highly specialized niche market. The few freighters that accept passengers carry only a handful of travelers; passengers eat with the ship's officers; there's no organized entertainment. The only special amenity, if any, might be a small swimming pool also used by officers and crew. Intermediate port stops, if any, might be at odd hours in remote cargo terminals. Because freighters typically do not carry doctors, most freighters impose a maximum age of 70 or 75 and may also require a doctor's certificate of health. For more information, contact one or more of the specialized freighter agencies: Freighter World Cruises, Maris Freighter and Specialty Cruises, and TravLtips.