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Save Money With Repositioning Cruises

Photo: Holland America

For cruisers, fall and spring mean more than just transitioning wardrobes. These seasons are actually the prime times of year for repositioning cruises.

Though some ships spend 365 days a year sailing the same itineraries or sticking to the same regions, many relocate a few times a year, depending on the season, from Canada and New England to the Caribbean or Alaska to Mexico, for example. Cruise lines sell these one-way routes (usually at a discount), rather than sail the ships without passengers. These voyages—known as repositioning cruises—often feature themes with subjects ranging from theater to wine, or are enhanced with enrichment options, such as guest lecturers.

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As world voyages and ocean crossings grow in popularity, interest has piqued in this unique style of cruising, too. The following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about repositioning cruises:

  • How do I find a repositioning cruise? Look to regions that have very specific seasons, year after year. For example, ships that spend summertime in Alaska have no choice but to relocate come September or October, and often offer unique itineraries along the California coast to Hawaii or through the Panama Canal. The opposite happens in the springtime. Also look for transatlantic cruises as ships reposition from East Coast ports (like New York and Fort Lauderdale) to Europe for a season of Mediterranean or Northern Europe sailings; this often happens in fall and spring. Other repositioning itineraries will journey to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
  • Why should I take a repositioning cruise? You can visit broad swaths of the Caribbean or an entire coastline all at once; cross the Atlantic with pit stops in off-the-beaten-path places like Greenland, or hit several cruise regions and continents on one trip. Repositioning cruises often incorporate tons of sea days, offering a more relaxing vacation without hectic, back-to-back port calls. Finally, when ships reposition, you save: Per-diem rates for repositioning cruises are often much lower than for "regular" sailings. (We've seen 16-night transatlantic cruises from $599!) However, this brings us to our next point ...
  • What are the downsides? Because repositioning cruises begin in one city and end in another—sometimes many, many miles away—the passenger is responsible for picking up generally expensive, one-way or open-jaw flights. Browse diligently for the best deals, and keep your eye out for airfare sales. For some passengers, spending days on end in the middle of nowhere—particularly on ocean crossings—is more claustrophobic than it is relaxing. Plus, repositioning voyages tend to be long (some nearly a month!), which limits them to retired seafarers and the lucky few with a decent amount of vacation time.

Intrigued? There's still time to snag a repositioning cruise for 2010. Read on for a few of our favorites this spring and fall.

Editor's Note: Remember, these are just a few of the many fascinating repositioning cruises available—contact your favorite cruise line or a travel agent directly for more information.

Spring 2010

The Ship: Carnival Elation

The Trip: San Diego to Mobile, 15-night Panama Canal transit

Departs: April 30

Itinerary: San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Puntarenas, Panama Canal transit, Grand Cayman, Tampa, Mobile

The Perks: Carnival cruises are known for a wide variety of entertainment options, and Elation is no different. It features plenty of live bands, elaborate stage shows, a piano bar, karaoke, and daily poolside games. Plus, passengers can choose between dining at prearranged times with the same tablemates and flexible dining at their preferred times with tablemates and waiters changing each evening. The itinerary is port-intensive for a repositioning cruise, with port calls almost every other day.

Who Should Go: Fun-loving cruise travelers of all ages, looking to cross a Panama Canal transit off their bucket list, should book. Carnival Elation is one of Carnival's older and smaller ships carrying just over 2,000 passengers, and it won't receive the enhanced Evolutions of Fun outdoor recreation areas until later in 2010. So, a cruise on this ship is best for travelers who prefer a more intimate cruise experience to a larger ship with the most modern bells and whistles.

The Ship: Sapphire Princess

The Trip: Los Angeles to Vancouver, seven nights

Departs: May 8

Itinerary: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Astoria, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver

The Perks: Princess has turned a simple repositioning of the ship—from Los Angeles to Vancouver for the start of the Alaska cruise season—into a sea-going party for those who want to pay for ship-sponsored shore excursions. The call at Santa Barbara offers an excursion to four wineries, the stop in Astoria offers tours of three micro-breweries, and for something more sedate, passengers can take high tea at the regal, 102-year-old Empress Hotel in Victoria. The ship has plenty of balconies and a wide variety of dining venues, including an Italian trattoria, a steakhouse, a pizzeria, and a grill.

Who Should Go: This might be the perfect first cruise, especially for West Coast residents. The ship stays close to shore, offering five port calls in the six days after leaving L.A.—including a generous 13 hours in both San Francisco and Seattle. And, a week is plenty of time to enjoy the ship's onboard amenities and feel like you've had a real vacation.

Fall 2010

The Ship: Costa Atlantica

The Trip: Copenhagen to New York City, 17-night transatlantic

Departs: September 4

Itinerary: Copenhagen, Bremerhaven, Dover, Paris (Le Havre), Sydney, Halifax, Bar Harbor, Newport, New York City

The Perks: The itinerary includes several port calls on either side of the Atlantic, allowing passengers to access European cities like London and Paris, as well as the quaint seaside towns in Maritime Canada and New England. When you're not busy exploring these ports, take advantage of Costa's innovative onboard activities, such as an Italian street festival at sea (complete with bocce, Italian karaoke, and Tarantella dancing) and a toga party, where the rules are "no sheet, not eat!"

Who Should Go: You'll find mostly Europeans onboard, as well as many Americans of Italian descent. Costa passengers tend to be fun-loving and enthusiastic, regardless of age. Plus, Italian movie buffs will enjoy the photos of Italian movie stars on each of the 12 passenger decks, which are named for films directed by Federico Fellini.

The Ship: Zuiderdam

The Trip: Vancouver to Fort Lauderdale, 18 nights

Departs: September 25

Itinerary: Vancouver, San Francisco, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas, Puerto Quetzal, Corinto, Fuerte Amador, Panama Canal transit, Cartagena, Fort Lauderdale

The Perks: Explore Central America from both the Pacific and Caribbean sides with seven port calls in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia—plus one in San Francisco, just for kicks. If you can afford it, this is the perfect cruise for an upgrade—66 percent of cabins have balconies (which make great spots to take in the scenery as you cross the Panama Canal), and the top-grade balcony cabins have floor-to-ceiling windows. For even more exclusivity, book one of the highest-level suites and get access to a private lounge with concierge service. No matter which cabin you choose, you'll benefit from a 2008 update that brought such cabin upgrades as flat-screen TV's, DVD players, and superior mattresses and bed linens.

Who Should Go: Although Holland America has been making an effort to attract more families and younger travelers, its multi-week repositioning cruises tend to see a more mature, traditional set of passengers.

The Ship: Star Clipper

The Trip: Athens to St. Maarten, 37-night transatlantic

Departure: October 14

Itinerary: Athens, Monemvasia, Pilos, Siracusa, Valletta, Pantelleria, Hammamet, Tunis, Mahon, Cartagena, Motril, Malaga, Tangier, Cadiz, Casablanca, Safi, Arrecife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas, St. Maarten

The Perks: This exceptionally long cruise sails from Athens through the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic, visiting ports in Italy, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, and the Canary Islands before ending in the Caribbean's St. Maarten. Star Clipper is unique because it's a four-masted, tall sailing ship, but it does have—and use—engines in addition to wind power. Onboard amenities are not elaborate, and cabins are small, but passengers can enjoy two pools, a library, an indoor/outdoor bar, and complimentary water sports in appropriate ports from the ship's onboard marina.

Who Should Go: This sailing is for hearty sailors who can handle 17 days crossing the ocean in a small vessel that rolls with the seas and those who can easily entertain themselves. Of course, the ship's staff does host activities that include regular presentations on navigation and nautical history, as well as a daily lecture by the captain. Passengers will also have a chance to help hoist the sails and climb the mast. For those with less time, there are options for shorter crossing segments.

The Ship: Jewel of the Seas

The Trip: Boston to Fort Lauderdale, 13-night Atlantic and Caribbean

Departs: October 30

Itinerary: Boston, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Dominica, Barbados, Aruba, Curacao, Fort Lauderdale

The Perks: The ship is full of light and features acres of glass, an airy nine-deck atrium, elevators that glide vertically along the ship's exterior, a glass-domed solarium, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the Champagne bar. It offers plenty of active options, including an expansive fitness center, sports court, rock-climbing wall, and jogging track. This cruise is a special sampling of Eastern and Southern Caribbean ports, offering calls in six nations in addition to six relaxing days at sea.

Who Should Go: This sailing is great for anyone and everyone with two weeks free for vacation! Royal Caribbean cruises typically attract a wide range of North Americans, especially active travelers who appreciate the ship's sporty onboard offerings.

The Ship: Celebrity Constellation

The Trip: Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale, 14-night transatlantic

Departs: November 6

Itinerary: Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Malaga, Madeira, Tenerife, Fort Lauderdale

The Perks: Passengers on this sailing will appreciate the recent upgrades to Celebrity Constellation (coming in April 2010). New culinary additions include the Tuscan Grille Italian steakhouse, Bistro on Five creperie, Martini Bar, and gelateria. Plus, cabins will be upgraded with new carpeting and upholstery, flat-screen TV's, and improved bedding. This itinerary combines a Europe cruise—boasting five port calls in Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands—with seven full days at sea. This will give guests plenty of time to relax after intensive sightseeing.

Who Should Go: Celebrity's passenger demographics skew toward the educated, the sophisticated, and the curious. Foodies and wine enthusiasts will enjoy Celebrity's variety of culinary excursions and onboard offerings, while active travelers will appreciate opportunities to hike, bike, and paddle during port calls.

The Ship: Star Princess

The Trip: Rome to Rio de Janeiro, 16-night transatlantic

Departs: December 4

Itinerary: Rome, Florence/Pisa, Cannes, Barcelona, Casablanca, Agadir, Morocco, Recife, Rio de Janeiro (overnight)

The Perks: Less than two years out of a dry-dock makeover, Star Princess now includes the Asian-themed Lotus Spa, a bakery and wine bar in the atrium, the Crown Grill steak and seafood restaurant, and the Sanctuary, an adults-only sun deck. This roomy ship also boasts four pools, nine hot tubs, five dining rooms, a pizzeria, two discos, and a 300-square-foot LED screen that shows movies outdoors. The itinerary is exceptional, calling on three continents (Europe, Africa, and South America) and spending eight days at sea.

Who Should Go: Princess is always attractive to couples and romantics, as it features an onboard chapel for shipboard weddings and balcony dinners for private meals under the stars. The itinerary is also ripe for romance, with visits to the grand cathedrals and museums of Florence, the resorts of Cannes and the French Riviera, the exotic markets in Casablanca and Agadir, and the beaches of Recife and Rio.

Have you ever taken a repositioning cruise? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!

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