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The ins and outs of one-way cruising

I’ve heard from a few readers interested in one-way cruises. Although several of the questions have been about cruising to and from Hawaii for an extended stay in the islands, the most recent was about the Caribbean: “I am looking for a one-way cruise from Florida to Costa Rica and then a one-way return at a later date. Any options or suggestions?”

The short answer—for both Costa Rica and Hawaii—is “no.” You can find lots on one-way cruises, but in other parts of the world. Here’s a current summary.

Where you can

Most of the interest in one-way cruising seems to focus on cruises between a port in the contiguous 48 states (or Vancouver) and offshore destinations. Presumably, some travelers are seeking either to combine a destination vacation with a leisurely ocean trip or to avoid air travel.

Major cruise lines

Most major cruise lines operate one-way cruises on three routes to/from the mainland:

  • Between Seattle or Vancouver and Whittier or Anchorage
  • Transatlantic repositioning cruises from the U.S. to Europe in the spring and Europe to the U.S. in fall
  • Segments of long-haul and round-the-world cruises, just about anywhere

One-way sailings between Seattle or Vancouver and Alaska often include travel in the other direction by air as an option (along with land excursions in Alaska). Transatlantic repositioning cruises and segments of extra-long cruises may also offer optional one-way air—usually a good deal, given that one-way intercontinental airfares are usually very high.

Seagoing ferries

You can travel one-way or even short segments along the entire paths of the Alaska Ferry, for example, and you can arrange extended stopovers at intermediate points along the way. 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.


Freighter travel offers another approach to one-way cruising. You can usually arrange some combination of one-way, round-trip, multi-stop, and segment cruises, depending on the shipping line and the itinerary. From the U.S., you can find at least a few freighter trips to Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and South America. One-way trips run from one week to more than a month; freighter agencies generally do not get involved with air travel in the opposite direction. Freighter trips start/end in a few big ocean ports and a few Great Lakes ports. Freighter travel is a highly specialized niche market; for more information, contact one or more of the bigger freighter agencies, including Freighter World Cruises, Maris Freighter Cruises, and TravLtips.

And where you can’t

As far as I can tell, one-way cruises are not available between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Mexico. According to a spokesperson from, the website gets more inquiries about Hawaii than any other one-way destination, but there are no one-way itineraries at present. And since Hawaii is a domestic destination, you can’t take a freighter there, either.

Given the steady growth of cruising and ongoing addition of new routes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some line start to offer some one-way options, at least on the more popular routes. I don’t suggest, however, that you hold your breath until that happens.

Other regions

If you want to avoid flying, you can find quite a few one-way ocean and river cruises within the U.S. and Canada. But if you’re willing to fly, you can find lots of one-way cruises that start and end overseas:

  • Within the Mediterranean and Greek Islands
  • River cruises between Moscow and St. Petersburg and along the Danube, Rhine, and other European canal/river systems
  • Between Bergen and Kirkenes along the Norwegian coast

One-way cruises within Europe often include optional open-jaw air tickets from the U.S. to the cruise’s starting point and return from its endpoint; typically, you can set the dates to allow extended pre- or post-cruise stays at one or both cruise terminals. If the cruise doesn’t include an air portion, you can easily arrange your own open-jaw itinerary.

You can also book one-way trips on many European long-distance ferries and mail boats. Several itineraries in and around the Baltic, Black Sea, and North Sea provide multi-day and multi-stop one-way ferry trips on some very exotic routes such as Scotland to Iceland. For a list of ferry lines and schedules in and around Europe, get hold of a current copy of the Thomas Cook European Timetable, available online or at good bookstores.

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