We've always been a bit wary of cruises. At worst, we have visions of retirees playing bingo while a lounge singer croons early Michael Bolton. At best, we foresee David Foster Wallace style lobster-and-jacuzzi breakdowns on the high seas.
But, you know we love a deal. And to travel. And we're sensible if nothing else.
Despite their oft cheesy rep, cruises can be a surprisingly affordable and stress-free way to travel. Lodging, food and transportation are taken care of, and you can visit several cities on one trip without having to deal with the repacking and planning hassle--and at a fraction of the price of a ground itinerary.
And from now until mid-May is when you can snag the best deals on a cruise (up to 20% discount) by scoping out a repositioning cruise.
For serious savings, we can deal with a few shiny, gold spiraled staircases.
Repositioning Means Cheaper Cruises On Newer Ships.
Every fall and spring, cruise companies move their ships from one region of the world to another in pursuit of favorable weather. Ships sailing in Alaska during the summer will head south to the Caribbean for the winter; ships in South America during the warm winter months will sail across the ocean to the Mediterranean for the summer season. Rather than waste money on the fuel costs of sailing an empty vessel across the ocean, cruise lines sell these itineraries at a discount. The downside for you is a lot of days at sea and a departure and arrival at two different ports, but the upside is that the savings are pretty significant.
For example: Compare a room on a 14-day Caribbean cruise aboard the nine-year-old Norwegian Dawn this April at $1,209 regular price, as of this writing. The same cabin on a 15-day trip on the brand new Norwegian Epic in early May (based on repositioning prices) is $1,008 – that’s about $70 per person per day. So, for 17% less, you get one extra day, plus the experience of a brand new, state-of-the-art ship.
A Cruise Brings More Savings Than A Land Itinerary.
Regardless of whether you go the repositioning route, cruises are a great way to visit multiple sites in one fell swoop. Say you wanted to visit Barcelona, Rome, and Nice this spring. Factoring in airfare, hotel rooms, meals, and ground transportation, you could easily spend several thousand dollars. Plus, your transit time would be significant, and you’d have to repack each time you arrived at a new destination.
For example: If you took a cruise to visit all those cities instead, you could do it without so much as changing your shoes…and pay just $740 (for two) aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. Departing Barcelona on April 30th for a 5-night sail, the cruise includes accommodations, meals, entertainment, and too many activities to count. (Yes, you can now get massaged and zip line your way from Rome to Nice).
Regardless of whether you go the repositioning route, cruises are a convenient, high-value option for visiting multiple sites in one fell swoop.
If You’ve Got A Taste For Luxury.
A high-end repositioning cruise—while more expensive than a Carnival or Norwegian Cruise Lines trip—will often give you better value for your money than an equally luxurious trip on land. For example, on the small, yacht-like vessels of Seabourn, Regent, and SeaDream, most cabins are suites with balconies or windows, the food is gourmet, the drinks are top-shelf, and the high staff-to-guest ratio means individualized, almost clairvoyant service.
For example: Okay, so we’re not leaping to spend $3,500 on a 7-night Caribbean cruise (aboard Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator for a repositioning trip this April). But, at least this includes all meals, alcoholic beverages, round-trip airfare, unlimited shore excursions, one night in a luxury hotel the night before departure, plus ground transfers and breakfast, and gratuities. Compare that to the cost—and the planning—required for a total luxury Caribbean vacation sans cruise.
How To Find A Repo Cruise That Works For You.
Repositioning cruises aren’t always advertised as such, so you might have to do a little digging. You’ll know it when you see it because it’ll be a one-way ride from one main cruising region to another and may include words like “transoceanic” or “transatlantic” (like, say, Alaska to Baja or South America to the Mediterranean). If you tell a travel agent that you want a repo cruise, she will know exactly what you mean.
We actually don’t recommend booking a cruise through Expedia or another third party vendor because online booking is too rife with pitfalls—Expedia won’t help much if the cruise is rerouted or your plane is delayed, but a good agent will handle everything. Plus, good travel agents have relationships with cruise lines (and usually get paid directly by those lines), so they can get their customers special deals if they book a lot of trips on certain carriers.
We'll see you starboard in Rio De Janeiro, perhaps.
Beata Santora is an Associate Editor at Condé Nast Traveler. She was bitten by the travel bug at age 3 while on a cruise of the Black Sea, and now she loves airports and hotels the way most people love chocolate.