Cruising for a bargain? Consider a repositioning cruise!

If you’ve never cruised before or would like to cruise more economically than sailing during prime time, a repositioning cruise may be something to consider.

Throughout the year, cruise lines reposition their ships to make the most of the upcoming seasons. Ships are moved from the warmer waters they plied during the winter months to the cooler regions they’ll visit during the summer. And rather than move a ship from, say, the Caribbean to the Pacific Northwest empty, cruise lines often offer bargains for these relocation cruises.

Repositioning cruises sometimes allow passengers to visit uncommon and even exotic ports of call as their cruise ship relocates to a new region. Typically, repositioning cruises offer itineraries such as Alaska to Hawaii, Alaska to the Mexican Riviera, Trans-Atlantic sailings from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, or the reverse. Many repositioning cruises transit the Panama Canal.

There are some drawbacks, to be sure. Because they are done during the off-season, there is a chance the weather - at the point of departure, the destination, or both – will be less than ideal. But that’s part of the reason they’re often a bargain.

Not all cruises are created equal

My first repositioning cruise was a three-night sailing from San Diego to Vancouver, British Columbia in May 2000 aboard Holland America’s ms Volendam. While it was a pleasant journey replete with all the entertainment options, dining choices and amenities for which cruises are famous, the ship did not visit any ports of call. It sailed directly from California to B.C., meaning it was more a boat ride than what might properly be called a “cruise.”

A repositioning cruise I’m considering for this year would be different.

NCL's Norwegian Sun
At this writing, I am planning on taking a repositioning cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun that departs the port of San Pedro near Los Angeles and makes three ports of call between L.A. and Vancouver: San Francisco; Astoria, Ore.; and Victoria, B.C. The six-night voyage will be more like a typical cruise.

However, even shorter cruises may stop at a port or two along the way. Be sure to check the itinerary before booking to see where, if anywhere, you’ll stop between your point of departure and your destination.

Repositioning cruises range from a two-night sailing direct from London (Southampton) to Hamburg, Germany aboard Cunard LinesQueen Elizabeth (for less than US$700 at this writing) to a cruise aboard Seabourn Cruises’ Seabourn Sojourn that departs Barcelona, Spain, stops at more than 50 ports of call and arrives in Singapore 116 days later. That cruise can be had for about US$50,000 per person – a bargain relative to the normal price of more than US$187,000 per person.

Shop carefully

In addition to the cruise lines themselves, many travel providers sell passage on repositioning cruises, either directly or via web sites. One such site,, presents an extensive list of repositioning cruises, and shows prices that purportedly reflect a percentage savings over “brochure prices.” However, those discounts are not exclusive to that particular site. In the case of the cruise I’m considering, the web site’s prices are exactly the same as those offered on the Norwegian Cruise Line website at, and its prices for the 116-day Seabourn voyage are the same as the fares offered on

I recommend working directly with the cruise lines, especially when you’re not sacrificing any savings.

Finally, understand what is included. The fare for the Seabourn cruise includes all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages; however, many do not. Investigate carefully to be sure you know what’s included and what will come at an additional cost.

Savings also vary. While the Seabourn repositioning cruise brings a 73% savings, a 15-day cruise aboard Holland America’s Ryndam from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona, Spain, is currently available at a savings of about 83% off the normal fare. Still others offer no savings at all. Many sailings are offered without a discount, or a very modest reduction from regular prices.

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Photos courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line
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