Think of cruise ships a bit like nomads. They roam the waters from port to port, many visiting more than one area of the world per year. When the seasons change, ships tend to relocate (or reposition) to chase the warm weather -- for example, moving from the Alaska to Australia. When ships sail across oceans or change seasonal homeports, their one-off, one-way itineraries -- dubbed repositioning cruises -- offer a chance for passengers to sail a new, offbeat route, often at a lower-than-average price.
As exciting as they sound, "repo" cruises aren't for everyone. We answer common questions about these unique itineraries to help you determine if one is right for you.
Why should I take a repositioning cruise?
You can visit multiple cities on the Southeast Asian coastline, delve into the beauty and culture of northern Australia, or hit several continents on one trip. That might sound like a busy schedule, but it's actually not. Repositioning cruises often incorporate a multitude of sea days, offering a more relaxing holiday without hectic, back-to-back port calls. Itching to try a new cruise line? There are 12-night cruises from Fremantle to Singapore or 15 nights from Bali or Honolulu to Sydney for those wanting to try a repo cruise for the first time.
Are there any downsides to a repositioning cruise?
For some passengers, spending days on end in the middle of nowhere -- particularly on ocean crossings -- is more maddening than relaxing. Repositioning cruises also tend to be long (some nearly a month), which often limits them to retired seafarers and the lucky few with a hefty amount of annual leave. Also, the one-way nature of the cruises means you'll need to book one-way or open-jaw flights, which can be more expensive than roundtrip airfare.
Are repositioning cruises a good deal?
Per-diem (daily) rates for repositioning cruises are often much lower than they are for "regular" sailings. That's because they're not as universally appealing due to the reasons mentioned above. Plus, you can snag a good daily rate on the cruise, but the total fare could still be high -- in addition to potentially pricey one-way airfare. Be on the lookout for cruise deals that include airfare or shorter repo sailings, which offer even better value.
What's the weather like on a repositioning cruise?
As you make your way from one region to another, temperatures are bound to fluctuate. The weather on a repo cruise depends on where and when you go, and always involves slightly more thoughtful packing. For example, a ship sailing from Sydney to Vancouver during autumn will kick off with warmer weather but end in a cool, fresh climate. Bear in mind: Ocean crossings can mean a bumpier ride, especially on smaller ships. It's a good idea to have some type of seasickness remedy on hand, even if you're not typically sensitive to motion.
What kind of ship is best for a repositioning cruise?
The best ship is the one whose onboard vibe, activities and entertainment jive with your personality. The last thing you want is to be bored when you're out at sea, days away from your next port of call. Active types would fare well with lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian or Royal Caribbean, especially Ovation of the Seas, which has a sky diving simulator, bumper cars and a circus school for those wanting an action-packed adventure. Those interested in a more laidback atmosphere should consider Celebrity, Princess, Holland America or -- if you've got room to splurge -- a luxury line like Silversea or Crystal Cruises. Some lines also spice up their repo itineraries with themes, such as food and wine or bridge, which makes for a fun opportunity to learn something new or simply spend your sea days relishing a hobby you love.
How do I find a repositioning cruise?
Look to regions that have very specific annual seasons. For example, ships that sail in Alaska's summer have no choice but to relocate come September, and they frequently offer unique itineraries along the coast of California, across the Pacific to Hawaii or through the Panama Canal. (They travel the opposite route in the Northern Hemisphere springtime.) Also look for transatlantic cruises as ships reposition from U.S. East Coast ports (like New York and Fort Lauderdale) to Europe for a season of Mediterranean or Northern European sailings and then come back for Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda cruises in the colder months. This often happens in their fall and spring. Other repositioning itineraries journey to Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa.
Cruises sailing from Sydney to Los Angeles in May will offer unique itineraries suited to escaping the winter and bringing you into a warm American Summer. Also, look for cruises that will take you to lesser known ports for a balance of sea days and culture. Many cruises travelling to and from Australia stop in Tahitian or Hawaiian ports, offering a tropical and relaxing scenery. If you love sea days, cruising between Singapore and Sydney or Fremantle may suit you. See some of our favourite upcoming repositioning cruises here.