Budget-minded travelers who are ready for a voyage on the high seas can book a cruise without sinking their savings accounts. It's reposition season, which means for the next few months, you can find deals for as little as $35 per day.
Repositioning refers to the bi-annual migration that the cruise lines undertake to get their ships where they want them to be for the next sailing season. In the fall, that typically means transitioning from New England and Europe to the Caribbean and from Alaska to the Mexican Riviera and beyond. Come spring, the routes are reversed.
“Repositioning cruises offer a lot of flexibility plus ports that are not on the usual itineraries,” said Stewart Chiron, aka The Cruise Guy. “You can really plan quite an adventure.”
Low fares and long days at sea
Consider, for example, the Norwegian Gem, which is about to transition from a summer in the Mediterranean to its winter home in New York. Leaving Venice on October 30, the 14-day sailing will stop in Malaga and Cadiz, Spain; Lisbon and the Azores, then spend five days at sea. Part Mediterranean cruise, part transatlantic sailing, inside cabins start at $499 per person double occupancy, which works out to just $35 per day ($45 with taxes and fees).
Why so cheap? Because such cruises appeal to only a small segment of the cruising public, i.e., those who have both the free time and financial wherewithal, as well as the interest in spending five, six or seven days at sea. “If you’re not able to self-entertain, you can get bored easily,” said Jay Caulk, general manager of The Travel Experts in Pompano Beach, Fla. “There’s no St. Thomas in the middle of the ocean.”
But for most cruisers, the biggest obstacle is probably airfare as repositioning cruises typically require booking at least one one-way flight, either before or after sailing, or worse, an open-jaw ticket if your cruise doesn’t end where your flight departed from. “If you’re in Boston and going to Rome to pick up a ship that’s going to Miami, your airfare is going to be ‘interesting’,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com. By “interesting,” of course, she means breathtakingly expensive.
Still, for those who are comfortable with these constraints, a transatlantic repositioning cruise offers an intriguing alternative to both traditional crossings (à la the “Queens”) and yet another if-it’s-Tuesday-this-must-be-Barbados sailing. “You get to go to ports that aren’t on the normal agenda,” Spencer Brown added. “Madeira and the Canary Islands or Iceland and Greenland — some really exciting places that don’t attract every cruise ship in the land.”
Quick trips close to home
At the same time that ships in Europe are heading west, others are wrapping up the summer season in New England and Atlantic Canada before heading south. Catch the right sailing and you can combine a fall foliage tour with a long leisurely trip to Florida or the Caribbean — without the cost of transatlantic airfare.
The MSC Poesia, for example, leaves Quebec on October 23 for a nine-night sailing to Fort Lauderdale, stopping in Sydney, Nova Scotia; Boston, Newport and New York before making its way to Port Everglades. Along the way, passengers can enjoy the usual cruise amenities, along with an extra day in New York (a nice touch) and a Big Band theme motif courtesy of the 15-piece Les DeMerle Big Band. Prices for inside cabins start at $699 or $78 per day ($90 with fees and taxes).
Finally, consider the West Coast, where the cruise lines are getting ready to wrap up their summer season in Alaska before repositioning their ships to Mexico, Asia or the Caribbean (via the Panama Canal). Between low cruise fares and good air service, the intervening itineraries between the Pacific Northwest and Southern California offer a great excuse for a quick, affordable getaway.
Take the “3 Day Coastal” sailing of the Golden Princess, which leaves Vancouver on September 26, spends two days at sea (no port calls) and arrives in Los Angeles early on September 29. Inside cabins start at $249, or $286 with fees and taxes. “We don’t generally offer short cruises,” says Princess spokesperson Karen Candy, “so it’s a nice introduction to the brand.”
Nicer still, you can currently pick up a late-September, one-way flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver for as little as $125. In fact, if you’re from L.A., you could conceivably catch an early-morning flight to Vancouver, spend half a day in the city, enjoy three nights at sea and still make it back to work on time on the 29th. Only the smile, suntan and/or hangover will give you away.
Of course, if you can’t make any of the above trips work on such short notice, fear not. You can always go the other way next spring.
Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail .