We learned about repositioning cruises from our online buddies and inspiration, Lynne and Tim Martin of HomeFree Adventures. When we were planning our first “exit” from California, we decided to use a repositioning cruise as our means of transport from Florida to the UK, as we had the time, and we wanted to see how the experience compared to flying. Repositioning cruises occur when cruise companies need to move their ships from one seasonal location to another. For example, the Caribbean is a typical winter cruise destination, and the Mediterranean is a summer destination. In spring, the ships sail one-way from the US, typically Florida ports, eastwards across the Atlantic Ocean to the various Mediterranean ports they will be sailing from during the summer months. And then again in the Autumn, the ships sail back from Europe to Florida. Cruise lines have discovered that instead of sending the ships and crews over empty with nothing to do, they could sell these voyages.
The Atlantic is a big focus of repositioning cruises, but we’ve discovered that there are one-way cruises throughout the world, including world cruises that can be booked by individual segment.
For travellers like us, these one-way trips are terrific. They’re often less expensive than traditional cruises, they include accommodation, meals and entertainment in one cost – well within our daily budget, at least so far! – we get a chance to visit some potentially interesting places, and they’re a relaxing change! The “cons” for many cruise aficionados make them ideal for us, and for these reasons they’re usually less expensive: one-way is less convenient to someone with a “fixed abode” – you have to book a one-way flight as well. They’re often longer than most cruises (many people don’t have enough vacation time), they don’t usually make daily stops, so they’re potentially less interesting, unless you like sea time of course!
Comparison to flying
Flying from East Coast of USA to UK takes around 7 hours in the air, plus around 2 hours going through check in & TSA on departure, plus a further 1 hour at the other end, for immigration and luggage pick up. Meals and comfort are variable and generally not the best, particularly in economy. And those 7 hours in the cramped confines of a paraffin canary can sometimes seem like a lifetime.
In contrast, sailing the same route can take from 10 to 14 days, depending on the number of stopovers along the way – Bahamas, Bermuda
and Azores are all popular stops on transatlantic crossings. On arrival at the ship’s terminal, you drop your luggage off and then stroll leisurely through passport control and onto the boat, where your photo will be taken and you will be issued a passenger card to use when charging things to your room, and as identification when returning to the ship if you have gone ashore during a stopover.
Most cabins are fairly modest in size, compared to a hotel room, but on the two trips we have done everything worked as it should, our luggage went under the bed, and the beds were decently sized and comfortable.
You now have plenty of leisure time to read books from the library, swim in the pools, play cards with other passengers, listen to talks, see demonstrations, attend shows and movies, walk around the decks, or pretty much anything else that takes your fancy. Food in a variety of restaurants is available 24 hours a day, and be warned, most of it is very good indeed, so it’s very easy to over indulge – full cooked breakfast, followed by cooked lunch, followed by afternoon cream tea, followed by 3 course dinner…
Going to the UK, the cruise line ferried immigration officials on to the boat a couple of days before we got there, so going through immigration and passport control was a leisurely, civilized affair. On the way back, we had to go through immigration on the docks on arrival at the first port of call (New York) in the USA, but even then it wasn’t the mad rush you get at an airport. Luggage was offloaded for us – picked up the evening before, you simply put it outside your cabin door – and was easy to pick up at a pre-arranged location.
How to book a repositioning cruise
You can of course book directly through the cruise line, and that’s fine, if you know what you’re doing! We had never cruised before our first repositioning cruise, so I took some advice from some friends I used to work with in the travel business, which helped immensely, and I booked through Chloe Prejean at Vacations To Go. I also have another very experienced friend from the travel business, who now has her own travel agency: Dawn Beers O’Brien, at Wheelie Fun Cruise & Travel. I highly recommend Dawn and Chloe, as unless you’re a seasoned cruiser, there are so many potentially confusing things to know about. First, there’s view: inside cabin, or ocean view? Obstructed, partially obstructed? Balcony or not? Maybe a suite… Where on the ship do you want your cabin, front, back, high, low? All of these aspects can make a big difference to the enjoyment of your cruise. A travel agent can also often get you extra perks – get your gratuities included, a shipboard credit, an upgrade. In case you’re wondering, the client doesn’t pay more when booking through a travel agent – the cruise company pays them a commission (but they don’t reduce your price if you book direct!)
Is a cruise all-inclusive?
Cruise fees include meals, and lots of entertainment, but apart from a few ultra-all-inclusive cruises, drinks are not usually included. Most cruises offer a drinks package that you can pre-purchase, although when we looked into that, we decided that you would have to drink a fair amount to make it worthwhile. Drinks costs, and alcohol particularly, can easily start mounting up and adding to your final bill, so that’s something that you need to budget for. However, looking around at cruises prices, many offer onboard credits, which you can use towards your bar bill, or spa treatments, or shore excursions. It’s also wise to check into what the cost of gratuities will be. This is rarely included in the base cruise fare, and it can be a fair chunk, so don’t forget to budget for that. Again, when searching for cruises, you’ll find that often you can land a deal with gratuities covered. It’s not customary to tip wait staff in the dining room each day, or to tip your cabin steward daily. You’ll have a mandatory gratuity added to your final bill when you leave the ship. Of course if your cabin steward goes above and beyond with something that you’ve requested, it would be good to give something at the time.
The cruises we’ve looked into typically have a main dining room, with table service, plus a buffet restaurant, with meals at both included in the cost. Many ships often have a few premium restaurants where there is an additional charge if you want to dine there. We enjoyed treating ourselves a couple of times to these dinners.
How to choose your cruise
As well as choosing a route or a destination, there are so many different cruise lines and ships to choose from, and these vary a great deal. It’s like choosing a hotel: are you a Ritz-Carlton person, or a Holiday Inn? Preferences are personal, so consult a knowledgeable travel agent, or search the internet for descriptions and reviews of different cruise lines and ships before deciding what cruise style suits you. Cruise Critic has lots of information. Do you want a casual, relaxed style, or do you want to dress up in formal wear every evening? Do you want a family-friendly ship, or something more adult-focused. Check out the restaurant choices. Most cruise ships have some restaurants that are included in the overall package, and then a few more specialized restaurants that have an additional charge if you wish to eat there. Do you want to pre-book a drinks package? Is there a spa, or a climbing wall?
Of course you need to think about your wardrobe, and necessary items such as passport and possibly visas. Most cruise lines are very organized and will send you a list of things to consider. If you’re booking a flight pre or post cruise, make sure to allow plenty of time for connections. When we cruised back from Europe to the USA, we had allowed a day and night before our booked flight from Miami to Belize, but because of bad weather across the Atlantic, our ship was a day late arriving, and so we had to race from Fort Lauderdale to Miami to catch our flight!
Celebrity or Cunard?
We’ve only taken two cruises, and we definitely plan to do more repositioning cruises. From our limited experience, here’s a little rundown on what we thought of Celebrity Eclipse (Fort Lauderdale to Southampton), and Cunard Queen Elizabeth (Southampton to Fort Lauderdale).
We both enjoyed this ship. Very beautiful and quite glitzy, she seemed to have an American style to me. The route was good: Fort Lauderdale departure, with stops in Bahamas, Bermuda and the Azores, before docking in Southampton. Food was excellent with pretty wide menu choices. We tried a couple of the specialty restaurants which were excellent, and definitely a notch above the already very good food! Dress code was “nice casual” most evenings, with just a couple of formal nights – which really only meant a jacket for Chris. It was easy to avoid formal dressing by eating in the buffet restaurant if you chose. There was of course a wide selection of bars to choose from, including a lovely martini bar with an ice bar top, and flights of martinis (!) The entertainment was great, ranging from pop/rock bands, to jazz trios, pianists, discos, and full shows, there was even a glass-blowing studio on the top deck! We enjoyed this ship and cruise. It was a nice balance between at-sea days and ports, and although the ship was very beautiful it wasn’t 100% formal all the time.
Cunard Queen Elizabeth
We took this cruise from Southampton, with a call in New York, then we got off at Fort Lauderdale. It was a segment of Queen Elizabeth’s world cruise. Due to some rough weather crossing the Atlantic (it was January!) we were delayed arriving into New York, and therefore also a day late getting to Fort Lauderdale. Cunard made some good compensations: they comped internet charges and phone calls, to make any travel re-arrangements, and they also gave everyone an on-board credit. The décor and style of this ship is very grand and English, quite a Twenties style.
I liked it very much, although Chris thought it was rather dark. Dress code is definitely more formal, with jackets required even on a non-formal evening. The food was possibly not quite as good as on the Eclipse, surprisingly. We also tried the Verandah specialty restaurant, and that was superb! Entertainment was good, with some great theatre shows, as well as interesting talks. There was a fair selection of music groups, and ballroom dancing every evening! Fun to watch, although with several left feet between us, we didn’t join in.
I think we’ll definitely consider one-way cruises again, if we can find a route that works for our travel plans, and a budget that fits ours too. Choosing the right ship for your style is also a very important factor in the enjoyment of your cruise.
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