Saturday, January 27, 2024

A bargain cruise with nothing to see but the sea

Azamara Onward

Maybe I should change my name to Tom Triton. It (sort of) rhymes with Dryden. And Triton, in Greek mythology, was King of the Seas. 

That’s me. 

Between November 18 and January 20, I spent 28 days on cruise ships. The first was a 12-day cruise from Lisbon to Ft Lauderdale. The second was a 16-day voyage from Buenos Aires to central Chile via Antarctica. 

Halfway through the first cruise, I received an email from longtime friend, Carolyn Worthington, publisher of "Healthy Aging" magazine. I replied we were on a repositioning cruise aboard a top-shelf cruise line, and that it was everything we hoped it would be, and more, at an incredible price to boot. She invited me to write an article explaining the benefits of a repositioning cruise for the January issue of her magazine and, when I got home, I did (see below).

What’s a repositioning cruise? Read this and you’ll find out and learn how you can enjoy a lengthy, luxurious and leisurely sea voyage for as little as (hold on to your hats) $50 a day. That’s cheaper than staying at home (unless, of course, you are incarcerated but it's a safe bet nobody's leaving chocolates on your pillow at night). 


Imagine you are a contestant on America’s longest-running game show as the announcer describes the grand prize on which you are about to bid. “Today’s showcase is … a transatlantic cruise!”  (Oohs, aahs and applause from the audience.)

“That’s right, you and a guest will enjoy a 12-day cruise from Lisbon, Portugal, to Florida aboard a super-luxury ocean liner. Your cruise will include a balcony cabin with twice-daily maid service; three gourmet meals each and every day; unlimited Champagne, wine, cocktails and beer; daily trivia and bridge games; fascinating lectures; afternoon cocktail hours featuring exquisite tapas; a fully equipped fitness center; nightly entertainment; and two days in beautiful Bermuda. All this can be yours (more oohs and aahs) if …. the Price is You-Know-What.” (Applause.)

 What would you bid? Fifteen thousand? Ten thousand?

If so, you would hear the dreaded buzzer indicating you overbid.

The correct bid?  A mere $3,200, which comes out to $133.33 per person, per day, not counting airfare. That’s the price my wife and I paid for the above cruise aboard the Azamara Onward in November. The fare even included staff gratuities, and our travel agent graciously threw in a $300 credit to spend onboard. That’s an incredible value considering that a 12-day Mediterranean cruise in October 2024, on the same ship in the same room, is listed on for $10,320 — $430 per person per day.

It’s no easy feat these days to find a room in a Motel 6 and three fast food meals for $133 per person, so how did we land such a bargain? 

We booked a repositioning cruise.

Twice yearly, the major cruise lines — including MSC, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Holland-America, Celebrity, Virgin, Disney, Azamara, Oceania, Regent and Silversea— reposition their ships.

In the fall, liners that spent the summer calling on European ports are redeployed across the pond to Florida, where they will spend the winter season visiting Caribbean islands, Mexico and Latin America. 

The ships generally take 12 to 14 days to cross the Atlantic. Most depart from Barcelona, Rome or Lisbon.  En route, one or two stops are made in islands like the Canaries, Madeira, Azores, Bermuda or Puerto Rico. 

In the spring, the ships return to Europe, making the same stops along the way.

Because they know most passengers prefer cruises that stop at a different port every day, cruise companies offer steep discounts to entice travelers onto repositioning cruises. And since they don’t have to pay to dock their ships in different ports every day, the cruises cost them less to operate than standard cruises. 

Repositioning cruises are a win-win for the cruise companies, and for travelers who prefer days at sea where they don’t have to rush off the ship every morning and be herded onto buses that take them on excursions to visit yet another rum distillery, beach, museum or cathedral. Because there’s nothing to see but the sea, you can’t help but relax. There’s no rush. Nothing frenetic about it. If you’re one of those people who has to be on the move at all times, you can always take advantage of the walking track or head to the fitness center.

Repositioning cruises are targeted toward a specific demographic — retirees who love the days at sea and have the time to cross the ocean at a leisurely pace — so the sailings rarely sell out. Our ship, which can accommodate 680 passengers, had just 429 passengers. Ninety percent appeared to be least 65 or older. Many told me they were on their tenth, twentieth or, in the case of an Australian woman, forty-third repositioning cruise. 

During the day, the pool deck was mercifully free of annoyances found on mass-market cruises, e.g. screaming children, wet t-shirt contests, and music blasting from giant speakers, making it easy to concentrate on a good book, converse with new friends, or enjoy a snooze in the late autumn sun. 

Fellow passengers who have taken multiple repositioning cruises told me that the weather can vary wildly. Cruises in October or May generally encounter highs in the mid-seventies. Cruises in November or April average ten or so degrees cooler. The key is to pack clothes you can layer and shed or don as the weather dictates. 

Is a repositioning cruise for you? If your idea of a perfect vacation is outdoor sports, a tropical beach, or sightseeing, the answer is probably no, you won’t enjoy it. If you prefer vacations that give you free time, you love being catered to 24/7, and can view the ship rather than a different port every day as your primary source of entertainment, you probably will. 

How much can you expect to pay? It depends on the cruise line, the level of service it offers (not all include free booze and gratuities as ours did), and the room category you book. As I’m writing this in mid-December, 2023, Vacations To Go, the company though which we booked our cruise, is featuring on its web site more than 30 repositioning cruises in October/ November from Europe to Florida.  Starting prices (per person, double occupancy) range from as little as $529 for an inside cabin on Royal Caribbean — less than $50 per person, per day — to $370 a day for a suite on Silversea, one of the world’s priciest lines, favored by travelers who demand nothing but the best. Airfare to/from port cities isn’t included. 

If you like to plan ahead and want to lock in your price on a specific cruise, book now but be forewarned:  You just may bag a better deal if you are willing to wait until a month or so before departure because some lines drop their prices even more.

Whatever you choose, bon voyage. 

You just may run into me, because I’m getting ready to book another one.

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