What is a repositioning cruise?

Georgina Smith / 13 October 2016

Ever wondered what a repositioning cruise is? Travel writer Georgina Smith sheds some light on this increasingly popular way of cruising.



Throughout the year, many cruise lines move their ships to other regions to make the most of better weather and market activity. Rather than sail their ships empty, they'll offer one-way journeys, often at greatly reduced prices.

A not-so-secret money saver

For those in the know, 'repo' cruises are a great way to travel if you're not fussed about returning to the same port you departed from. Ticket prices are usually greatly reduced, which means you can enjoy a delightful cruising experience for a fraction of the normal price.

Whilst most cruise lines won't shout from the rooftops about their repositioning cruises by labelling them as such, if you know what you're looking for, and which seasons they sail, you're bound to find yourself a bargain.

Benefits for all

When a cruise line decides to shift their ship across the seas to another part of the world, it would be a missed money-making opportunity to sail it without passengers.

Yet because repositioning cruises usually stop at fewer destinations, generally require more days at sea than the average cruise, and deposit passengers far from their port of embarkation, tickets can be substantially less than your average cruise.

Cruise lines benefit by being able to fill their ships with passengers. You benefit from paying less, visiting ports that are off the beaten track and enjoying onboard enrichment programmes  while still taking advantage of all the usual onboard amenities and entertainment that cruising offers.

Time of the season

Cruise lines will follow the sun, and reposition their ships across the globe accordingly. High season in the Caribbean is roughly between November and April.

Which means many lines will sail their ships westwards across the Atlantic from Europe and the Mediterranean during the autumn months in the Northern Hemisphere.

High season in Europe and the Med is roughly between May and September, which means many ships will sail back eastwards during the spring. This means spring and autumn are the most active seasons for repositioning cruises that cross the Atlantic.

So, as a rule, these are the months to search for when looking for a repositioning cruise. There are, however, other reasons why a cruise line may want to reposition a ship, such as predicted market activity in another region, unrelated to the seasons.

Where do they go?

Springtime sees repositioning cruises sailing from the Caribbean, Florida, and other southern USA ports to European ports. 

Some less frequent journeys may take you from South America to Europe, Australia to Southeast Asia, or Southeast Asia and Oceania to the Pacific Northwest of the USA.

In autumn, the itineraries are reversed. So you'll find repositioning cruises that sail from European ports to the Caribbean, Florida, and other ports in the south of the USA. 

Less frequent journeys may be from Europe to South America, Southeast Asia to Australia, and the Pacific Northwest of the USA to Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Be prepared for days at sea

Whilst cruise lines will usually include a handful of interesting ports to break up a repositioning cruise, you can usually expect a fair few days at sea. This is especially the case with transatlantic sailings.

The good news is, however, that to keep these journeys as attractive as possible to potential passengers, cruise lines will make an extra effort to provide exciting and rewarding onboard enrichment programmes.

This may include themed culinary cruises, seminars and workshops led by experts, extravagant shows and musical evenings, and other fun activities to fill the days.

Related: Explore a number of themed cruises from Saga.

In for stormy weather?

Because repositioning cruises generally sail during periods of seasonal change, weather can be more tempestuous. Yet whilst the seas may be unsettled, most large ships are equipped with stabilisers that smooth out the rocking and rolling caused by large swells.

Your ship's captain will do their best to avoid stormy weather, and your itinerary will follow as ideal a route as possible for the time of year you sail. Spring in the Atlantic is generally more settled, yet autumn can be smooth as well.

Ports of call

Another advantage of taking a repositioning cruise is that you may stop off in interesting ports that aren't on standard cruise itineraries. If travelling across the Atlantic, you may visit lovely little ports in Norway, the Outer Hebrides and Iceland along the way. 

Other ports may include picturesque parts of Canada and islands of the Caribbean.

Thematic cruises and enrichment programmes

Repositioning cruises are great if your ideal itinerary includes a little bit of on-shore sightseeing along with a fabulous onboard programme of activities and events. 

Cruise lines, conscious that their repositioning cruises may mean a number of days at sea, will make sure there's plenty to do on board.

This may include expert lectures, workshops and cooking classes, celebrity guests and social events and evenings where you'll have the opportunity to mingle with fellow passengers.

Related: Saga cruises wins best cruise line for enrichment at the Cruise International Awards.

Consider other costs

Many cruise lines will include a flight in their repositioning cruise package, to help you make the return journey home. It's always wise, however, to take into account how much you're likely to spend on board.

With more days at sea, onboard expenses such as lazy afternoons in the onboard bar, or spa and salon treatments, may mean your spending money may deplete faster than it otherwise would.

How do I find one?

To find a repositioning cruise, you have to be a little bit savvy. Cruise lines usually won't market them as such, so you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for journeys departing during the relevant months. 

They'll often fall under categories labelled 'transatlantic' or 'oceanic' and the final destination will be far from the port of embarkation.

What type of cruiser does a repositioning cruise suit?

If you don't mind being flexible with your dates and are happy to wait until the last minute to secure the best deal, then a repositioning cruise is for you. This also means that this type of cruising generally suits long-term travellers or those who've retired and have flexible schedules.

Most of your fellow passengers on a repositioning cruise will usually fall into these camps, so generally the crowd is an older one.

And if you simply love the art of cruising – the traditions, style and sophistication it entails – and don't fancy footing it on terra firma too much, then you'll be even more glad you discovered the not-so-secret world of repositioning cruising.

Related: Find out some of the most common cruising traditions still followed today.

Saga cruises offer a range of voyages across the globe. Find out more here.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.