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What is a Repositioning Cruise?

Holland America Line Koningsdam will reposition from San Diego to Vancouver For Alaska cruises

What is a repositioning cruise? This is a question that we are often asked by guests. A repositioning cruise is one where the ship moves from one part of the world to another. For example, a ship might start in Europe and move to Asia for the summer before moving back to Europe for the winter. These cruises usually last longer than traditional cruises, and they offer guests a unique way to see different parts of the world!

Most cruise ships focus on specific alternating itineraries for months at a time and some even maintain generally the same schedule for years. Other cruise destinations are more seasonal and so it is necessary to reposition cruise ships to match demand and maximize revenue.

Simply put, a repositioning cruise is one with a one-way itinerary that embarks at one port and debarks at another, with the intention of staying there for the season.


Common Types Of Repositioning Cruises

Different types of repositioning cruises exist and not all of them are the same. Let's take a look at some common repositioning itineraries.

Seasonal Cruise Ship Repositioning

An excellent example of a repositioning cruise is when a cruise line needs to move a ship from Florida to Alaska in time for the season that typically runs from May to September. This means from May to September, the ship offers Alaska cruises and for the remaining months of the year, it’s in Miami offering Caribbean cruises. The repositioning cruise offers guests a chance to see destinations like the Panama Canal as well as ports in Central America such as Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala or Puerto Limon, Costa Rica that aren't usually on the itinerary.

Since these itineraries aren't as popular as the ones offered in either Miami or Seattle / Vancouver and there is an extra cost to guests, these cruises will be marketed at a lower cost and have a lower number of guests.

Another common repositioning route is ships that spend the summer in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean that winter in the Caribbean. Unlike the Miami to Vancouver repositioning cruises though, these trans-Atlantic repositioning cruises are distinct for having a large number of sea days as the ship crosses the Atlantic Ocean.

While this type of cruise has significantly decreased mass appeal, experienced cruise fans take advantage of repositioning cruises because they offer great value and an opportunity to visit ports at an affordable price.

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Cruise Ship Inaugural Tours

Most cruise ships come from shipyards in Europe so they will need to travel from there to their new home. These cruises are sometimes considered "non revenue" cruises because there will be no passengers. Other times though, a cruise line will offer a Trans-Atlantic from Europe to it's new home in Florida or California with various stops along the way that are sold as individual itineraries - for instance, NYC to Miami and Miami to Los Angeles.

Cruise Ship Shuffle From One Port To Another

The third type of repositioning cruise is when a cruise ship is being shuffled from one port to another based on service demands. For instance, you might see a ship move from Houston to Charleston, SC or from San Diego to San Francisco.


How long does a repositioning cruise last?

The length of the repositioning cruise depends on how far the ship is going to sail. Some cruises last 7 days while others can last 19 days or longer. On longer cruises, the ship spends consecutive days at seas, sometimes up to 10 nights.

For instance, in September of 2022, Celebrity Solstice will depart from Vancouver, British Columbia on a 17 day voyage to Yokohama, Japan. Days 4-12 are sea days!

On other itineraries, you might have a ship such as Holland America Line's Zuiderdam do a 5-Day pacific Coastal Cruise from San Diego to Vancouver with only two of the five days spent at sea.


What do you do during a repositioning cruise?

Since most repositioning cruises last longer than the typical 7-day itinerary, you will spend more time on the ship. Luckily, most ships have plenty of activities to keep you entertained throughout the cruise. However, this is why you should pick a ship that matches your personality.


Where do repositioning cruises sail to?

Repositioning cruises can sail between any two cruise ports around the globe but most are between prime cruise regions with seasonal traffic. These areas include: Caribbean, Mediterranean, Southern California, South East Asia, Australia, and increasingly the Persian Gulf region.

However, you may also find isolated cruises where a ship relocates from the Caribbean to Boston for the fall, offering Canada & New England cruises - or it could be as simple as moving a ship from San Diego to San Francisco.


Advantages Of A Repositioning Cruise

Repositioning cruises have tons of appeal to experienced cruisers but it isn't always the same draw for each person. Here are some advantages that can compel someone to book a repositioning cruise.

  • Value - repositioning cruises can be much less cost per person, per day
  • New Ports - by the very nature, these cruises often go to places that aren't as common
  • Lots of Sea Days - while some folks love sea days for relaxing quietly in a chair and reading, others seek these sea days to try activities such as cooking demonstrations, dance contests, and arts activities


Disadvantages Of A Repositioning Cruise

Repositioning cruises can be a very fun and unique style of cruising but it isn't always perfect and it certainly isn't right for many people.

  • Fewer Ports - while some itineraries will be port intensive, classicly most cruises designed to reposition a ship from one place to the next were designed to move the vessel as quickly as possible from the old port to the new one so that it could begin service quickly.
  • You Will Be "Stuck" On The Ship For Many Days - some folks love this and other people hate it so we're including this in the disadvantages.
  • More Difficult To Coordinate Travel - Airlines have become much more flexible in recent years but for the most part, airfare is still a round-trip type of thing. Even if you live close enough to drive to the departure port, you will need to figure out how to get back to your car.



How Do You Find A Repositioning Cruise?

The most simple answer is to ask your travel advisor. Expert cruisers like Heather from Flow Voyages will already know of unique cruises that go outside the bounds of the standard itineraries. She will also be able to identify the right ships with activities that you will enjoy during those long stretches between ports.

While we always encourage folks to work with a travel advisor, you can also go to the various cruise websites and sort by less common cruise terminals. For instance, San Diego is a popular port to start or end many repositioning cruises since it is the first American city with a major international airport north of the Mexican border. As a result, it is very popular place with cruises coming to and from Alaska, Asia / Trans Pacific Cruises, and Panama Canal Cruises.


If sailing the sea for days at a time is on your bucket list or if its your idea of a dream vacation, repositioning cruises are an excellent experience and can be a great value. They aren't right for everyone and can be more complex because of their nature as one-way itineraries, but they can be a lot of fun!