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Want a cheaper and more unique cruise experience?

Ever wonder how a cruise ship gets from its winter Caribbean home to its summer one in Alaska or Europe? OK, well of course it sails there. But did you know that you can too?

Each year in the spring (April and May) and fall (September through November), some cruise ships transition from year-round warm-weather destinations to seasonal regions such as Alaska, Europe, and New England. These one-way sailings don’t go empty; the ships carry passengers and offer unique itineraries, extra days at sea, or shorter- or longer-than-usual sailings. They’re called repositioning, or repo, cruises, and you can find them on major cruise lines such as Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian.

Why are these sailings unique?

Because repo cruises are one way, they can cover more distance away from their embarkation port than an average round-trip cruise. This means itineraries can combine ports not usually found together on the same cruise. For example, a 16-night repo sailing aboard Celebrity’s Galaxy combines ports in the U.S. (Key West), Caribbean (Bahamas), Atlantic (Azores), and Europe (Spain and Portugal). Most regular cruises won’t cover such diverse regions in such a short time.

These sailings are also unique in that many of them offer additional days at sea, more so than regular cruises (with the exception of transatlantic sailings). If you like sea days, a 19-day repo cruise on Norwegian’s Norwegian Dream features 12 full days at sea. These extra days onboard give you a chance to really explore a ship, try out all the dining options, and take advantage of activities and amenities such as lectures, classes, the pool, and the spa. Days at sea are also great for relaxing because you don’t have to wake up at a particular time and can spend the day on a lounge chair or in the library, rather than rushing about a port trying to fit everything in a few hours.

Repositioning voyages can also be longer or shorter than most average sailings. Many of the transatlantic or Panama Canal sailings can run 12 to 18 days. And when ships reposition from sailing Mexico itineraries from California ports to Alaska cruises out of Vancouver (and back again in the fall), the Pacific Coast repo cruises can be as few as three or four days.

Why are these sailings a good value?

Repo cruises often have lower per-day rates than regular cruises. Perhaps the cruise lines need to entice passengers on longer one-way sailings, or perhaps the higher days-at-sea to days-in-port ratio brings down the cost of the cruise. A Royal Caribbean cruise aboard the Splendour of the Seas, for example, has a starting price of $599 for 12 nights. That’s $50 a day, not including taxes and fees. You would be hard pressed to find a decent hotel at that price, yet you get accommodations, food, entertainment, and transportation across the Atlantic for that price.

Who should book a repo cruise?

If you’re not looking for a typical seven-day cruise, a repositioning itinerary could be for you. Cruisers who hate to get off the ship at the end of the week and who have the time to spare might really enjoy one of the longer sailings. Likewise, travelers with only a short window of vacation time could squeeze in a cruise with one of the three-day itineraries.

These sailings are also recommended for experienced cruisers who’ve already been to most of the major markets. Repo cruises present unique itineraries that avid cruisers may not have done before. Also, if you love days at sea and prefer them to port calls, a repo sailing with a higher number of sea days could be just the ticket.

If you do book a repo cruise, make sure you can arrange the tricky open-jaw airfare; this is one time when the cruise line’s travel agents may be of great assistance in booking your flights. Also, if you choose a longer itinerary, you’d be wise to research the ship and cruise line thoroughly before you book. You don’t want to find that the atmosphere is not what you expected and then be stuck onboard for two whole weeks.

Repositioning cruises are becoming more popular, though, and when we checked certain itineraries had already sold out by the end of March. If you want a unique, one-way cruising experience, it’s always best to book soon.

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