The immensity of the Pacific hit us in the four days after our cruise ship left Hawaii. We saw no birds. No planes. No fish. No boats. Just an endless seascape as our luxury liner sailed toward Australia.
On the fifth day, the sighting of a small fishing boat was big news — it meant we were nearing French Polynesia, where we would visit the islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora and Mo’orea before sailing on.
We were aboard the Celebrity Solstice for an 18-night cruise in October as it “repositioned” from its Northern Hemisphere summer sailings between Seattle and Alaska to its “Down Under” summer sailing season.
Seven of the 20 cruises my husband and I have taken in recent years have been “one-way” repositioning cruises. They can be substantially cheaper (per night) than other cruises and offer unusual itineraries, including out-of-the-way ports and leisurely days at sea.
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We started our cruise in Honolulu along with many passengers who had flown in from Australia and were sailing homeward.
Repositioning cruises often are longer, with many days at sea. That’s why we prefer a larger ship, such as the 2,850-passenger Solstice. Bigger ships have the capacity (in both space and staff) to offer a mix of activities to fill the long days at sea. We could choose from daily activities that began at 6 a.m. and continued past midnight, including lectures and presentations as well as computer, exercise, dance, cooking and wine classes. The Solstice also had a demonstration “hot shop” for glass artists and a full-service spa, exercise facility, 15 lounges, seven retail shops, nine restaurants, a casino, theater and library.
Sometimes you can get all this at a very good price. A few years ago we crossed the Atlantic — Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Europe — on a Holland America cruise ship in a cabin with balcony that we nailed for $125 a night.
For our recent South Pacific cruise on the Celebrity Solstice, the deal included a balcony room with an onboard drink package (bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffee and alcohol) and prepaid gratuities, taxes and port charges for $2,199 per person. On an 18-night cruise, such perks saved us considerable money.
We bought our South Pacific cruise about eight months before departure during the “wave season” (annually from January into March), when cruise lines offer some value fares and significant extra perks. “Last-minute” deals also can be found, from 60 to 90 days before departure, although the risk in waiting for more price reductions is that the cruise might sell out or the cabin selection become scanty.
“Like everything else these days, it pays to shop around,” said Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete.com, an online clearinghouse for cruise bids. “The one thing when comparing offers is to look at the whole value — the price may be the same, but the perks may vary.” Such perks could be cabin upgrades, inclusion of travel insurance, paid ground transfers, onboard spending credits, prepaid gratuities and beverage or specialty dining packages.
One handy onboard perk we’ve used is a stockholder benefit offered to those who own a minimum 100 shares of stock in Carnival Cruise Lines or Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, the umbrella corporations for a number of major cruise lines. The onboard credit ranges from $50 to $250, depending on the length of the cruise. For information on Royal Caribbean stockholder discounts: bit.ly/1k5WGMw. For Carnival, see bit.ly/NszNIf
Know before you go
Whether you use a local travel agent or book online, here are some things to keep in mind when booking a repositioning cruise.
• Cruise/air package: Compare it to the cost of booking the flight and cruise separately. And check what travel guarantees the package provides (in case of flight delays, for example).
• Cabin location: Because you’ll be on the ship 24/7 for multiday stretches, the type and location of your cabin is important. Interior cabins — without windows and water views — are usually the lowest priced. The cheapest ocean-view and balcony rooms may be “view obstructed” by the ship’s life boats. Check the cruise-line website to view the ship’s floor plan and location of a cabin, or class of cabins.
• Weather: When ships reposition between areas of the world, changing weather patterns may make for rough seas at times. Rooms at the far front or back of the ship will have a bit more “bounce” from ocean swells than those located mid-ship.
• Travel insurance: Whether you buy it from the cruise line, a third party or receive it as a perk, read fine print on coverage for trip cancellation, travel delays, lost luggage, treatment of illness/accident and/or medical evacuation.
• Onboard spending, shore excursions: Factor these in when calculating the cost of a cruise. While your cruise price covers meals in the ship’s dining areas (and coffee, tea, water and juice at meals), alcohol and specialty restaurants
will cost extra. Optional shore excursions can add hundreds of dollars.
Jackie Smith is a Kirkland-based freelance writer and writes the travel blog travelnwrite.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org