Transatlantic Cruise at Sunset

The Ultimate Guide to Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises for Winter 2020

by Gillian Birch - updated May 4, 2020

Whether you’re a perpetual cruiser with RCI Pinnacle Club Loyalty benefits (700 cruise days in the bag and counting!) or a newbie, tentatively dipping your toe into the world of cruising, we have something that should be of interest to you – Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises.

OK, before you click to exit the page or throw out the usual reasons why you would never, ever consider a Transatlantic cruise (limited ports of call, limited dates and the image of it being a floating nursing home), let me tell you a little about the unparalleled benefits of Repositioning Cruises.

Dip your toe into the world of cruising.
Dip your toe into the world of cruising.

Transatlantic/Repositioning cruise bargains

The first thing you’ll notice is that Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises are all very attractively priced.

You can get an inside cabin for $50 per day or less – about half the price of a normal cruise.

There’s a reason for this, and it’s all about supply and demand.

In April, the majority of cruise ships based in Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale (three of the top four busiest cruise ports in the world) move most of their ships away from Florida and the Caribbean.

They head to Alaska, Europe/the Mediterranean, Norway, the Baltic, South America (via the amazing Panama Canal transit), Asia, Sydney and Australasia.

This is to take advantage of the summer cruising opportunities in these more seasonal temperate zones.

Co-incidentally, it also moves most of the cruise ships out of the Caribbean during hurricane season, which runs from 1 June to 30 November each year.

En masse, in a period of about six weeks, you may have a whole flotilla of cruise ships crossing the Atlantic or heading up to Seattle for the summer Alaska cruise season.

Suddenly they need to find tens of thousands of cruisers willing to take a one-way cruise in that narrow window of time.

How do they boost demand?

By offering this glut of luxury cruises at rock bottom prices.

The ships and crew are re-locating anyway so every cabin that is occupied with a paying passenger is a plus.

At the end of the summer cruise season, the whole saga is reversed.

No-one wants to be cruising the Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords and frozen tundra of St Petersburg in winter, so back the ships sail to warmer winter climes.

These Transatlantic or Repositioning cruises take place mainly in October.

In both repositioning seasons, most cruises remain only partly full, especially on less desirable routes or less popular ports such as Tampa and Galveston, TX.

It’s worth hanging on and picking up a last minute bargain or negotiating a cheeky upgrade if you have already booked an inside cabin and prices have since dropped drastically.

Cruise ship departing Port Canaveral Florida, USA
Cruise ship departing Port Canaveral Florida, USA

All-inclusive food and drink

While many 7-day cruises call in at a different port every day, Repositioning Cruises may go for 5 days or longer without any land in sight.

Consequently, you will be having all your meals and drinks onboard.

Delicious meals and cool drinks onboard.
Delicious meals and cool drinks onboard.

It makes sense to opt for an all-inclusive package to avoid racking up a hefty bar bill.

Often cruise lines offer free all-inclusive drinks packages as a perk for early booking.

Do the math and make provision for eating and drinking more on a Repositioning Cruise than on other types of cruise.

Complete rest and relaxation

Travelers often complain that they need a vacation after enjoying a 14-day trip packed with new places, attractions and must-do experiences.

It can be exhausting!

People and children enjoying a cruise ship pool deck under a blue sky.
People and children enjoying a cruise ship pool deck under a blue sky.

Not so a Transatlantic or Repositioning Cruise.

You have 11-14 days (depending on your itinerary) to chill out with 3 or 4 ports of call at the beginning and end of your cruise.

That gives you lots of time to sunbathe, read a whole library of books (load up your e-reader with free library books before you leave!), visit the spa and do as much or as little as you choose.

It’s hard to beat a Relocation Cruise when it comes to enjoying a complete rest in luxurious surroundings.

Quality family time

Cruising as a family is a fantastic experience.

Every cruise ship caters for youngsters with supervised activities, special play areas and even accompanied dining in some cases.

Parents can look forward to some adult time together without their young charges.

At other times you can play in the pool, play games or make use of the onboard amenities as a family.

Family travelling on cruise ship on sunny day.
Family travelling on cruise ship on sunny day.

Teenagers often have their own club and activities for hanging out together, but you need to check this is the case on any specific Repositioning cruise you are considering.

Less crowded amenities

Following on from the fact that most Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises are not fully booked, you’ll find that sailing on a cruise ship that is only 80% full has its benefits.

Theater seats are available, buffet dining is more civilized, fitness equipment is readily available and you can easily book an appointment in the spa.

Relax at spa area on the upper decks of a modern cruise ship.
Relax at spa area on the upper decks of a modern cruise ship.

Unlimited luggage

Many people with winter homes in Florida or summer homes in Europe actually use Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises to go to and fro between homes.

The main reason for this is that on a cruise you have virtually unlimited luggage.

I did a Transatlantic cruise once and had a Balcony Stateroom next to a family who were relocating from Tampa to Malaga, Spain.

When we peeked over the railing into their balcony we saw 24 suitcases of all sizes neatly jammed in.

While excess baggage costs a fortune by air, cruise ships are unlikely to turn you away if you arrive with multiple suitcases and bags.

Passenger luggages are ready to be brought onboard.

Check the list of what is not acceptable on cruises, including some electrical items or anything with a heater element such as an iron or tea kettle.

I believe bicycles need to be pre-approved and specially packed, but apart from that it seems you can cruise with as much luggage as you can get to the port, as long as you are prepared to stow it in your cabin (or on your balcony!).

The other thing to note is that you do not have to go to the final destination port if you don’t want to.

In the above case, the cruise terminated in Barcelona, but the family got off two days earlier in Malaga, Spain.

There is no refund for the lost days and you must notify the ship of your intention to disembark early.

However, there is no waiting time – just get off after breakfast, hop in a taxi and you’re home and free!

Avoid jet-lag

Another benefit of a Transatlantic Cruise is the fact that you will gradually adapt your natural time clock or Circadian rhythm to the time difference between ports as your cruise.

For example, if you sail from Miami to Rome, there is a 6 hour time difference as Europe is 6 hours ahead of Florida.

If you travel by air, your body has to adapt to this sudden change and your sleep pattern, energy levels, hunger and eating habits can be out of kilter for a week or more.

With Transatlantic Cruises, the ship announces a one hour time change every couple days.

By the time you reach your destination, your body will be fully adjusted to the new time zone.

Cruise Ship Deckchairs Relax in the Sun
Cruise Ship Deckchairs Relax in the Sun.

One-way cruises

Inevitably, Repositioning Cruises are one-way cruises, not out-and-back as in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.

Some travelers see this as an advantage; others see it as a negative point. You will need to add the cost of a return flight to get you home.

However, having spent almost two weeks reaching your international destination, it is only sensible to stay a few days and do some sightseeing before flying home.

Many Transatlantic cruises terminate in Barcelona, Rome, Southampton (80 miles from London), Copenhagen (Denmark), Rotterdam (Netherlands), Cork or Dublin (Ireland), Bremerhaven (Germany), Brest (France), Lisbon (Portugal), Mykonos and Athens (Greece).

What better way to arrive in style, fully relaxed and ready to enjoy some walking, shopping and sightseeing before returning home.

Cruise boat tourist at port of call in shopping stores.
Cruise boat tourist at port of call in shopping stores.

What to expect on sea days

Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises do a wonderful job of adding new experiences and enrichment lectures to keep everyone busy on sea days.

You may find a renowned sports personality, naturalist, celebrity chef, travel writer or lecturer who will give a series of talks or presentations on sea days.

Topics can range from travel to nature, stargazing, Reiki, art appreciation, learning to write a novel, beauty and wellness and more.

Activities following popular games shows are also organized, often using the ship’s staff.

Programs such as Masterchef are replicated with daily cookery sessions by volunteer cruisers and staff all competing for the coveted “Masterchef at Sea Apron” or whatever.

They are given a set of surprise ingredients and 30 minutes to make something edible for the judges to sample.

The audience votes on who will be eliminated from the following day’s round.

Modern neat and clean industrial kitchen on board
Modern neat and clean industrial kitchen on board.

You’ll find dance classes, bridge classes, cookery demos, casino classes, crafts, art auctions, informative jewelry and watch lectures, wine tasting, quizzes, book reviews, team games, stargazing and other entertainment to keep you hopping from one event to the next every day.

Teaching tourists to dance on a cruise ship
Teaching tourists to dance on a cruise ship.

Being part of a daily program makes it easy to meet fellow cruisers with similar interests and make new friends.

Top entertainment

Entertainers often get onboard Repositioning Cruises and spend a few days performing a number of shows before disembarking at the next port.

It ensures a good variety of entertainment and shows that is unrivaled outside Las Vegas, New York or London.

Sit back and enjoy – it’s all included in your cruise price.

Band performing guest entertainer show on board cruise ship.
Band performing guest entertainer show on board cruise ship.

Unusual ports of call

Most ports of call on Transatlantic and Repositioning Cruises are on the first and last days of the cruise.

You may stop at Key West or the Bahamas before sailing east across the Atlantic.

Aerial view of the bay of water at Bahamas, Freeport.
Aerial view of the bay of water at Bahamas, Freeport.

On the return journey, many Transatlantic cruises stop at ports along the coast of France and Spain (Marseilles, Barcelona, Majorca, Ibiza, Alicante, Almeria, Cartagena, Malaga and Cadiz before hitting the open sea.

Midway ports of call allow water, fuel and fresh supplies of seafood, fruit and vegetables will be loaded.

These ports include the Canary Islands, Madeira, the Azores, Bermuda and some of the Caribbean or Bahamian islands.

It’s a great opportunity to visit some of the less visited cruise ports and remote islands and enjoy a bracing walk, sports activities, shopping, sightseeing and island tours to break the cruise.

Cruise Ship passengers spend a sunny day in Beach on the less visited island.
Cruise Ship passengers spend a sunny day in Beach on the less visited island.

No calls from the office

The great thing about a Transatlantic or Repositioning cruise is that if you choose not to pay the exorbitant fee for onboard Wi-Fi you can be completely off-grid.

No annoying updates from the office; no urgent recalls to work due to a crisis, and no social media.

It can be very liberating.

Of course, if these are things you cannot live without between ports, it’s all available onboard – for a price.

Otherwise you just have to wait for the next port of call and enjoy coffee in a cafe with free internet and do a quick catch-up.

Cruise ship with a bar where passengers can enjoy a cup of coffee with free internet.
Cruise ship with a bar where passengers can enjoy a cup of coffee with free internet.

Plan your route weather-wise!

Repositioning Cruises tend to be at the beginning or end of the summer season which can make the weather a little more uncertain.

Oceans can be more choppy in stormy conditions although larger modern-day cruise ships have excellent stabilizers and barely move.

However, you can choose a route that is likely to be sunnier and calmer than other options.

For example, I prefer to sail out of Spain rather than the UK, and then take a cruise that heads south to the Azores and the Southern Caribbean rather than north to Bermuda and then to the Bahamas.

Sunbathing on white sand beach with blue water.

It ensures warmer temperatures for sunbathing and deck walking and calmer seas for your Transatlantic cruise.

How to book a Repositioning Cruise

Enter the search term “Repositioning cruises” into any online search and you’ll find a huge choice of Transatlantic and Repositioning cruises.

Alternatively, if you have a preferred cruise line or belong to a cruise loyalty program with benefits, go directly onto your cruise line website.

When prompted to enter a destination in your cruise search, you will find a section dedicated to Transatlantic/Repositioning Cruises.

Follow our guidelines regarding the route and take your pick of the bargains!

What are your thoughts about Transatlantic cruises? Do you have any questions or anything cool still to add on? We love to discuss travel so go ahead and fire away, there are no wrong comments!

Related read: The 30+ Best Things to Do in Barcelona

Also, please let us know how your trip went and what was the most exciting part about it.

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