The Affordable Way to Travel by Ocean Cruise

A smooth crossing. Perfect weather. Glorious blue skies throughout the day, orange-red sunsets at night, and when we woke early, pink sunrises…We were crossing the Atlantic in style.

My husband Duncan and I are advocates of slow travel on land. Back home, the daily grind had us existing, not living. So when our adult sons left the nest and we downsized, we left on our “senior gap year” and never looked back. That was 2013. We are still traveling, and we live by our daily mantra, “Chase time, not money.” We are working through our bucket list and dedicating ourselves to finding the best possible value.

Thus we were, for the first time, experiencing slow travel on the open seas. With repositioning cruises, we discovered yet another cheap way to travel the world, and we are hooked. For as little as $42 a day, we can travel the world in style, with no jet lag—and we arrive at the other end relaxed and raring to go. This is our new way of traveling—if there is a repositioning cruise when and where we want to go, we will be on it.

A repositioning cruise is when cruise companies need to reposition their ships and crew for the start of a new season: for example, Europe to the Caribbean, the Middle East to Canada, and Australia to the U.S. or Asia, and vice versa. Any maintenance that needs to be done is carried out during this time. We noticed that one bar would close for renovation or for a new coat of paint, but others would stay open, so there would be little disruption for passengers. It’s often a way to change the crew contracts from one region to another.

The savings to be had by traveling this way are phenomenal. For less than the cost of an airline ticket, we sailed for 15 nights from Spain to Panama, had all meals and alcohol included, visited the gym daily, and enjoyed nightly entertainment.

We traveled in September with Pullmantur, a Spanish cruise company, sailing from Bilbao, Spain, to Colón in Panama, stopping off in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Caribbean islands of St. Maarten and Aruba on the way. The ships return via a different route in May, back to Europe.

There tend to be fewer passengers on a repositioning cruise. Our ship, the M.V. Monarch, could carry 2,800, and in total we had 1,800 passengers and crew. On average, airfares between Spain and Panama range from $700 to $900, depending on the carrier and the season. Our total cost (for 15 nights) per person was $623.

Where else could you have transport, meals, alcohol, and entertainment for $42 a night?

And here’s a tip: Pullmantur doesn’t charge a supplement for singles on repositioning cruises. This makes it an ideal way for solos to travel affordably. We even heard of a couple who booked two cabins: one for their luggage and one for themselves.

To be honest, we had low expectations. We expected little or no entertainment, limited meal options and service, and a stormy Atlantic crossing. How wrong we were!

Around the main pool, you could take part in salsa and Zumba dance classes, competitions, stretch, and walking classes. At night, you could enjoy live music in the bars, try your luck in the casino, watch the nightly gala show, or dance away in the disco until the last person is standing, usually around 6 a.m. Breakfast and lunch were buffets, with lots of variety to choose from, including very good vegetarian options. The dinner menu had just been created by a Michelin Star chef from Spain.

Vacations to Go is a good resource for repositioning cruises. Sign up for its emails and, when checking, look for fast deals under “repositioning cruises.” Prices will go up and down weekly. Some travelers recommend waiting until the last minute and others book as soon as they know their dates. Right now, for instance, you can book a one-week cruise from New York to London for $899, or just over $128 a night. This is a saving of 40% on the price of the standard cruise. It’s also worth signing up for specials at Cruiseaway.com and at Crazycruises.com.

Here are our tips to help you make the most of your repositioning cruise.

  • There’s a good reason why the medical center on ships is located lower down: less movement in bad weather. If you can, reserve a cabin on this level toward the bow of the ship, so you won’t be disturbed by late night revelers.
  • Once you’ve departed the last port before the major ocean crossing, speak to reception and ask for an upgrade. We were upgraded to an outside cabin on the same level, at no extra cost.
  • Be prepared for delays or for missing scheduled ports due to weather. Keep part of your WiFi package in reserve, in case you have to change flights or hotels at the last moment.

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