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A day or two ago I was chatting with some other budget travellers on the beach here in Oaxaca, Mexico, and one of them told me he came by sea from Portugual to Panama for a few hundred euros on something I'd never heard before called a "Reposition cruise" or "Repositioning cruise".

It's something to do with cruise ships being moved across the ocean just before the cruise season starts and just after it ends and they offer super low prices since it's out of season.

Is this something done worldwide by all cruise lines or just by one or two in a certain area? What are the very basic facts that all budget travellers should know about this seemingly almost secret means of travel?

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    It's not that secret, I did not find any duplicate question but they have already been mentioned in answers to other questions on this site.
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6 '17 at 16:29
  • I think it is exactly that secret. Where "that" refers to my qualifier phrase "seemingly almost". Might be more well known to people from countries where cruises are super popular or people from the northern hemisphere. But I learned of it specifically as a budget travel option at which I thought I'd become a bit of an expert since 1989 yet I only heard of it in 2017 for the first time. I did see we had used it on the site but we needed an "opener" question where it could be discovered and introduced to others like me who had no idea. Feb 6 '17 at 17:04
  • Right, and it's still a secret for the people who haven't seen your question or aren't interested in cruises. That's an incredibly self-centered notion of what a secret is, you're just telling us you haven't been listening. Which is OK and does not make this a bad question. But it's still no more a secret than any of a ton of other things people are asking on this site that might seem obvious to you but aren't to the person asking. I don't fancy myself a specialist of budget travel, had heard about them several years ago and also clearly remembered reading about it on this site.
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6 '17 at 22:13
  • A seeming secret is not a secret so you can stop flogging the dead straw man's horse. I'd never noticed references to them on this site because I don't read cruise questions since they'd previously been beyond my budget and not my cup of tea. I've since found them in other sites referred to under "travel hacks". I can change my wording if you prefer to debunk "hack" to debunking "secret". Feb 6 '17 at 22:44
  • @pnuts: I'm still learning about the concept is so I'm very far from expert enough to do the usage guide. Feb 6 '17 at 22:45
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A repositioning cruise is a one-way voyage of a ship between two regions.

Most people take cruises where the departure and arrival port is the same. This is simple since only a standard return fare to the port is needed. Those cruises usually do a circuit in short segments, stopping almost every day at a different port.

Now since there are different low and high seasons in different regions, the cruise company needs to be able to move ships between regions in order to offer an adequate number of ships in each region according to the season.

When they do this, they offer passage on the ship moving between regions as a repositioning cruise. A cruise such as this one takes a route between regions and can spend many days at sea without any stops. For example, a friend got a Panama to Portugal cruise for around $350 USD which took two weeks and stopped in Colombia, St Martin and the Azores (IIRC) spending several days at seas in the Atlantic. Needless to say this is extremely cheap and includes all the amenities of a normal cruise.

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    @Johns-305 Who said anything about hotels?
    – reirab
    Feb 6 '17 at 15:18
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    Yes, this answer is correct, though John is right that a reposition could be within a region. A reposition cruise is essentially the same thing as a reposition flight. It just means that they need the equipment somewhere else. Rather than operating it empty, they might as well sell tickets on the voyage to get it to its new home port. A good example of why a cruise company would reposition is Alaska cruises. These can only operate in a relatively narrow window from late April through around September, so might as well send the ship to the Caribbean for the winter where it can still make money.
    – reirab
    Feb 6 '17 at 15:19
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    @Johns-305 Actually, you haven't pointed any major mistake, just some minor definitional quibble. The answer is essentially correct and quite clearly what the OP was after so definition aside, it's definitely highly relevant. And the fact that it does not make a difference "hotelwise" is kind of the point and exactly what the answer already states (cf. "all the amenities of a normal cruise") so what's your point?
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6 '17 at 16:28
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    @Johns-305 That's what I called a minor definitional quibble. Is anything else inaccurate? And what about the actual question being asked (to wit "It's something to do with cruise ships being moved across the ocean just before the cruise season starts and just after it ends and they offer super low prices since it's out of season.")?
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6 '17 at 16:34
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    @Johns-305: I want the ancillary information. I want an answer that informs people beyond my sketch in the question who have never heard of this method of budget travel before. Especially as an alternative to flying to a different continent and that kind of stuff. Feb 6 '17 at 17:08
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Q: "What exactly are “repositioning cruises”?"

A Reposition Cruise is the sailing taken by a vessel when changing homeports. While they are sometimes marketed as special guest experiences, a repo cruise is an operational task.

The line will reposition as ship to follow demand, often to a relatively nearby port, but the repositioning cruise is a different thing.

Important point, a Repositioning Cruise is an operational task for the line, it is not a consumer offering. So, with quite few exceptions, RCI for instance, you will not find cruises marketed as "Repositioning Cruises". This is because, well, I guess "Repositioning" doesn't sound very interesting or fun or vacation friendly. Instead, they are marketed as specific types of voyages such as Transatlantic or Panama Canal. Or, most common, not marketed at all. For example, a repo cruise from Baltimore to Galveston will be marketed as a Caribbean Cruise, not a Repositioning Cruise.

Q: "It's something to do with cruise ships being moved across the ocean just before the cruise season starts and just after it ends and they offer super low prices since it's out of season."

NO. The distance involved is irrelevant. For example, ships are repositioned on the East Coast of the United States routinely.

Also, transoceanic cruises are often sold at a premium for destination ships such as Oasis (RCI) or Breakaway (NCL) Class ships. Small ships may appear discounted though.

Q: "Is this something done worldwide by all cruise lines or just by one or two in a certain area?"

YES, for major cruise lines. Regional lines, less so due to narrower scope.

Q: What are the very basic facts that all budget travellers should know about this seemingly almost secret means of travel?

First, there's really nothing secret about them. They are very common. Royal Caribbean markets Reposition cruises specifically for significant itineraries. But, other repo cruises are marketed as specific types such as Transatlantic. But again, many repo cruises at not noted at all unless you notice the difference in embarkation and debarkation ports.

But even that's not always an indicator, for example, Norwegian Epic will be sailing a Med circle where they will embark at both Barcelona and Civitavecchia but her home port technically Barcelona so her upcoming repo will be from Port Canaveral to Barcelona.

Just because a cruise is a repo does not mean it will be a 'budget' option. The line will sell passage at the highest fare they can. For example, East/West Coast US repos will command a much higher fare due to the Panama Canal transit. Specialty not considered, older, mid-sized ships would offer the best value.

Also note that while the line will sell passage on different segments, a round the world cruise rarely repositions the ship. For example, Queen Elizabeth's next RTW cruise departs and returns to Southampton despite offering ~15 one way Itineraries along the way.

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  • @pnuts Seriously? Really? "A Reposition Cruise is the sailing taken by a vessel when changing homeports." Wow, proven again, downvotes totally unwarranted, wrong and unhelpful.
    – Johns-305
    Feb 6 '17 at 12:59
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    The OP clearly stated "It's something to do with cruise ships being moved across the ocean just before the cruise season starts and just after it ends and they offer super low prices since it's out of season". You're free to object to the terminology and point out that there are other types of repositioning cruises but talking about something else isn't particularly helpful or relevant. Is that really that difficult to understand?
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6 '17 at 16:31
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    @Johns-305 What do you understand? Cruises? It's pretty obvious you wanted to make that clear. But I am talking about the question and why your answer and comments are not helpful at all. Surely, you should be able to use that expert knowledge of yours more productively than in endless arguments about definitions.
    – Relaxed
    Feb 6 '17 at 16:50
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    This answer seems to want to be on a site about shipping or about pure terminological definitions. Remember the site is about travel and I'm asking about what it from the POV of a very experienced budget traveller who's been to 60 countries in 28 years yet never heard of these before this week. Anyway the info improved since my initial downvote so I'll remove that and I now know enough to ask better targetted questions about these cruises. Feb 6 '17 at 17:16
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    Yep it is important but fighting to keep the answer dry doesn't seem the best use of a website for travellers. The question has four tags and a whole bunch of words I did my best to choose as somebody who didn't know what this was previously but did do a quick bit of googling and also wanted to get the word out about this concept that any of us don't know about. Feb 6 '17 at 19:23
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+500

It's something to do with cruise ships being moved across the ocean just before the cruise season starts and just after it ends and they offer super low prices since it's out of season

It's something related to market's offer and demand. The cruise company needs to move the ship, which was in Portugal, to Panama because they can't use a Protoss warp gate (a sci-fi instant teleport).

So the ship is going to pay for fuel and crew. A lot of fuel. But there is no demand of traveling from Portugal to Panama in that period of the year, the next revenue generating cruise will start from Panama later.

What to do? The company has two options:

  • Sail the ship empty. Cost is X$ and revenue is 0$
  • Undersell the cabins. Cost is similar to X, because now we are cleaning cabins and serving meals, but now they have a positive revenue Y which is still less than X. And with simple maths 0 - X (empty) is worse than Z - Y (with cheap passengers) despite negative.

Of course doing a trip in "economical loss" is counterintuitive, but as I said the trip is needed and planned, and can't be avoided.

Is this something done worldwide by all cruise lines or just by one or two in a certain area? What are the very basic facts that all budget travellers should know about this seemingly almost secret means of travel?

I believe all do. Advertising varies. It's not a secret, but companies don't really like to advertise under-budget trips when they offer thousand-dollars worth cruises.

Counter-examples in other industries and some personal experience

Aviation: air carriers will lower the prices of their flights if they have little to no demand for those legs. But the best example is the empty leg of private jets. Private aircraft that often carry business-people do not wait for their guests for days or weeks. Instead, they will continue their taxi service by moving to different airports in different locations.

And here come some online portals to search for empty leg flights

Empty legs from London

In this example, there is a flight that carried passengers to London but now needs to pick someone else at the Bahamas tomorrow. No one today is going from London to Bahamas (at the price of a private jet!) so they will say: whoever wants to cover some of our expenses is welcome

Automobiles: a great example is BlaBlaCar, a service run by a French company. Motorists that have already planned long-distance trips (e.g. NY to LA) can rent one or more seats to casual riders. The ideas are two: 1) the trip is already set by the driver, so that trip is happening, 2) the price of a BlaBlaCar trip is required to be cheap enough to barely cover the gas/tollway cost. And when I say barely, means driver are forbidden from making profit.

Disclosure: I am a BlaBlaDriver, ambassador level, black belt 🥋 of A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.

I never heard of repositioning a train, but certainly rail companies will offer discounted prices on certain shifts happening at early morning or late evening, when demand is poor.

Final word

Traveling on budget is some kind of profession for some people. I have met some (Couchsurfers in the specifics) and I have been doing it in Europe before the pandemics. I believe that certain information should not be kept secret and be shared, but be warned that the job may be difficult. Traveling on budget always means adapting yourself to someone else's schedule and comfort level, journeying at absurd hours of the day, doing insane and/or long stopovers, and it's fun when you learn how to make them meaningful.

One could do this by spending hours on search engines, but I have learned from my own experience, on March 1st 2020, that sometimes taking a very cheap trip is not worth the PTOs you get from work (which can be quantified). I could speak for hours about this.

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    In the Netherlands there are a lot of trains repositioned every normal working day, they run empty, as the rail company do not think it worth the effort to have some people on it. (To the big annoyance of the people who need to go that way at that time but are not allowed on the trains passing them.)
    – Willeke
    Apr 23 at 19:40
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    Maybe the Blablacar example is a bit beyond scope Apr 23 at 19:49
  • @Willeke I am surprised to learn this. If I was the rail company, I would plan the schedule properly. If there is an early morning shift from Rotterdam, I would plan the time table so that a train ends in Rotterdam at evening to be cleaned for the next day. I guess major stations in the Nederlands are close to a train yard, where the rolling stock can be left for the night. Indeed, Nederlands is certainly smaller than other countries in Europe (but Rotterdam is a nice place worth visiting!) Apr 25 at 19:28
  • The ones I hear most about are the fast peak hour trains, running every 30 minutes to the bigger cities. They used to run the other direction as normal trains but in the last couple of years the return empty for a second run to the city.
    – Willeke
    Apr 25 at 19:33
  • The trains are running to the cities well before they start in a city, as most workers are located out of the cities but work in them.
    – Willeke
    Apr 25 at 19:37

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