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The Best Time To Take A Cruise

Apr 29, 2008
When is the best time to take a cruise vacation? Actually, it's anytime.

No matter the time of year -- spring, summer, fall or winter -- there are cruise vacations for every taste and budget. Of course cruise lines, like most businesses, set their pricing by supply and demand, so the season you choose will affect the cost of your cruise vacation. For example, if you book a cruise during the busiest vacation seasons, which are usually over the holidays an during early spring and summer, the price will be higher than at other times of year. Conversely, if you book during the slower cruise periods, i.e. in fall, late spring and after popular holidays, the price will usually be lower.

Year-round destinations

The Caribbean islands, Hawaii and French Polynesia (Tahiti) are blessed with a warm, tropical climate all year long, so it's almost always a good time to visit these destinations. There are some seasonal considerations, however. For example, Tahiti and Hawaii have a rainy season that typically extends from November through March; that's probably not the best time to visit, especially if you are thinking of trekking through the rain forests!

Similarly, some travelers may wish to avoid the Caribbean during hurricane season, especially during the most active period, from late August to early October. Does this mean you shouldn't cruise during September? Not really. Some of the best cruise rates are offered during this period. And one of the benefits of traveling by cruise ship during this season is that the storms are constantly monitored and alternative courses are charted away from the inclement weather. When a hurricane begins to blow, cruise ships simply transit to calmer waters.

Europe's Mediterranean region used to be a seasonal cruise destination, but that changed with the advent of newer cruise ships that offer such season-lengthening amenities as retractable domes and solariums that allow guests to use the pool and enjoy the sun all year round. The Mexican Riviera is now a year-round cruising destination, too, though you might want to rethink cruising to the Baja region during the summer months, when desert temperatures reach into the 100s!

Seasonal destinations

Other destinations are seasonal for cruise lines. You can cruise to Alaska and Europe's Baltic region only between May and September; to Bermuda between May and October; through the Panama Canal between September and April; to Canada and New England during September and October (the peak season for the region's spectacular fall foliage); and to Asia and Oceania during the winter months.

Some of the best times of the year to take an Alaska cruise are during the 'shoulder months' of May and September. If you do cruise during these months, it is advisable to pack extra warm clothing, as the temperatures can fall into the 40s at night and on cooler mornings; high temperatures are generally in the 50s.

Value season

During the spring and fall, cruise lines move their ships from one seasonal port to another in a strategic fleet movement that's called 'repositioning.' Of course, those ships don't move around empty; instead, they embark on a 'repositioning cruise' - a unique, one-way itinerary that is available only once a year.

In spring, the most common repositioning itineraries are from the Caribbean to Europe and from the Caribbean to Alaska; in fall, these itineraries are reversed. Repositioning cruises are long and sometimes leisurely. For example, repositioning cruises to Alaska commonly include popular stops on the cruise line's eastern, western, and southern Caribbean itineraries and stops along the Mexican Riviera, as well as a transit of the Panama Canal. Repositioning cruises can offer good value. They may cost less per day than other sailings on the same ship. This is partly because longer cruises do not suit everyone's schedule and partly because these cruises sail during the shoulder seasons, when fewer people travel and demand is correspondingly lower.

In the end, the best time to cruise is when you are ready to go. Consider all the factors, plan ahead and plan well, then enjoy your cruise vacation, whatever the season.
About the Author
Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita is a weekly travel columnist for http://MSNBC.com and Tripso, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2007".
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