HomeTravelDiscount ‘repo’ cruises are the industry’s best-kept secret
Discount ‘repo’ cruises are the industry’s best-kept secret
September 26, 2023
Later this fall, cruise expert and writer Carolyn Spencer Brown will board Silver Nova from Silversea for a two-week voyage from Lisbon to New York. But unlike a typical cruise that’s constantly shuttling you off and onboard, box-checking the next must-see sight, she’ll be nesting.
“It’s truly your home for 10 days or more — you’re not getting on and off every day,” said Spencer Brown.
Brown is taking advantage of a niche in the cruise business known as “repo,” or repositioning — an industry secret that’s becoming increasingly popular way to create a choose-your-own-vibe vacation.
Repo refers to a cruise line’s need to move its vessels from their peak summer stomping grounds in Europe to the sweet spot for snowbirds, the Caribbean. Once, they would simply have sped across as quickly as possible, allowing a few cruise obsessives to tag along; now, though, the lines have recognized the appeal — and potential profit — in turning repos into distinctive, discounted offerings.
Look at Windstar’s Star Pride, on its nine-day voyage from Boston to St. Maarten, for example, via Bermuda and St. Barts. They’re increasingly available, too.
Overall, capacity in the Caribbean for 2023 is up 13% and in Europe up 41% — meaning more ships will need to make those transoceanic voyages, per data from cruise specialist World Travel Holdings. Cruisers love them, not only for their zero-pressure, relaxation potential, but for the 20% or so savings over a similarly long trip in the Med or the Caribbean.
“They have to get them to where they want them sailing, and because they’re doing more of them, they’re focused on making them more sailable,” said WTH’s Jeff Tolkin, “And it’s no question they’re great value.”
These voyages occur in shoulder season — typically, between October and November, or March and April — when it’s harder for families to take time away. Their length, often two weeks or more, meant the traditional customer for repos were R&R-hungry AARPers. It’s changing now, though, as the work-from-anywhere culture and increasingly reliable Wi-Fi, especially on higher-end lines, make it easier for younger folks to hop on board. Cruise Center’s Tom Baker is hosting more than 100 clients on the Virgin Cruise-operated Valiant Lady’s repo in late October from Barcelona to Miami.
“It used to be all seniors, but the retired audience has traded up from two weeks to six months or more on a world cruise now,” he said. “Even younger people can take longer vacations post-COVID.”
The ability to reach less-trafficked ports is another plus — think the Azores, the Falklands and other smaller destinations. There are now north-south repos, too, thanks to the expedition ships from the likes of Lindblad, Viking or Seabourn, which must swap the South for the North Pole (these might sail down the west coast of Africa, for example, as they repo, or small ports along the Latin American coasts).
Expedition specialist Aurora, for example, offers a two-week repo in Patagonia and the Chilean fjords that includes a two-day hiking adventure in Torres del Paine National Park. Viking Jupiter offers a three-week journey that takes in Dakar, Casablanca and Recife, as it swaps Europe for the Americas.
“The ship is going from point A to point Z, not point B anymore,” said Embark Beyond agent Anne Scully, who’s seen a surge of new interest in repo voyages recently — more than she’s witnessed in her 40-year career.
But there are a few need-to-knows before boarding a repo. These aren’t for newbie cruisers, but better for folks used to the rhythm of a typical voyage. That’s because you need to pick a ship that you already know and love. Folks with medical conditions should be hesitant, too, given that evacuation is harder from the middle of the Atlantic, Scully adds.
Baker says that it’s best to opt for the luxury lines, which are nimbler in adjusting onboard programming for folks who are there 24/7.
“Spa and dining reservations are critical — on a longer cruise, without shore excursions, they’re the first things to fill,” he said, so make sure to book them soon after confirming the trip. And the westbound voyages each fall are more appealing than spring’s eastward journeys, as each day guests gain rather than lose an hour as time zones are synced. “By the time you arrive in America, you don’t feel wiped out,” said Baker.