Cruise lines run positioning cruises twice each year: in the spring, when ships move from the Caribbean and Mexico to the Mediterranean for the summer, and again in the fall when the ships return to warm-weather regions for the winter. Spring cruises generally run from Florida to Spain or Italy, taking anywhere from 11 to 17 days, with a few longer options. A few also depart from Galveston, New Orleans, or the New York area. Daily rates are often as little as half summer or winter rates, and total prices for two weeks are about the same as, or less than, prices for peak-season one-week trips.
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-- A typical 13-night itinerary starts at Fort Lauderdale, followed by seven days at sea, then calls at Tenerife in the Canary Islands for a day, another day at sea, consecutive all day calls at Lisbon, Cadiz, and Malaga, another day at sea, and finally terminates at Barcelona.
-- Other cruises stop at some combination of San Juan, St. Maarten, Tortola, Antigua, the Azores, Madeira, Gibraltar, the Balearics, Valencia, Genoa, Marseilles, and terminate in Rome or Venice.
-- A few cruises take a more northerly route; they stop at some combination of Amsterdam, Bermuda, Cherbourg, Cork, Halifax, Le Havre, Warnemunde (for Berlin), Tallinn, and St. Petersburg, and terminate in Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Southampton, or Stockholm.
Cruise agencies list spring positioning cruises departing from the United States March 10 through May 8, with the largest number of options in April. The lowest rates I could find are for trips on the big mass-market lines' megaships leaving in April. One example is for a 13-night itinerary on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, leaving Miami for Malaga on April 18, with calls at San Juan, St. Maarten, and Tenerife. Inside cabins start at $449, or $35 per person per night; ocean-view cabins start at $649. If you want to splurge on a balcony stateroom -- which I would probably do on such a long cruise -- you can take an 11-night trip on the Norwegian Epic from Miami to Barcelona for $699 per person. Other ships where you can get an inside cabin for less than $50 per person per night are the Adventure of the Seas, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Sun, Serenade of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and Voyager of the Seas; Holland America has several with rates starting between $50 and $60 a night, per person. More upscale lines also run positioning cruises, but rates are considerably higher, starting at around $80 per person per night on some lines and starting at more than $200 a night on Seabourn and Crystal.
If you like to book early, you can also arrange return fall-season cruises from Europe to the United States. But the best prices are usually last-minute.
Most cruise lines or cruise agencies can arrange one-way air returning from Europe. But you might find better deals on your own, and you might want to use frequent flyer miles.
Obviously, for a couple, a price of $100 a day, including accommodations, food, and most entertainment is a pretty good buy by just about any standard. Yes, these days the mass-market cruise lines are adding fees for services that were once "free," but even so, a positioning cruise is hard to beat as a vacation value. Check with your travel agency or any of the big online cruise agencies such as cruisesonly.com, cruise.com, or cruisesnmore.com.
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com