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Affordability, Light Itineraries, and Dream Stops: What It’s Really Like to Take a Repositioning Cruise

by Norm Bour -Travel Younger Jan 4, 2024

In cruising parlance, “repositioning cruise” is a fancy way of saying that the ship only goes one way. It leaves from Port A and goes only one direction and drops off its passengers when it arrives, instead of circling back to the departure point for a round-trip.

The idea of taking a cruise has always intrigued my wife, Kat, and I, who have been full time travelers since leaving the United States in 2019. We had toured Europe and taken a four-month motorcycle road trip from Türkiye to Greece. Neither of us, however, had ever been on a cruise outside of the three day “booze cruises” that were offered near my former Southern California home city. Over the course of our five years on the road, we have been to 41 countries and have been intrigued by the repositioning option for much of that time.

Especially because of the price. On Royal Caribbean, the cruise line we took, there are repositioning cruises for under $700 for 12 nights.

Other than the one-way aspect, repositioning cruises offer most of what a traditional round-trip voyage includes. That said, repositioning cruises have fewer stops than the typical cruise itinerary that has disembarkments at a port every other day or so. That means more days on the water, and more days on the boat in general (while some repositioning cruises along the Pacific coast of North America can be a week or two, others that cross oceans can take nearly a month). That doesn’t mean there are no stops, of course. For my wife and I, that included visiting places that were previously only dream destinations, like French Polynesia.

Velsen, the Netherlands - April, 20 2018: Velsen, the Netherlands - April, 20 2018: MS Brilliance of the Seas in North Sea Canal, detail of name

Photo: clayton harrison / Shutterstock

Europe tends to be our sweet spot for much of our travels, but, since we only visited Asia for two months in early 2020 just as the pandemic was shaking up the world of travel, we have always wanted to return. Being in Bangkok for two months, and only catching a few days in Cambodia and Vietnam, made us wonder about the other side of the world.

Early in 2023, I mentioned to Kat that I wanted to visit my timeshare in Maui which I had not been to since 2016, and she had never been there. I suggested we hit the mainland US, then Hawaii, but then what? Rather than backtracking, we decided that moving forward, to Australia and Asia, made sense, and the repositioning option fit right in: We would get to travel to several new countries, cross the International Dateline, and be in the backyards of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They are all in the right “temperature zones,” for these cold weather averse wimps, and they are affordable, so this journey checked off all the boxes.

When I suggested this option to Kat, she gave me a skeptical look, primarily because she has been prone to motion sickness, but when I told her the price—and one of the stops was Tahiti—she stopped me in my tracks and said, “I’m in!”

Tahiti was always a dream destination for her, but since the island is so isolated, it is an expensive vacation for American travelers. And even though 18 days on a ship scared us both, the offer was too good to miss. The cruise checked off all the boxes of getting to spend 2.5 weeks on a ship; cross the equator and the International Dateline; visit Tahiti, Raiatea, and Moorea in French Polynesia; and hit New Zealand as our last port before sailing into Sydney, Australia.

We spent most of our 18 days at sea looking at the endless Pacific Ocean, briefly interrupted by our various ports of call. I was worried about two things: seasickness and boredom.

Prior to booking our Royal Caribbean ticket on the Brilliance of the Sea, we did a lot of research and asked lots of questions. In the end, we stayed on the second level, the floor with the fewest rooms, almost dead center at midship. In hindsight, a higher floor and an inside cabin might have proven better for that many days on the water.

The Brilliance was built in 2002, and is one of Royal’s smaller ships with about a 2,500 person capacity plus crew. With just 12 decks it did not seem overwhelming to us, and because of the size, we ended up seeing many of our fellow passengers repeatedly. And most of them were Australians.

The Honolulu to Sydney run is an Aussie favorite, as we later found out, and we estimated that 90 percent were from Down Under. Many of them fly to Hawaii and stay on various islands, then take the long way home. We met scores of them, many traveling with large groups of friends and family, and many traveling solo or as a couple.

We also found another common theme among the passengers on this journey: even at ages 69 and 70, we felt like youngsters on the ship. When we stopped to analyze the “whys,” it made sense. The cruise requires little travel or movement once you are on ship. Elevators take you anywhere you want, and with larger rooms designed to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, the cruise was easier for those less ambulatory.

IJmuiden, the Netherlands - May, 12th 2012: The Brilliance of the Seas is a 961.9ft long cruise ship, built in 2002, owned and operated by Royal Caribbean International.

Photo: StudioPortoSabbia / Shutterstock

My worries about boredom and seasickness were eased as I found the days filled with many things to do — along with days when there was nothing to do in the best way. Prior to boarding in Honolulu, Kathleen and I had constantly been on the move four months, and in the six weeks prior to boarding, we took 11 flights. The joys of laying about, napping, reading, and watching videos and fellow passengers made the days pass quickly.

Since neither Kat and I are drinkers, we did not spring for the pricey drink package, but we still had refreshing water, coffee, and tea, available. As a writer, I live on the internet, and we opted to pay for the WiFi package, which gave us access to two devices. We were overwhelmingly pleased with the quality of the internet, which, we found out, was part of the Starlink Network of global satellites.

Our cruise director, Brian, led the daily routine, and he continually shared each day’s goings on, along with pertinent information about events and our positioning. Each floor of the ship had a billboard posting of the outside temperatures, along with wind speeds, weather predictions, and notifications of what was coming up next, similar to what you’d find on a traditional cruise.

Two things really made the trip a pleasure: the workout facilities, and the food.

The top level bow position of the gym was outstanding, and showed our forward movement as we sailed into the Wild Blue. It did take a few days to get my sea legs, and working with weights and aerobics machines proved to be challenging with the motion of the water. Extra classes were offered in yoga, spinning, and a host of other activities, and there were scads of workshops on various health and beauty subjects, all designed to sell you additional services.

Along with the almost always open Windjammer buffet, the Brilliance also offered a more plush dining room, with a wait staff serving a fixed menu. Most nights we decided to skip the buffet and opt in on the more formal restaurant, and we enjoyed top notch service from the staff.

Along with a movie theater showing a few new films, plus some old classics, there was constant music and entertainment through the main galleria, along with half a dozen different bars and pubs scattered around. Each night, the headliner entertained in the main auditorium, which comfortably seats several hundred guests. We enjoyed a wonderful piano player who was an apprentice to Liberace, along with a hilarious ventriloquist and a Freddy Mercury tribute artist.

Was I bored?

Mountain landscape of Raiatea island, French Polynesia

Photo: StudioPortoSabbia / Shutterstock

The first five days without seeing land were the roughest. Fortunately we were heading south, toward the equator, and all the sun worshippers took advantage of the pool decks, including us. Three stops in French Polynesia went quickly. We rented a scooter in Raiatea and circumnavigated the island, and then were blown away by Moorea the following day. More open ocean sailing came next, and this was more challenging since the weather turned colder as we headed farther south though landing in Auckland, New Zealand, made it all worth it.

Crossing the equator was a festive affair, and crossing the dateline was a real mind bender as we advanced from Sunday, October 15 to Tuesday, October 17 overnight. Add in half a dozen time zone changes, and each day proved to be challenging getting our biological clock in check, but we were also entertained about what we were experiencing. Along with those two events, our final night’s festivity, with a huge collection of balloons dropping from the top deck to the showroom floor, rivaled a New Year’s Eve celebration on the sea.

The entire voyage was just over 5000 miles, and it proved to be something we deeply enjoyed. The concerns about sickness and boredom proved fruitless, and Kat and I both agreed that yes, we would do it again. Since most of our travels are one way, a repositioning cruise fits that agenda perfectly, and for anyone who prefers slow travel over the rush of cramming in stop after stop, this is a great option. Prices are very reasonable, especially for those that book last minute. We found out that many of our fellow passengers got deep discounts by booking in the final few weeks as the cruise line tries to fill every room. There’s always the process of getting back to your home base, but for anyone who wants to embark on an adventure — and get across the world for less than the cost of a round-trip flight — a repositioning cruse is a great vacation option.

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