Travel

Looking to book that cruise vacation? Try the shoulder season

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If cruises are on your bucket list, we suggest looking at shoulder season for some great deals

Picture this: You’re standing at the bow of a ship, wind in your hair, enveloped by the sound of waves lapping at the hull... just like in the movies. Later, it is a change of scene as there are fun activities on-board and elaborate dinners, as with all luxury cruises.

However, there is one big difference here. On this cruise, you are not jostling for space on an overcrowded deck. A nice side benefit: nor have you burnt a hole in your pocket. Going on that coveted cruise can be a hassle-free and relatively affordable experience. The buzzword here: shoulder season.

Deal grabber

An oft-used term in the cruise industry, shoulder season refers to the period just before or just after the high season.

Understandably then, these cruises offer impressive discounts and crowd-free travel. Travel during shoulder season sees cruise lines lowering prices and offering tempting deals. According to a study by Cruisewatch.com (a leading metasearcher for cruises), many of the world’s 15 cruise regions show the highest maximum price reduction between 75 and 55 days before departure. These include North America (71%), Middle East (64%), South America (56%) and Southern Europe (59%).

People watching glacier and floating ice on the deck of a cruise ship at Glacier Bay, Alaska, United States

People watching glacier and floating ice on the deck of a cruise ship at Glacier Bay, Alaska, United States   | Photo Credit: LeonU

Typically, people book cruises during the summer months, which they believe will offer them clear views and great weather. However, shoulder season cruises can offer similar experiences, say industry experts.

Daniel D’Souza, president and country head, leisure at SOTC Travel, says, “The climate during shoulder season is usually autumn or fall. Therefore, it is not too hot and is still pleasant. For example, if you are looking for a cruise to Europe, fall (September-December) is the time to head north. Northern Europe (Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia) and the British Isles provide a number of busy, but comparatively less-travelled ports. For those who enjoy the colder weather and are willing to bundle up in extra layers, there might be a number of deals that they can take advantage of while visiting these regions. Christmas market cruises dominate the rivers in Europe during the end of November through December, but a European river cruise in early to mid-October, can still be found at a reasonable discount.”

The experimental traveller

Oslo, Norway - 11th July 2014: Luxury cruise liner moored in the tranquil waters of Oslo habour beside the historic Akershus Fortress spotlit against the blue moonlit sky, Norway. Composite panoramic image created from five contemporaneous sequential photographs.

Oslo, Norway - 11th July 2014: Luxury cruise liner moored in the tranquil waters of Oslo habour beside the historic Akershus Fortress spotlit against the blue moonlit sky, Norway. Composite panoramic image created from five contemporaneous sequential photographs.  

Travelling off season is also a reflection of people’s willingness to experiment.

“We have observed that consumers are no longer restricted to traditional summer holidays and are increasingly opting for autumn breaks/shoulder season holidays as well. With an aspiration for unique and brag-worthy experiences, we have observed a growing demand of 20% for autumn cruise tours. India’s value-seeking travellers are not shying away from maximising on this often under-leveraged season by choosing affordable cruise packages,” says Rajeev Kale, president and country head-holidays, Thomas Cook (India).

Popular off-season cruise routes include the Mediterranean and European river cruises in late September and October when temperatures are moderate. Canada, Scandinavia and New England are prime destinations, for autumn colours.

Know your shoulder season
  • Christmas market cruises
  • Europe has pleasant weather throughout early autumn and it is quite likely that the shoulder season prices will really kick in only from late November and early December in areas like the Mediterranean. Fall is the time to head to north Europe instead; just pack those extra layers and look forward to some Christmas market cruises end of November through December.
  • Hurricane season
  • You can book a warm-weather cruise for a good deal during September and October. Bermuda, Hawaii and the Caribbean remain top favourites; one does have to watch out for the hurricanes though. Go armed with trip insurance and flexible flights and other vacation plans. The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June to November.
  • Fall it is
  • September and October are great for saving in regions like Europe and the Caribbean, but also for other destinations, such as Canada and New England. Look for last minute deals on leaf-peeping itineraries.

Other popular shoulder season destinations are China, Bahamas and the Caribbean. “The Royal Caribbean often has cruises to the Bahamas and Puerto Rico that people can check out,” says Varun Chadha, CEO, Tirun, which represents Royal Caribbean Cruises in India.

“Cruises during shoulder season are as smooth as those in the peak season. Cruise liners are usually massive and equipped with modern technology, making travel during shoulder season just as comfortable,” he adds, explaining that travellers can expect price differentials of 30 to 35% when travelling off season.

Typically, a seven-night Caribbean cruise costs around $4,000 (approximately ₹2.87 lakh) for two in a balcony stateroom; the same cruise during off-season could cost as less as $3,000 (approximately ₹2.15 lakh) for two. “Discounts apart, cruise liners also offer some great on-board credits during this season.”

Value add

To make shoulder season travel more interesting, cruise liners also offer value-added promotions such as complimentary Wi-Fi, beverage packages and child-free offer.

Of course, there is always the chance of experiencing turbulent weather in some routes... “There are chances that shoulder season in the European or Caribbean seas would have hurricanes or unpredictable climate changes, which could result in cruise itineraries being changed or even cancellations,” says Daniel, adding, “While Mediterranean weather is usually pleasant, and you may be expecting an autumn-like breeze, temperatures drop drastically once the sun goes down. Being by the sea tends to increase the chill on-board and travellers can expect the breeze to be much stronger while sailing between ports. It is also advisable to pack a light rain jacket, or poncho, as the Mediterranean experiences rains, particularly during spring months.”

Over the years, the demographic of travellers opting for cruise holidays has changed drastically, according to Daniel. These days, more travellers under the age of 45 are keen on exploring cruises. “Some of the data found on this has revealed that travellers between the ages of 25 and 34 show an interest in expedition cruises and travellers aged 18 to 34 are keen to explore wellness cruises and food-themed cruises. A majority of the demographic includes couples, solo travellers and senior citizens.”

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 3:01:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/looking-to-book-that-cruise-vacation-try-the-shoulder-season/article30026359.ece

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