One of the most common questions I hear is “what is the best time to cruise Europe?” Or Alaska, the Caribbean, or Mexico ….
The answer depends on a number of factors. So, of course, there is more than one answer for any given cruise. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for example, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise. Whereas water sports lovers and families much prefer to sail the region in the summer, when school is out and temperatures are warm enough for swimming. A snowbound Midwesterner might be willing to pay the premium for a warm Caribbean respite in February; while a thrifty couple just looking for an anytime getaway might take advantage of the hefty discounts available on Caribbean cruises between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So in determining your best time to cruise, the real question, what are your priorities? Do you need to schedule around school breaks? Is a holiday week the best time for your reunion cruise? Is your main goal to escape frigid winter weather at home or ensure the best possible weather at your destination? Or maybe you have lots of flexibility (or a tight budget) and don’t mind making a few tradeoffs in timing to get a great deal. Your answers will influence which season is best for you to sail in.
For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season). It used to be that high season generally coincided with a destination’s best weather, or the winter months when inhabitants of our colder regions sailed off in search of sun. But as more and more families take to cruising during school vacations, the summer months have become a peak season regardless of the weather at home or at the destination.
Here are some factors to consider for a sampling of popular cruise destinations.
ALASKA (sailing season: May to September)
High Season: June through August
This is when the weather is warmest (highs 50s–70s F), and summer offers more opportunities to see wildlife. However, ships and ports can be quite crowded during high season, to the point where smaller towns feel overrun, with several ships in port at the same time.
Low Season: May and September
These months offer smaller crowds and lower costs. Temperatures are lower (highs of 50s to 60s F) with a greater chance of rain or even snow.
THE CARIBBEAN (sailing season: year-round)
High Season: Late June through August, Christmas and New Year’s weeks, and February through mid-April
The two main types of cruisers sailing in the peak season are families (summer and holidays) and people living in cold weather areas (holidays and late winter). Summer and the holidays are great times for group reunions. Children’s programs are in full swing. Naturally, prices are also at their peak, and the high number of children on board during school vacations may not suit all travelers.
Low Season: Late April and May, early January, and between Thanksgiving and Christmas
The low season offers great weather, uncrowded ships and significant savings. These are times when the cruise lines discount heavily to attract passengers. However, some onboard programs may not be operating fully, and families with schoolchildren may find it difficult to travel off-season.
MEDITERRANEAN, EASTERN & WESTERN (sailing season: March to November)
High Season: May through August
Both American and European families flock to many of the summer sailing dates (especially August), making for a nice cultural mix of passengers. As with all places in high season, the tradeoffs will be bigger crowds and higher prices.
Low Season: March through April, September through November
This is the time to cruise the mega ships minus lots of kids, and the ports are less frantic. Some great deals can be found even on some of luxury ships, and the weather is usually good in late spring and early fall. On the other hand, there is still a chance of inclement weather and fewer itineraries are offered during low season.
In addition, you may very well have individual needs that influence the best time for you to cruise. A professional travel agent can help you find just the right match, rather than applying blanket rules about when to travel. This may be a long answer to what seems like a pretty simple question, but in travel, seemingly simple things can quickly become complicated, and that’s where a live consultant can provide support that a computer mouse can’t.
If you have any questions about this or any other aspect of travel send them to [email protected] and I will do my best to answer them for you.
Michael Downer, the “Travel Guy,” has been helping people see the world since 1986. An affiliate of America’s Vacation Center/American Express, he can be reached at (916) 933-2360 or by e-mail at [email protected].