One of the most common questions we hear is when is the best time for a cruise vacation to Europe or the Caribbean, Canada, Hawaii or Alaska? For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season). Not so long ago, high season tended to be when the weather was best in a particular area and when all the northerners flocked to the sun. As more and more families take to cruising, the summer months have become a peak-demand period, regardless of the weather. Families especially need to book high-season sailings as early as possible because some cruise lines limit the total number of children per sailing, and each ship has a limited number of cabins that can accommodate three or more people. Here are a few destinations with appropriate dates marked out to visit as per your budget.
High Season: June – August
Quirks & Perks of Sailing in Season: You get to pick from a wider selection of ships (and from a variety of East Coast homeports), all at a convenient time to vacation from work and school. Plus, water temperatures are ideal for water sports. Children can find fellow playmates on-board during this family-friendly season, while those craving a more adult-oriented voyage might want to select a ship that doesn’t cater to kids. The tradeoff: Expect steamier temps and more crowded ships than you’d find in the slower months.
High Season: June – August
Quirks & Perks of Sailing in Season: Northern Europe is at its loveliest during the summer months, with ports that line the Baltic Sea and Norway’s fjords. Temperatures are balmy (even occasionally steamy), skies are generally sunny, and the cities turn themselves inside out, life is lived out of doors, whether it’s getting out on the water or sipping beers at sidewalk cafes. On the flipside, summer cruises to the Baltic are often among the most expensive Europe cruises out there.
High Season: May – September
Quirks & Perks of Sailing in Season: Both European and American families flock to many of the summer sailing dates (especially in August), making for a nice cultural mix of passengers and plenty of onboard, kid-friendly activities. The tradeoffs are bigger crowds, higher prices (both cruises and airfares) and steamy temperatures that may sap your sightseeing energy. As much of Europe goes on holiday in August, you may find restaurants and other establishments closed. September is an increasingly popular time to cruise the western Mediterranean because you canavoid the school kids and still enjoy warm temperatures.
Low/Shoulder Season: May – June; September – mid-December
Quirks & Perks of Sailing in the Off Season: Great weather and less-crowded ships, fewer third and fourth passengers since kids are in school, can be found on late-spring sailings. Hurricanes rarely affect the islands, but they come closest in September, bringing hot, humid weather. They can also kick up storms that lead to rough seas and less-than-ideal snorkeling conditions. Good deals are often available in the less-traveled window between Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation. Late September and October can also see a large selection of cruise ships visiting the islands, as ships tack on Hawaii cruises after the end of the Alaska season and before transitting to their next seasonal homeport.
Low/Shoulder Season: May – August
Quirks & Perks of Sailing in the Off Season: The excellent summer weather makes touring the Canadian towns especially nice. Highs hover in the low 70’s, as opposed to the 50’s in the fall. It’s also the best time for water sports enthusiasts and families, thanks to the warm temperatures in the water and out. Carnival and Holland America are good bets for off-season sailings.
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