When is the Best Time to Cruise?
One of the most common questions we get asked at Cruiseabout is “When is the best time for a cruise to [insert dream destination of choice here]?"
Well – as simple as this question may seem, it is not actually that easy to answer. See, there are many variables that influence an answer to this question, and most of them are personal – some people prefer the Autumn season to the heat of Summer, so they will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise. On the other hand, watersport lovers prefer to sail the region in the Summer when the temperature is warm enough for swimming.
There are many factors that influence personal choices about the best time to cruise. Things such as school holidays, how much time you can take off work, whether you are maybe flexible with dates but operating on a tight budget or maybe your only criteria is to escape the chilly winter weather? Whatever your “criteria” may be will influence which season is your best time to sail in.
Having said this, there are some general guidelines that you can take into consideration, and that is what we thought we would give you today. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season). The summer months are generally peak seasons, regardless of the weather at home or in the region. Cruises during these periods need to be booked far in advance, and families especially need to take note of this, as some cruise lines limit the number of children per sailing, so you need to get in there early.
During shoulder and low seasons, you will generally find more bargains, but some low seasons have shrunk in many areas, thanks to the boom in new cruising destinations and home ports, so in some places, all seasons are priced “in season”.
Below is a list of popular cruising destinations, their high and low seasons, and the advantages and disadvantages of sailing during each. Plus check out our interactive map to see the most popular destination and some seasonal suggestions on the best months to cruise!
High Season: June to August
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: In the months from June to August, the temperatures in Alaska are at their warmest, and the conditions are quite moderate, making it quite pleasant. And, the further into summer you are, the better your chances of seeing wildlife on the various expeditions. However, demand for these cruises has become so strong recently that you sometimes need to book months, or even a year, in advance to get the best land/tour packages.
With so many ships now sailing into Alaska, there can also be a tremendous amount of congestion in the small port towns. To minimise your exposure to crowds, you might want to select a ship that sails off schedule (i.e. departs on a Wednesday or a Monday). And, to get a better price, you may also want to consider northbound glacier routes rather than southbound routes, as these tend to be cheaper.
Low Season: May and September
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: In May and September, the crowds are smaller, and the prices are cheaper as a result of the weather being worse and the possibility of snow. During the low season, shore excursions have a greater chance of being cancelled, especially boat and helicopter tours, and Denali National Park has been known to close in September because of snow.
Whale Watching in Alaska
High Season: June to August
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: During these peak months, there is a much wider selection of ships on offer. The temperature is ideal for watersports, and as it is a family-friendly season, children can easily make friends on board. Those wanting to find a more adult-oriented voyage should probably look at a ship that doesn’t cater for children.
The downside is that the temperature is much hotter, and the ships are much more crowded than in the slower months.
Low/Shoulder Season: April – May, September - October
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: During the low/shoulder season, the temperatures are milder and the weather can be quite breezy, often making it more pleasant than during the peak summer months. However, October tends to be the wettest month, and hurricane season tends to affect the island, at least once a year, during late August to October. In terms of off-season months, May is probably your best bet in Bermuda.
High Season: September and October
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: This time of year fetches high prices on land and sea for that quintessential autumn in New England. You can see the leaves at various stages of colour as you cruise up the East Coast to Canada. The cooler temperatures make for nice walks in the various port cities, and as schools are generally not on holiday yet, the cruise itself is slightly quieter.
Low/Shoulder Season: July and August
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: The “off-peak” months have become quite popular as of late, with the excellent summer weather making the Canadian towns especially nice. It is the best time for watersport enthusiasts and families, and these cruises have become in high demand recently.
Rocky Mountains in Canada
High Season: Late June – August; Christmas and New Year’s weeks; February – mid-April
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: During the peak Caribbean sailing period, there are generally two types of cruisers sailing – families off from school and those trying to escape the Winter chills. It is a great time to sail with kids, and the children’s program is usually in full swing. The tradeoff, however, is that it can be quite pricey, especially when you have to add in flights. And, you often have to book these flights even before you book the cruise because of the high demand.
If you are looking for peace and quiet on your Caribbean cruise, you may want to look outside of holiday weeks, as this is when the ships are at their highest capacity.
Low/Shoulder Season: Late April – May; September – early January (except holiday weeks)
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: With great weather and smaller crowds, the low season can often be the perfect time to take a Caribbean cruise. And, you can often pay hundreds less per person than what you would pay at peak times. However, Hurricane season (June to November) does pose a threat, and can mean a change of ports/route if one is brewing.
High Season: March – April; June – August; holiday sailings
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: If the kids are on holiday, it is high season for Hawaii cruises. Some cruise lines offer week-long cruises all year round, while others focus on the peak season and offer more sporadic sailings.
Low/Shoulder Season: Late August; November; August (minus the holiday weeks) and May
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: During autumn sailings, the ships are less crowded but the weather is still great, so these tend to be popular “out-of-season” cruises. January is one of the coolest and wettest times of the year in Hawaii, but the winter months are prime whale watching times. Hurricanes rarely affect the islands, but August and September are when they come closest, so the weather tends to be hot and humid, with frequent tropical storms.
Island hopping: Experience Hawaii The Easy Way – By Cruise Ship
European hospitality: A Taste Of The Mediterranean With MSC
Spectacular journey: Touring Alaska In A State Of Awe With Holland America Line
High Season: Late January – mid-April; June - August
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: The summer season is very popular with families, but fewer choices are available because most lines reposition their ships in Alaska for the summer.
Low/Shoulder Season: Early January and May; October - November
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: The low/shoulder season offers a more adult-oriented atmosphere, and there is more variety in the cruises on offer since most of the major cruise lines offer at least a few sailings in the autumn months. Early January and late April can be especially good value with smaller crowds on board.
High Season: May – August; spring and autumn sailings
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: Families flock to these summer sailing dates, especially in late August, from all over the world, making for a nice cultural mix of passengers. But, this also means bigger crowds, higher prices, and hotter temperatures.
Low/Shoulder Season: March – April; September – November; some year-round sailings
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: This is the time to cruise the mega-ship, minus all the children. The weather is ideal in late spring and early autumn, but November can be really wet in some areas of the Mediterranean. While some great deals can be found in this off season, not all of the cruise lines consider this to be a low season. Some parts of Europe are considered to be in-season all year long, and cruise lines often deploy their newest ships to these areas. Even in the deepest and darkest months of winter, Mediterranean itineraries tend to focus on Morocco and the Canary Islands.
High Season: June - August
The Ins and Outs 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. The temperatures are usually balmy, the skies are sunny and the cities turn themselves inside out – life is lived out of doors, out on the water, sipping drinks at sidewalk cafes.
Low/Shoulder Season: Early June, September
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: The kids are back in school, the ports are less frenetic, the weather is still lovely, and the prices are lower. Enough said.
High Season: May to September
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: School holidays are a prime time for this newly popular cruise region, with ships of all styles and budgets offering itineraries here. But, it can get really hot in summer, and the crowds can be really annoying, especially in the smaller ports.
Low/Shoulder Season: Winter months
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: Some cruise lines actively promote this region as a fantastic winter destination, as the temperatures are comfortably cooler. And, the crowds from summer and autumn are all but gone.
High Season: December to April
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: While larger ship and Barrier Reef cruises are available year round, the Speciality cruises are seasonal. Tasmanian cruises operate in the Southern summer (November to March) while Top End cruises operate in the winter months (April to October). It really depends on what you are after, as the weather varies so much in Australia. If the Queensland heat is too much for you, perhaps consider a winter cruise.
Low/Shoulder Season: June - August
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: Australia’s winter months are the quietest for cruising, but it is during this time that you can find some great bargains and experience some of the places you wouldn’t consider going to during the hotter months.
Crystal Symphony in Sydney
High Season: December - February
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: The weather in New Zealand is never so miserable that there’s no point in going, but with temperatures ranging from 20 – 30 degrees Celsius, the summer months are the peak cruising times. This also makes it likely to be more expensive and more crowded. It is also worth noting that the South Island can be colder than the North Island, even in summer.
Low/Shoulder Season: May - August
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: Cruises to New Zealand are offered all year round, and there are always things to see and do. May to August are the coldest months, and daylight hours are shorter, so cruising options are limited. September to November are, however, probably the hardest months to predict, weather-wise.
High Season: July - August
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in Season: Cruises operate year round from Australia, Fiji and Tahiti, but the peak months coincide with the holiday season. In general, the dry months from May through to October are the most ideal for cruises to the South Pacific.
Low/Shoulder Season: November - April
The Ins and Outs of Sailing in the Off Season: This is considered as the wet season, and the weather is hot, wet and humid, with frequent tropical storms. It is also hurricane season, and this is something to keep in mind. However, you can cruise here year round, and the prices are significantly cheaper during this low season.
With all of this in mind, what do you think is the best time to go cruising?