By Adam Martindale | Martindale Travel and Tours
Having spent over 17 years working on three major cruise lines, I’ve made connections on board which can make the difference between a good cruise and an extraordinary travel experience. Whether it’s gifts in the room, a hard to get reservation at a specialty restaurant or the inside scoop on the ports visited, there’s always a good chance that I can make something special happen. This customized service blends well with my intimate knowledge of most of the ports in the Caribbean, Mexican Rivera, Europe and Asia.
The best and most economical time to cruise will not always relate to the same time period. The best time to cruise is usually when the weather is nicest or when you have the most time off work. Best can quickly turn to worst when you face high prices and large crowds. The most economical time to cruise is often when most travelers don’t want to go. You may find less ideal weather or some seasonal closures. But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise.
Here’s my guide to when you may want to cruise to some popular destinations:
The typical cruise season in Alaska runs from mid-May to mid-September but within that time frame is one time better than another to book your cruise? For a lot of cruisers, mid-June through mid-July is the peak season, because of optimum weather and daylight and kids out of school. It may not be ideal for you however.
Here are some factors to consider:
Price & Availability
For both cruising and land-based tours, May and September are the “shoulder” seasons in Alaska, with better deals and fewer crowds. Cruise prices during those times will be lower. Shore and land excursions can also be much less expensive. You might find that you get a wider choice of ships and cabins during either shoulder season, too. One big reason: fewer families book cruises during those timeframes, because of the school calendar.
Wildlife and Seasonal Nature
Spotting wildlife is always unpredictable in Alaska, but your best bet of getting pics of wildlife ashore is probably late May and early June, when mothers and their calves or cubs tend to be out and about. One exception: If you want to do a bear-watching shore excursion, prime bear season is not until late June or early July.
Denali: If you want to do a land tour that includes the national park, don’t come during the May shoulder season—the park doesn’t open up until early June.
Want to fish ashore? Fishing is good during any month—there are just different species of salmon that peak as the weeks go by.
Summer berry-picking on shore is best late in August or early September.
If you want to see fall foliage ashore, wait until the first week of September.
Hate mosquitoes? If you’re doing a land tour, come during either shoulder season (The bugs haven’t hatched in May, and they’ve died off by September.)
For the warmest temperatures, cruise between mid-June and mid-August. For the most midnight sun, come 3 weeks before or after the summer solstice and longest day of the year, June 21.
Want to see the northern lights? That’s a long shot during cruising season. It does get dark enough at night to see them by the second week of September, but it’s still not as brilliant as what you’ll see on a winter, land-based Alaska aurora viewing vacation.
More information about Alaska: www.alaska.org/advice/best-time-to-visit-alaska
Bermuda cruises sail from April through mid-November, mostly during Bermuda’s high or “beach” season. Most people travel during the summer months, making those voyages pricier, but you’ll find deals on spring and fall departures (April through early June and September through November). Bermuda has temperate weather year-round and is less affected by hurricanes than its Caribbean neighbors. If it’s too chilly for the beach in the shoulder season, you can always try out the island’s many golf courses and spas. Official hurricane season in Bermuda starts in June and lasts till November. However, Bermuda has been lucky that except in rare occasions, the severe hurricanes have mostly got diverted away from the island.
More information about Bermuda: bermudatourism.org/
You can sail to the Caribbean year-round, but the best time to go is when it’s coldest in the northern hemisphere. Not only is the warm Caribbean climate a welcome respite from bad weather, but November through May are the driest months in the islands as well (although prices are typically slightly higher then). The cheapest times to cruise are typically in the late summer and fall because of hurricane season (June 10 to November 30 is the official hurricane season in the Caribbean) . But you can often find patches of bargain sailings, especially during the early weeks of December and in the spring. The timing of spring discounts isn’t always consistent, so it’s best to keep an eye out and book when you see a low rate.
More information about the Caribbean Islands: www.caribbeantravel.com/
Mediterranean – Scorching sun and high temperatures make it hard to stay outside for long in July and August. Southern Europe enjoys a long warm season, beginning in March or April and extending through October or November. Spring in the Mediterranean can be beautiful but is often chilly and filled with off-and-on showers, so cruise the region in the fall. September is one of the most popular times to cruise the region, as the sweltering summer weather starts to calm down, but you can avoid the crowds and the heat by waiting until October.
Northern Europe and Baltics – This is the one part of the continent that you should aim to cruise in July or August. Sunny, blue skies offer pleasant weather — unlike the scathing summer heat in southern Europe. In early July, days are at their longest, with only three to four hours of darkness at night. Scandinavian and Baltic cities take full advantage of the few beautiful months they have, filling the streets and waterways fill with festivals, water sports and outdoor restaurants.
Atlantic Coast and Islands – While some Atlantic locations, such as the Canary Islands, are ideal cruise destinations practically year-round, the further north you go, the more limited the season becomes. Great Britain is known for grey skies and drizzles that can make your cruise downright dreary, particularly in the unpredictable spring and early summer weather systems. The weather picks up by late summer, but the Brits take advantage of those fleeting beautiful summer days before school and work pick up in the fall. Cruise the region in the early fall for sun and stable weather minus the packed summer conditions.
River Cruises – European rivers are infamous for their drenching summer humidity. In Southern European countries, even September and October weather can still be unbearable when you are rushing around a port trying to fit in as many sights as you can before your cruise ship departs in the evening. Stick to spring for river cruises, as the flowers begin to spread across the countryside. Southern European weather already hits the 70s in late March, and April is peak time for tulip cruises in the Netherlands. I just returned from a river cruise on the Danube in October and I have to say the weather was beautiful for the time of year, cool but blue skies and dry for the whole cruise so the rules do not always work.
There is one NCL America ship dedicated to Hawaii cruising (which I brought out from Bremerhaven, Germany in 2005 as Food and Beverage Director), which means that you can explore the islands year-round. The best time to go is during the summer and fall when the islands get the least amount of rain. Summer tends to be the most popular because of school vacation and honeymoon season. Hawaii cruises are cheapest from November through February, with the exception of holiday cruises. Some of the best rates are available between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Low (shoulder) season comprises May, June and the period from September through mid-December. Less-crowded vessels (kids are in school) and great weather are often found on such late-spring voyages. Hurricanes may affect the islands – they come closer in September, and bring humid, hot weather. They can welcome storms leading to rough seas.
You can cruise to Mexico year-round, either as part of a western Caribbean itinerary or as a dedicated Mexico voyage. The best time to visit Mexico is during its dry season, November through May. However, it’s a popular destination even during the rainier summer months. You’ll find the best deals in the fall, between the two high seasons and during hurricane season. February and March are the best months for whale-watching. A negative tendency is that college-aged youths take port destinations like Puerto Vallarta and Ensenada at this time, creating a boisterous atmosphere. Summer season is the most popular travel time, especially for families. However, it offers less choice as most lines reposition ships to Alaska. In fall the atmosphere is more adult-oriented, along with cruise options’ variety. January and May dates are good value with fewer kids and small crowds, since school’s back after holiday and spring breaks. The downsides are the unpredictable weather, ranging from humid and hot to chilly, with temperatures into the 40s and 50s.
New England and Canada
New England and Canada sailings depart from May through October. You’ve got a better chance for warm weather if you travel from late June through early September. However, if you’re interested in foliage viewing, you’ll need to go in early to mid-October. May and late-October sailings will offer the lowest rates, but don’t expect to be using the onboard pools.
A cruise vacation has a lot of components, from air travel to the departure port, to shore excursions that often are not included in your cruise costs. I can help you sort out the details and I have access to all the cruise lines, ships and current pricing and promotions.