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The Best Cruise Season

by Douglas Terhune

While I have never made a living being a cruise counselor for a travel company, I have known many. I do not envy you. Imagine this scenario:

Customer walks in the door (or calls or emails) and says "I want to go on vacation - not sure where, when, with whom or how much money I want to spend." Now where the heck do you start with someone like this? I mean, at minimum you hope the customer has an idea if it is by land/sea/air, which season (hot or cold will suffice) and approximately how much they wish to di$h out.

Ship Tip: Try to know something about your vacation!

Since the focus here at the SeaLetter is cruises, perhaps we can fast forward a bit and assume two things; one, you have narrowed the choice to a cruise and two, you have an idea of the cost. So, the next step is - when?

My expertise (if I can stretch some literary definitions) lies in the Caribbean. All but one week enjoying the frozen tundra's of Alaska have been spent traipsing around the aqua blue waters of the Caribbean. So let's focus in on the when part of the equation.

Planning cruises is fun. There are many cruise-goers that book a year or more in advance, a good majority six months out, and then those who live dangerously and book close to cruise time. So first question is to determine the year you wish to go.

Ship Tip: Determine the year you wish to go.

The next step we have to do is narrow down which season - Fall, Winter, Spring or Summer. In the Caribbean, the weather is surprisingly very consistent all year round. If you pull out a world map, you'll notice that the US Virgin Islands are just below the Tropic of Cancer - which is the same location as the Hawaiian Islands. The average year round temperature in each location is in the low 80s - with the summers being warmer and the winters a bit cooler. However, I do not think I have been in either geographic location and experienced the mercury dipping below 80 - unless perhaps an unusual rainy night.

As for weather, the driest season is Summer - just like in the states. Spring and Fall run pretty close to the next driest season with Winter, of course being the wettest. But let us keep this in relative terms, ok? St. Thomas wet is not even close to Seattle wet - got that? In my 24 Caribbean cruises that have spanned mostly from March - October, I have only had rain fall on my head at most 8 times (out of 120+ days). The longest period was 4 hours in Cancun in April way back in 1996.

So, determine if you want 100% sun (Summer), 96.5% sun (Spring and Fall) or 92.8% sun (Winter).

Ship Tip: Determine what your sun requirements are.

Of course you could get a week with more rain if by chance a hurricane is bearing down on the ship - but even then the ships are usually rerouted to drier parts of the Caribbean. Now the waves may be fairly intense - depending how far out ahead of the storm you get, but at least the Captain should find the sun for you. I interviewed the Captain of the Grand Princess on her maiden US voyage in 1998 and he said that, in his 20+ years of cruising in the Caribbean, he had never had a ship under his command that came anywhere near a hurricane. FYI: Official hurricane season runs from June 1st through November 30th each year.

Ship Tip: Determine if you are willing to risk being caught in bad weather.

If you have chosen your season, than you must now choose a month and a week - or at least narrow it down to a few options. When you get to this point in the equation, money starts coming into play. Cruises are governed by the same laws of supply and demand that affect gasoline prices, hotel rates and the cost of milk. The larger the number of customers that wish to sail during a particular week - the higher the price. Same goes for Spring Break - the number of children dying to see Mickey - the higher the price.

Sometimes you may not have a choice as to when to go based upon your family or work schedule. In that case, you really only have to choose between which line and which ship to sail on.

Ship Tip: If the previous statement applies to you, read no further!!!!

Before migrating back to the south and nestling into Wilmington, NC (aka Hurricane Central,) I spent 10 years between Boston and Milwaukee. I guarantee you that by the time April rolled around, I was MORE than ready to see the sun again. Therefore, psychologically speaking, I like to sail in the Spring - but, not just any week in the spring. Being single and without children, I do not care to spend my vacation with 400 high school students or 400 toddlers, although due to circumstances, it HAS happened.

Ship Tip: Know when all holidays and school vacations occur.

Cruise lines have 3 $ea$on$, each of which is designated by the dollar sign - Expen$ive, Not So Expen$ive, and Almo$t Rea$onable. However, these seasons do not necessarily run back to back to back. What the lines do is look at each sailing based upon supply and demand before determining prices. For example, the two weeks prior to Easter are usually rated as Expen$ive because grade school kids have their spring breaks then. But, the week after Easter, or at most two weeks, goes back to the Almo$t Rea$onable rate. In fact, most of May falls into that category because children are back at school.

Ship Tip: Study the Cruise Lines $ea$on$.

There really are few travel options left today that guarantee good weather. Years ago a buddy and I spent a week in Guadeloupe at a very nice beach resort - but it rained 50% of the time. WE actually came home early! The hotel could not dodge the storms like a Captain of a cruise ship does - and that for me is a major reason I take my vacations by cruise ship.

And as for which season is right for you, well, that depends on a lot of important factors. Weather, holidays, money and time constraints must all factor into your final decision of when to hit the high seas.


Doug TerhuneDoug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.

Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Grandeur of the Sea's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering Douglas Terhune as your search phrase.

Doug can be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.

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