It's autumn. The kids are back in school, the leaves are changing colours and the year is starting to feel like it's heading towards the end. What better time to take a cruise? Pools aren't overrun with little ones, temperatures are more moderate and there are a number of destinations to choose from for lower prices than at any other time of the year.
Here are our picks for the five best autumn cruise destinations.
Why: With things cooling off in the autumn for many cruisers, sun-lovers who want to hold on to summer for as long as possible should look to the Caribbean, where the temperatures are still high and the snorkelling and ziplining are still good. But warm temps aside, what really makes a Caribbean cruise attractive at this time of year are the lower prices, driven partly by smaller demand (the kiddos are all back from summer break) and the fact that it's hurricane season. It's very possible your sailing might be affected by a hurricane, and cruise lines realise that cruisers might be hesitant to sail during hurricane season months so lower their prices to lure passengers onboard.
When to Go: The Pacific hurricane season begins May 15, while the Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1. Both run to November 30. The most active months in the Eastern Caribbean and along the U.S. East Coast are mid-August to September. In the Western Caribbean, the most active months are from mid-August to early November. Those are, therefore, your best dates for getting autumn deals on cruises to the Caribbean.
Why: Probably the most well-known autumn destination in the world, the United States' New England region, as well as the east coast of Canada, are famous for their vibrant foliage and comfortably cool weather. You'll see the most beautiful autumn colours in ports like Bar Harbor, Portland, Sydney in Nova Scotia and Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. These itineraries also typically include visits to fascinating cities like Boston, Quebec City and Halifax, so you get a great mix of small scenic ports and larger, bustling cities in one sailing.
When to Go: The New England and Canada cruise season is fairly short, starting in mid- to late September and running through mid-October. September is the height of the season so you'll be sharing these ports with more ships, but you'll also have the best chance of seeing prime autumn foliage.
Why: The Mediterranean's high tourist (and cruise) season is during the summer months. That's when the crowds are the thickest, the queues to get into must-see attractions are the longest and the temperatures are the highest. Cruising to the Med just out of high season cuts out all that unpleasantness. Smaller crowds mean shorter queues and more attention from tour guides, and the cooler temps make for more pleasant walking tour conditions. While cruise prices aren't significantly less during the autumn, land-based prices could be. There's less competition for independent tour guides, for example, making them more willing to lower their prices. And restaurants, which need tourists to stay in business, might offer more daily specials.
When to Go: Really any time in the autumn is a good time to cruise to the Mediterranean. If you want the largest selection of ships and itineraries, you'll want to select an early autumn cruise as ships start departing the continent for the United States in late September, with most leaving in mid-October. If smaller crowds is your main concern, look to the later autumn sailings.
Why: For the absolute best prices on transatlantic cruise crossings, you need look no further than autumn (or spring), when cruise lines begin moving many of their ships around. Called repositioning cruises, these sailings depart from a European port and cruise, often with a stop in Madeira or the Azores, to a U.S. port -- typically New York or Florida. (The direction reverses in the spring.) With few port calls and lots of sea days, these sailings are not usually attractive to most cruisers who like to get off and see different destinations. As such, cruise lines offer deep discounts on these transatlantic crossings.
When to Go: There are only a handful of repositioning transatlantic sailings each autumn. Most take place between mid-September and mid-October. Make sure when searching for a transatlantic sailing during these months that you don't select Cunard's Queen Mary 2, which regularly goes back and forth across the Atlantic -- you will not find a discounted price on these cruises.
Why: While an Alaska cruise is on most cruisers' bucket lists, they are not inexpensive. If pricing is what's stopping you from booking, an autumn Alaska cruise could be what you've been looking for. Though technically these last few Alaska sailings of the season occur during late summer, they do take place during early September. Prices on these sailings (each line typically offers two to four late-season cruises) can often be close to half off what you'd pay during the height of the Alaska cruise season. Be aware: There is a down side to sailing Alaska in the autumn. While prices are low, so are temperatures and rain is not uncommon.
When to Go: Which cruise line you're thinking about booking will influence when you can go. Holland America, for instance, offers cruises through most of September giving you more choice. Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Princess, on the other hand, typically only offer one or two sailings in the first half of the month.