First, what is a Repositioning Cruise?
Cruise ships have circuits in which they operate in a certain region per season, for instance Mediterranean cruises in the summer and Middle East cruises in the winter. At the end of each season, the ship needs to reposition to a new region. These repositioning itineraries will be sold at a lower cost because they involve more days at sea. The one we took this year was from Italy to Dubai on Costa Cruises with a Red Sea crossing. Aaron also took a Costa repositioning cruise from Brazil to Italy a few years ago with an Atlantic Ocean crossing. Both were about 20 days. We paid $1538 USD for both of us, plus daily gratuity (10 euros per person per day), a much lower price than others paid for the same cruise. Read on to find out how we got such a good deal.
Why We Chose a Costa Repositioning Cruise
We thought the itinerary of the Italy to Dubai cruise was really unique and a good way to see the Middle East as first time visitors to the region. Our ship boarded in Savona, Italy and made stops with shore excursion days in these ports:
- Rome, Italy
- Katakalon, Greece (Olympia)
- Athens, Greece
- Heraklion, Crete
- Aqaba, Jordan (Petra)
- Eilat, Israel
- Salalah, Oman
- Muscat, Oman
- Fujairah (one of the Emirates)
The ship also sails through the Suez Canal, one of the most important shipping routes in the world, transporting billions of dollars in oil and cargo through a narrow strait in Egypt.
How to Get the Cheapest Price
Pricing for cruises varies by country of origin and by date. British passengers pay the least. If you book very early or very late, you’ll pay less. We booked 8 months in advance through Viva Voyage, a British online travel agency. Booking through Costa directly as Americans would have cost us more. To give you an example of how much pricing varies, we met a solo American woman who paid $6000 USD. This included an extra 7 days on the cruise and a balcony room (though we got upgraded for free – more on this below), but she still paid triple what we paid, even accounting for the extra days. It’s just a lot more expensive to book as an American.
It’s also cheaper to book as two people to a cabin because there’s no single occupancy discount unless you get a last minute deal. If you book as 3 people to a cabin, it’s even cheaper. The couches in the cabins turn into pull out beds. We saw some families staying three to a room.
Rooms are comfortable and cleaned once a day. The rooms do not automatically come with things like shampoo or moisturizer, but you can ask your room steward for these things free of charge. The TV has news channels in English, Italian, Chinese, and a few other languages. We enjoyed watching Al Jazeera for a while, but the news channels became unavailable during the days we were in the Red Sea. During that time there was only one movie a day on repeat, so don’t hope for too much in terms of TV. Our tip is to download your own movies or shows beforehand.
Here’s what a balcony room looks like. The shower has a pull out laundry line to hang clothes on. Click the images to enlarge.
How to Save Money on Incidentals
There is no free wifi on the cruise, and buying it is not cheap, which is the biggest thing you’ll have to come to terms with. We found that the best value was to buy the 5 euro 24 hour social media package on at sea days and to share it. You can share with as many people as you want, but only on one device at a time. The social media package includes access to Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Wechat, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts (Gchat), Google Maps, and the Google Play store. I was able to videochat with my parents in America on Wechat and the call quality was surprisingly good. Google Maps was useful for researching shore excursion days. And I could keep up with most of my friends on Instagram, Facebook, and Gchat. The only thing missing was email. We paid for that by the minute. It’s .25 euros a minute and only takes 1-2 minutes to load your emails. The other wifi packages where you pay for a set number of megabytes are not a good deal. We heard from other guests that checking email used up 20 megabytes of data, so their packages ran out fast.
We didn’t buy any bottled water on the ship. We bought a big bottle every few days on shore instead and refilled them in the dining room. Don’t put the bottle right under the dispenser, that’s unsanitary. Use a cup instead to transfer water to your bottle. The water is desalinated. The tap water in your room is safe to brush your teeth with, but the staff recommended using the water dispensers in the dining room for drinking water.
We also didn’t buy any of the dining upgrades like lobster. Costa is particularly annoying about trying to sell these to you. A guy comes to your table every day and pitches these to you. You just have to keep saying no.
The wine package, however, can be a good deal if you plan to drink wine nightly in the formal dining room. It includes 6 bottles of wine and 6 large bottles of water. Costa does not allow you to bring your own wine on board (though sometimes you can get away with one bottle when you first arrive). Each time you return to the ship, you have to place your bag through a scanner. If you think you’ll go through 6 bottles of wine, then you should buy the package instead of individual bottles. You’re basically getting the bottles of water for free.
On at sea days, beer goes on sale. It’s 4 euros for a large beer and you get a free pint mug to keep if you’d like. Look for “fine food surprises” or happy hours on the daily schedule. This is where you’ll find the beer specials.
For laundry, the best deal is the “magic bag.” It’s 20 euros for 25 pieces. Wash your smaller items, like socks and underwear, by hand in the sink or shower, and save up your larger pieces, like jeans, for the magic bag. Because we travel full time and are often without a dryer in most parts of the world, we’re mindful about packing clothes that air dry quickly (mostly synthetic fabrics). There’s a pull-out laundry line in the shower and the cabins are constantly ventilated, so everything dries overnight.
Shore Excursion Tours
We didn’t take any of the tours sold by the cruise line. We understand why they might be good for less experienced travelers, but there’s a huge upcharge. We went to the same sites for far less by walking, taking public transportation, renting a car, and even taking cabs. In Europe there are plenty of trains, subways, and buses linking the port to nearby cities and tourist attractions. In Jordan we rented a car, and in Oman we took cabs. We made it to all the same sites and often arrived before the tour buses and crowds.
The ship goes on pirate alert in the Red Sea, which means the curtains are rolled down in the dining rooms, it’s recommended that you lock your balcony doors, and crew members patrol the deck with binoculars. High pressure water spray guns are positioned on the deck to repel anyone who tries to scale the ship. Nothing eventful happened on our cruise, but just be aware because pirates do still exist.
Costa Club Rewards Program
It’s free to join the Costa Club rewards program and highly encouraged. You should join as soon as you board the ship. As a Costa Club member, you get 25% off bottled wine and some savings on spa and premium dining options. After one or two repositioning cruises, you’ll have enough points to start getting perks like cabin upgrades, invitations to champagne receptions, and in cabin gifts like a fruit basket, chocolates, and Costa branded items. At even higher reward levels you can get a 25 or 100 euro on board spending credit, a free magic bag for laundry, and premium club dining or room service.
Because Aaron took a Costa repositioning cruise before, we were upgraded from an interior room to a premium balcony room. The ship only has about 20% interior rooms anyway, so chances are good. We also received a free bottle of champagne in our room, chocolates on gala nights, invitations to open bar events, a free professional photograph of us, an Illy coffee and cake voucher, and Costa branded packing cubes that I’m still using to this day.
Points are awarded on a per night basis based on your cabin category, starting from 150 points per night for an interior cabin. Repositioning cruises count for a lot of points because they’re so long. Note that Costa only counts points looking back 3 years, so to get to the really good perks, you have to cruise a lot of days out of the year.
Food, Alcohol, and Water
Aaron said the food on the Middle East repositioning route wasn’t as good as the prior Costa cruise he took from Brazil to Italy, and it’s definitely not as good as other higher end cruise lines. That said, it is possible to eat well and healthy, the food just gets a little repetitive. The breakfast in the formal dining room was good, but for lunch and dinner the buffet was almost always better. A lot of the food actually overlaps with the formal dining room menu, but with more variety at the buffet. On at sea days, an additional themed lunch was set up on the deck that was better than the usual food, though meat heavy.
Our main disappointment with the formal dinners was that the food was so oversalted, heavy, and cream-laden, with not a vegetable in sight. You might get an entrée with a piece of tough meat and a single sprig of broccoli. It was even worse for vegetarians. I remember one main course that consisted of a piece of toast topped with fried potatoes which they called bruschetta (a joke?), and another meal that was all cheese – a cheese tartar starter (cheese cubes held together with mayo) and a cheese fondue main course. It was so comical I’m still laughing as I write this. The exception was gala nights. The formal dinner is a little better on these nights and worth checking out. Also know that you can always order multiple starters, entrees, and desserts, or mix and match. You don’t have to order only 1 item from each section.
Americans get free water, but only if you book as an American, which you shouldn’t do. It’s just an interesting quirk.
Here are pictures from one of the gala night menus.
Passports and Visas
You don’t need to apply for any of your own visas. Costa holds on to your passport for the duration of the cruise, except during shore excursion days in Israel. If you’re renting a car or doing anything you might need a passport for, ask the reception desk to provide you a copy of your passport with a Costa stamp on it. We didn’t end up needing it, but we carried this with us in Jordan.
How to Decide if a Repositioning Cruise is Right for You
If you’re able to think of the cruise as a comfortable mode of transportation and a certain route peaks your interest, then we definitely recommend trying one if you can get it for our price or lower, roughly $50 per person per day.
Life on the cruise is pretty easy. There’s a gym, and cooking and cleaning are all done for you. You just need to be able to go without constant wifi. Most of the passengers are retirees who have more time than money. If money is no issue, you should probably just take a regular cruise to avoid the extra days at sea, but for more budget-minded travelers with time on their hands, repositioning cruises can be much more affordable.
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