8 Top Tips For Finding Cruises That Will Not Be Full!

8 Top Tips For Finding Cruises That Will Not Be Full!

8 Top Tips For Finding Cruises That Will Not Be Full!

With cruise lines now able to sell their ships out at a hundred percent or higher capacity, I want to tell you how you can hunt down and find cruises and cruise ships that are not going to be completely packed to the rafters. These are the techniques that I use.

I got used to, of course, when cruising started again after shutdown, to ships that had 50 to 60% full of passengers, so there was loads of space, and, actually, it was great not having those crowds around. That has kind of evaporated, so here’s how you can still find cruises that are not going to be packed.

By the way, if you want to know how to deal with crowds on a cruise, I do have another article where I talk about how you can plan if you’ve booked a cruise and you think it’s going to be full.

This post is all about how can you find cruises that aren’t going to be full.

#1: Avoid This Time!

The first and simplest test of all, if you possibly can, is avoid school vacation time. This is when pretty much every single itinerary, whether it’s in the Mediterranean, Alaska or the Caribbean (those popular areas) they will be full and they’ll be sailing at over 100% capacity. Because you’ll have mom and dad, or parents, or whatever, and they’ll have one, two, or even three kids sharing a cabin.

For example, I went on MSC Virtuosa to the Fjords. Now, just before the school holiday period, that ship was sailing full with a double occupancy of 4,500 passengers. However, the week afterwards, when school holiday started, it was sailing with 1,500 more passengers. That was 6,000 passengers, and of those 1,500 were all kids under 18. They were all sharing cabins with their parents, so it was full. So, avoid school holidays.

Even lines that used to traditionally be more adult-only are attracting more families. I’ve seen lots of comments, and I’ve experienced that on Celebrity, when I sailed in the school holidays on Edge.

Holland America, when we went at Christmas time was again packed full with kids. I’ve seen that even on ultra-luxury lines like Seabourn. You’ll see lots of comments now with people talking about how many kids are on board, which, again, means that ships are full. Because they’re sharing cabins in most cases. Avoid school holidays.

For example, when I put this together I was on an Expedition cruise in Greenland on Hapag Lloyd. Now, even here, because it’s school holidays, there are kids on board and they’re doing things like taking over the pool and just being a little bit crazy. So, avoid school holidays on any itinerary if you possibly can.

8 Top Tips For Finding Cruises That Will Not Be Full!

#2: Avoid These Dates

Closely linked to that is my second tip, which is avoid any major public holiday weekend or public holiday. Whether that’s the likes of Christmas, or Easter, which may or may not be within school holidays.

We booked a Holland America cruise over Christmas, and it was rammed. There were 500 kids on board, which is, as I mentioned, kind of unusual for Holland America, because it was a key holiday time. So, those short cruises over bank holiday or holiday weekends, avoid those like crazy.

Of course, not everybody can avoid school holidays. If you’ve got kids, you are more restricted. But I will have some tips on how you can deal with that a little bit later.

#3: Use Shoulder Periods

If you do have the flexibility, my third big tip, which is what I use the most, is cruising at shoulder periods. These are kind of the beginning and the end of a season. When are these shoulder periods?

Well, if you talk about places like Alaska or the Mediterranean, that really is May and September, so the beginning and the end of the season. It’s before the school holidays. It’s before everything kicks in. I love going to Alaska in May. You can push it a little bit into June, but it’s often quite busy. In the Mediterranean, you can often push into June.

In the Caribbean, that tends to be November, early December, January, early February time. These again are the shoulder periods in between the big kind of vacations like Spring Break and all that kind of stuff. Probably one of my most favourite things of choosing a cruise is looking at shoulder periods.

#4: Do “Repositionings”

Another fantastic choice, which is my fourth option, are repositioning cruises. This is when the cruise lines are moving their ships between the major cruise regions.

For example, they’re moving the ships from the Caribbean to Alaska or to the Mediterranean. That normally happens around about the March-April time. They’re shifting ships there. They’re repositioning them.

So, it’s a great time to get a cruise, say, across to the Mediterranean, and you’ll find they send them back around about September-October time.

Now, repositioning cruises tend not to sell out. They tend to be great prices. So, they’re not normally jam-packed and they’re definitely unlikely to be having second and third occupancy. Because they’re not in school holiday time.

Reposition cruises you can also do to and from Australia these days. For example, when the ships reposition at the end of the Australian summer around the March-April time, they head up to Japan. And they’ll be going to places like Alaska, or returning to Europe for the Mediterranean season.

#5: Avoid Local

The fifth thing that I look at, and I learned this the hard way, is regional departures.

You’ll find sometimes that these cruises, particularly in those regions where cruise ships don’t sail a lot, will often be jam-packed, because of the catchment area. They don’t have a lot of choice, so everyone in that area will pile on.

We discovered that when we sailed out of San Diego on Holland America Koningsdam. Because Holland America doesn’t sail out there that often it attracted a wide range of people, and it was packed full.

Lots of cruise lines in North America, like Carnival or Norwegian are starting to sail out of smaller, more regional ports. Those sailings tend to be very full.

You’ll see it in places like the UK if ships are sailing out of Liverpool, Newcastle, or Scotland. Those ships will tend to be very full, because they don’t have a massive amount of departures. If you can avoid regional departures, that’s another way of avoiding busy ships.

#6: Go Adult-Only

The sixth option, which is more limited, but definitely works, is to book adult-only lines or adult-only ships.

There aren’t many of these, but the advantage with those is they’re unlikely to be sailing over a hundred percent capacity. Because you’re not going to have kids and people sharing cabins.

You don’t have a lot of choice here. The main ones you’ve got are Viking, which is pretty costly. Then, you’ve got Virgin Voyages, which is sailing the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. They’re going to start sailing in Australia, and wider afield. You have to be over 18 to go on those cruise lines.

Out of the UK, you have slightly more options. P&O Cruises, the big cruise line sailing out the UK, has a couple of their ships dedicated to adults only, Arcadia and Aurora – at the time of writing this.

You’ve also got Saga Cruises, which you have to be 50-plus or travelling with someone 40-plus to go on. Even Marella Cruises, which is part of TUI, will on some of their ships do adult-only sailings. But that’s one way of guaranteeing that it’s probably going to be, at worst case, at full capacity. Those ships tend to be quite big and spacious anyway.

#7: Follow the Solo Travellers

My seventh key tip, which is one I love because I travel a lot as a solo traveller. If you see cruises that are doing a lot of solo deals, that’s a good one to focus on for two reasons.

It normally means the ship is not sailing full anyway if they’re starting to do lots of solo deals. For example, I’ve just booked another Expedition cruise, this time on Seabourn Pursuit in Australia. I booked because they were doing a solo deal, because it probably wasn’t selling that well. Many of my Expedition cruises I’ve chosen because they’re doing solo deals, and generally, those ships have been pretty quiet.

But, if you see any sailing that’s doing a lot of solo deals, it’s a good one to choose, because, probably, it’s not selling very well. Even if it does sell highly, you can have one person per cabin, so it’s a really great thing to look for, even if you’re not travelling solo.

I Cruise On A Ship After It’s Been Split in Half & Stretched  - Windstar Star Pride Ship Tour

#8: Splash Out

Of course, another way to do it, which is much more costly, is to sail on smaller ships, because they just are quieter. You can talk about things like Oceania, which have about 1,200, but they have the smaller ships of about 700, which is like Azamara, as well, the same R-class ships.

You’ve got Windstar, which go even smaller – 300-400 people. But those are much more costly, as are the more premium ultra-luxury lines like Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, and Regent Seven Seas. They are smaller ships. They have a very high per-passenger per-space ratio, but that is going to be much more costly than any of the other ones that I have suggested.

If you have any great tips on how to find cruises that aren’t going to be jam-packed full, let me know in the comments.



Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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