Last year, I traveled to South America in an unconventional way. In the end of October, I boarded a cruise ship that took me through the Atlantic Ocean in mere 9 days. I had my own cabin, buffet food and a wide programme of activities, to keep me well fed and entertained throughout the trip. So, what is so special about the cruise? Well, I ended up paying less than 250 US$ for the whole trip. This sure is the cheapest, most comfortable and jet-lag-free way to travel from Europe to South America!
Booking the Cruise
The cruise in question was a reposition cruise from Las Palmas (Canary Islands), Spain, to Salvador in Brazil. In reposition cruise the ship relocates to a new region, for example from Europe to South America. For these occasions, the cruise lines sell one-way routes at a discount rather than sailing on an empty boat. Prime times for reposition cruises are spring and fall, the times when the boats rotate.
I booked my cruise through Pullmantur, a Spanish cruise line owned by the famous Royal Caribbean Cruises. I first found about the cruise on a Finnish deal website and booked the cruise almost instantly. The booking procedure was really easy and in 15 minutes I was done! This was April last year.
From Spain To Brazil
Fast-forwarding to October 2015. I spent three days in Las Palmas before departing the cruise. I found the city to be quite different than I thought it would be. I enjoyed walking around the waterfront, going for jogging in the morning and just lying on the beach and trying to make the first freckles to appear. It was quiet, cheap and pleasant in this city that most of the time is full of sun worshippers. Off season travel at its best!
In Las Palmas, I started to doubt the cruise. Was I scammed? What if the boat never leaves? I even went to the cruise port to see if it really exists. It did and a local shipspotter told me that the ship will eventually come. I went online to VesselFinder and I tracked the ship just outside the coast of mainland Spain. I pushed the thoughts aside and went shopping for final items for the journey.
Boarding the Ship
And the ship was there! All 5,344 tonnes of it! The company collected the luggage before the entrance to the final boarding gate, just like in an airport. Other cruise goers and I lined up and had our documents checked. Everything was easy, well organized and the staff were extremely nice and helpful. At this point I knew I was going to make it on board!
Behold the MS Empress! At the length of 211 meters, it’s a pretty massive boat! Empress had 9 passenger decks, capacity for 1840 people (we were around 650 in total) and 668 crew members. Built in France and launched in 1989, the ship is the same age as me.
Entering the boat, there was a small safety check for your personal items. When I was finished with the safety check, I took my cabin card (also used for doing any purchases on board) and checked the room!
I had a Category J cabin on deck four. Since I’d be only sleeping in the cabin, I went with the cheapest option available. But boy, was I pleasantly surprised! The cabin was really spacious for one person! There was enough room to set up my laptop on the table, store all my luggage and even invite couple of friends over.
Getting To Know the Ship
For me, the first evening was all about getting to know the ship. There were three restaurants, one for breakfast buffet and dinner serving, one for the delicious lunch buffet and a sushi restaurant where I never ate. Who is going to a restaurant, where the fish is not fresh (all the food was loaded to the ship from Las Palmas) and where you pay extra for the food?
There were several bars spread around the ship. Alcohol was not included in the cruise price, but to consider we were in the middle of the Atlantic on a closed space, the prices were pretty good. A small beer on the boat was 2€ (~2.2 US$) and a bottle of wine for the dinner around 10€ (~11.2 US$). One option was to buy one of the three “all-inclusive drink packages” priced at 5€/15€/30€ (7 US$/20 US$/40 US$) with each of them including different options for drinks. Another option was to sweet talk the people who had bought a drinking package to offer you drinks. I, of course, didn’t do any such thing. And talking about making friends…
Nine Days of Socializing
The best thing about the cruise was the lack of internet. That’s right, no Facebook, no selfies on Instagram! Nada. Theoretically, they did sell a data plan on the boat, but, if my memory serves me well, the price for an hour was around 30€ (34 US$). So, no one did. This meant that people talked with each other.
There was always someone to talk to during lunch, by the pool or in the elevator. It is really fascinating to follow how groups started to form and how people connected with each other. Also, for a solo traveler it was easy to get to know people.
Day Two was especially important for my social status on the boat:
Every day we received a small programme for the day. Mostly, it was to inform us about weather, timezone changes and about activities and programme on board the ship. I saw that a beer drinking contest would take place around midday on the sundeck. Around ten people joined and we bravely accepted the challenge. First, we had to finish a can of beer. Second, we had to finish a can of beer with a straw. I drank and watched people drop after another. Finally, it was time for the final challenge between Finland (me) and Brazil (another guy). We had to drink a bowl of beer using only a spoon. In my mind, I went through all the skills of beer drinking I learned in the university. And I won! After the competition, I was known for being “the guy who won the beer drinking contest“.
What Day Is It Today?
The nine days on the boat melted together in a way that it was really hard to tell on Day Six what happened on Day Five. The views from the deck were the same every day: water as far as your eyes can see. We did pass by Cape Verde, the only stretch of land on the way to Salvador. It often feels like the sea is infinite, never-ending.
My daily routine on the boat went something like this:
8:00 – Wake-up
9:00 – 10:00 – Breakfast. Meeting people and talking about the programme for the day.
11:00 – 12:00 – Going to the gym for a quick exercise, or participating in the daily dance course, or thinking why I didn’t go to gym and participate in the dance course.
12:00 – 13:00 – Buffet lunch
13:00 – 15:00 – Laying in the sun, doing nothing.
15:00 – 15:30 – Second lunch!
18:00 – 19:00 – Evening nap before dinner.
19:30 – 21:00 – DINNER! FOOD!
21:30 – 22:30 – Show in Broadway Theater.
22:30 – Socializing, beers, stargazing, dancing.
2:00 – Sleep
Safe And Sound And Shaking
Finally, nine days later, we arrived to Salvador, Brazil. After so many days on the boat, with amazing new people I had met, It was time to disembark to a hot and strange place. The comfort of my air-conditioned cabin would soon change to a small guesthouse room with a fan and there would not be round-the-clock food service when needed.
After collecting the names, phone numbers and emails of the people, I left the boat shaking and wobbling. It was not because I felt emotional or sad, but it was time to get used to a place where the ground under your feet doesn’t move all the time.
How To Find a Reposition Cruise?
Best place to start is to go to CruiseCritic. They have a really good search engine to find out best deals for cruises. With a little bit of tweaking you can find amazing deals!
Sometimes the companies have dedicated pages for reposition cruises:
Also, Roaming Around The World has a great article on how to find scout for reposition cruise deals.