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Cruises for shoulder season travellers

Don’t give autumn and spring the cold shoulder. Abigail Healy asks cruise lines for their top itineraries in quieter seasons

Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal

From exploring Japan during cherry blossom season to admiring Norway's Northern Lights in autumn, we round up the top cruises for shoulder season

You’ll have plenty of suggestions for clients keen to take a cruise in peak summer and winter seasons, but what about in spring and autumn?


Natalie O’Mahoney, head of UK sales for Amadeus River Cruises, says the line has seen growing demand for cruises in shoulder seasons and adds that solos are a particularly key growth segment for this type of cruise.


“As the climate tends to be relatively moderate throughout Europe, we can tailor our sailings to showcase different highlights throughout the year,” she says.


One of the most obvious benefits is that shoulder season pricing tends to be keener, yet Rachel Poultney, UK sales director at Princess Cruises, highlights other advantages.


“Guests can enjoy weather that’s only slightly different from the peak season while destinations are often quieter. For agents, customers who are flexible with their time away are perfect to recommend for a shoulder season cruise.”


Shearings Holidays’ product and yield director Matthew Herbert says agents should promote shoulder season river cruises to customers who are not constrained by peak season.


“Pick out the key highlights of an itinerary, then promote why a shoulder season departure might be a great time to enjoy it. For example, less crowds at popular attractions, cooler temperatures for exploring or special events only available at this time of year, such as the Keukenhof gardens in Holland.”

Top cruises for spring

Top cruises for spring

The River Cruise Line’s sales and marketing manager Tim Fleming advises promoting the Dutch bulbfields early as they tend to be popular. “At Keukenhof, the bulbs are planted in September, so agents could consider using this as a hook for encountering clients to plan ahead and generate early bookings.”


Next year, the line will welcome TV gardener Charlie Dimmock onboard its seven-day Springtime in the Gardens of Holland & Belgium cruise (from £945pp, departing May 3, 2019;



While the British winter is typically the most popular time to visit the White Continent, One Ocean Expeditions’ Debra Taylor, business development manager, UK and Europe, suggests its Photography Symposium cruise in March (from $12,195pp, departing March 11, 2019;


“The Antarctic autumn has prolonged hours of soft twilight. The incredible sunsets and sunrises provide an extraordinary palette of colours. Plus, the distinct night-time means a real chance of encountering the aurora australis. Add to this an array of marine and bird life on the move as the seasons change, and you have an unmissable voyage.”


Porto and the Douro Valley
“In April, spring is in full effect in the Douro Valley with warm yet pleasant temperatures,” points out Shearings’ Herbert, who recommends the seven- day Porto & the Douro Valley cruise (from £1,231pp, departing April 17, 2019;


“The vineyards are especially impressive, as the vines begin to produce their fruits and blossoms. Small bunches of grapes can be seen on the vines, young olives in the olive trees and flowering fruit trees offer splashes of colour.”


Don’t assume festive getaways start and end with Christmas. AmaWaterways’ sales, marketing and digital director Jamie Loizou recommends the line’s seven-night Melodies of the Danube (from £1,881pp, departing April 7, 2019;, which visits cities on the Danube for their Easter markets as well.


“Austria and Hungary have wonderful Easter markets, where you can stock up on regional goodies and enjoy live music,” he says.

“Vienna’s main Easter markets are at Schonbrunn Palace, while the Budapest market opens around Easter and remains for about a month afterwards.”



Seeing Japan in cherry blossom season is on many people’s bucket list. Windstar Cruises’ 10-day Grand Japan cruise (from $4,599pp; ties in with the nation’s most beautiful seasons – the cherry blossom bloom in spring and the foliage changing colour in autumn.


The itinerary includes experiences only possible on a small-ship voyage (carrying 212 guests onboard Star Legend) such as sailing in the Inland Sea of Japan, and visits some lesser- known spots such as the abandoned island of Hashima while taking in big- hitting sights such as Mount Fuji.



“Spring is the perfect time to visit Mexico and the Caribbean,” says Lisa Jacobs, Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ (CMV) head of trade sales. “It’s not too hot, but your clients will feel they’ve had a sunshine holiday.”


In spring 2019, the line’s Magellan will sail from Mexico to the UK. Guests can fly to join the 22-night cruise (from £1,599pp, departing April 10, 2019; in Cozumel and sail back to London via seven Caribbean islands. They will enjoy Easter celebrations onboard before visiting the Azores and then returning home.

Top cruises for autumn

Top cruises for autumn


Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ 12-night Uncrowded Baltic itinerary (from £1,499pp; sails from Newcastle on October 6, 2019. Martin Lister, the line’s head of itinerary planning and destination experience, explains: “Tourism during this time drops by about 50%, making exploring at your own leisure much easier, and allowing the beauty of the destinations to be appreciated in a much purer way.”


Northern Lights
Increase the chances of clients’ bucket list dreams coming true by suggesting autumn to experience the aurora borealis. It is the best time to go, says Princess Cruises’ Poultney.


The line has a new 12-night Search for the Northern Lights cruise (from £1,499pp, departing October 19, 2019; sailing roundtrip from Southampton with ports of call including Norway’s Alesund, Tromso, Alta and Stavanger.


Alternatively, CMV has an Iceland, Faroes & Land of the Northern Lights itinerary (£989pp, October 13, 2019; sailing from Liverpool.


The Rhine in Flames festival takes place in September and The River Cruise Line’s Fleming says it is a great selling point for a Rhine cruise in autumn. He recommends the eight- day Rhine in Flames itinerary (from £995pp, departing September 10, 2019;


“The festival celebrates the annual grape harvest with a flotilla of small ships sailing the river, against a backdrop of music and fireworks. It is an experience not to be missed and our cruises book up well in advance,” he says.


New England
The vibrant display of colours in America’s New England make a sailing from Boston or New York in autumn a top pick for Nicola Payne, product and commercial manager at Cruise Plus by Travel 2. She suggests the 10-night ultimate Canada & New England cruise, which includes a four-day stay in Boston and a seven- day Holland America Line cruise into Canada (£2,169pp, September and October departures;


“It gives clients the opportunity to discover beautiful New England and Quebec when it turns into a blaze of orange, red and russet tones during the autumn,” she says.


“The increase in shoulder season and winter airlift from the UK is making Greece more accessible than ever, supporting year-round demand, which we are also experiencing for our cruises,” says Andrew Magowan, Celestyal Cruises’ vice president commercial, Europe. In response, Celestyal has extended its itinerary dates for 2019, expanding the product offering in the eastern Mediterranean.


Next year its four-day Iconic Aegean Cruises will set sail on March 18, with the final cruise of the season on November 11, 2019 (from £409pp;

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