Fall is shoulder season for Alaska, Mexico, and the Caribbean—and for fall cruises, that means emptier ships which allow booking windows to stay open longer. In other words, now is a great time to snag a last-minute sailing.
In fact, more cruise lines are catching onto the appeals of the fall season and have extended their sailing windows deeper into October and November for the first time this year. And sailing in shoulder season has its advantages: You have better chances to catch attractions such as the Northern Lights; there’s less competition for onboard amenities like must-book tables for dinner; and getting a last-minute spa appointment should be a breeze, if the weather impedes your shore excursions. There’s even a chance that you’ll be upgraded to a nicer suite due to low volume.
And here’s a tip: Weather is less reliable in the fall, it’s definitely recommended that you purchase travel insurance before embarking on a shoulder season cruise.
For years, cruise ships stopped calling at Alaska ports in early September. This year, the Alaska cruise season extends almost into October, with ships from some lines calling at southeast Alaska ports almost until Halloween. Norwegian has two ships—Norwegian Encore and Norwegian Bliss—with October sailings to Alaska from Seattle, and each still has availability at press time. The incentives are generous too. Some sailings are throwing in shore excursions, beverage packages, specialty dining, and WiFi on top of already-discounted cruise fares.
Cruise-goers to Alaska in the fall should note that it’s a rainier season up there, particularly in the southeast Alaska ports frequented by cruise ships. Daylight also rapidly begins to decline after the autumn equinox, so days will be much shorter on these cruises than those during the peak of summer. The benefit, however, to cruising later in the season is that darker winter nights make better conditions to spot the aurora borealis.
Due to hurricanes, fall is shoulder season in the Caribbean for both cruises and land-based resorts. Many resorts even have annual closures from October until Christmas, but cruises continue to call at ports throughout the region. Cruise ships are fast enough to outrun the storms, and avoiding bad weather often simply results in a skipped port call; sometimes ships can even divert to alternate ports out of the storm’s path. (If nothing else, it lends the itinerary an unexpected sense of adventure.)
Princess Cruises has returned to a Texas homeport for the first time in several years this month, with sailings from Galveston onboard Regal Princess. The ship will reposition from Fort Lauderdale in late October with a 12-day Circle Caribbean sailing, then spend the month of November departing on 7-day itineraries from the Texas port to the Mexican Caribbean and Central America. It stops in the ABC islands—Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao—which are off the hurricane path: Stroll on Aruba’s Palm Beach, sip a Dutch beer next to the famous swinging drawbridge on Curaçao, or go snorkeling on quiet Bonaire and find out why the island’s license plates proclaim it “Divers’ Paradise.”
Hurricanes are less common—even in the fall—on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, where the weather can be quite mild in late September and October. Several cruise lines have sailings ranging from three to seven nights departing from Los Angeles and San Diego. Celebrity’s late October and November departures from Los Angeles onboard the high-end Celebrity Eclipse are sailing the classic Los Cabos-Mazatlan-Puerto Vallarta itinerary and offer up to 40% off published cruise fares for each passenger booked in a stateroom. Puerto Vallarta is ideal in November, with good weather for strolling the Malecón, the city’s oceanfront walk where vendors sell palm wine from chilled jugs, garnished with peanuts and apples.