Seatrade Cruise News is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Seatrade panel weighs plusses and minuses of off-season cruising

PHOTO: TOM STIEGHORST CRUISE_SCG_expanding_seasons_standing.jpg
From left, moderator Shannon McKee of Access Cruise, Cruise the Saint Lawrence's Nancy Houley, Emerald/Scenic's Claudius Docekal, Tura Turizm's Leyla Oner and Royal Caribbean Group's Marc Miller
Autumn cruises in Canada and New England are typically oversubscribed with leaf-peeping guests, but in early 2025 the region has successfully attracted a ship visit during the freezing dark of the Canadian winter.

The Ponant icebreaker expedition ship Le Commandant Charcot will offer a 13-day cruise up the Saint Lawrence River in February on which guests will pay tens of thousands of dollars to snowshoe through icy white conifers in hopes of spotting elk or caribou in their natural habitat.

A Seatrade Cruise Global panel discussion cited the cruise as a prime example of how destinations and lines can extend the cruise season beyond its traditional limits.

“Right now we’re promoting our winter,” said panelist Nancy Houley, director of business development for Cruise the Saint Lawrence. “It’s not for everyone,” she admitted. “It’s not for all vessels.”

A second panelist agreed. “I’m not sure we’ll be going to Canada in the winter with 5,000-passenger ships,” said Marc Miller, director deployment and itinerary planning at Royal Caribbean Group. But Miller expressed the consensus of the panel that extending seasons is a key topic as the industry keeps expanding.

“As the industry continues to grow we need to find new places to deploy our ships,” Miller said.

Benefits of off-season cruising

Key selling points for off-season cruising include diminished crowds, better access to popular attractions, a different experience for return guests and a choice of berths in port. In Istanbul, “You will be able to see many things you wouldn’t be able to see during the summer because of the congested atmosphere in the city,” said Leyla Oner, CEO of Tura Turizm, one of the biggest tour operators in Turkey.


Challenges include countering stereotypes, getting publicity and ensuring that shore infrastructure is open and adequate.

Small ships with adventurous guests can be among the first to try cruises that test seasonal boundaries. Claudius Docekal, VP ocean deployment, Scenic and Emerald Cruises, said he once experimented in late October and November with cruises in southern Turkey on a 62-passenger ship for a previous employer.

But Docekal also said that small lines have little margin for error. “With only four ships, (at Emerald and Scenic) I have to be very, very careful about where can I deploy the ships profitably.”

A game-changer

Cruise lines that buck conventional thinking can sometimes change the game. Panel moderator Shannon McKee, president of Access Cruise, recalled the strenuous debate when she worked at Norwegian Cruise Line about the viability of winter sailings from New York.

Many in the industry thought Norwegian was foolish to try it, but in the post-9-/11 environment when flying was suspect the route caught on. “They really started an entire new itinerary,” said McKee, now a marketing consultant. “That was unthought of 20 years ago.”