Shoulder seasons, which are situated between the peak and off-peak seasons that occur every spring and fall, are ideal for those with flexible work schedules and lifestyles. Lower costs on airfare and cruises? Sign us up. Here's how to take advantage of shoulder season.
Know When to Go Where
The travel industry consists of three seasons — peak runs between mid-June and August, shoulder encompasses April to mid-June and September through October, and the off-season spans from November to March. As a general rule of thumb, shoulder season in North America, the Caribbean and Europe coincides with the school calendar when children and college students begin their semesters. But because shoulder season months bring cooler weather to the Mediterranean, countries like Italy, Croatia, Spain and Greece often still come with peak season crowds. January is ideal for traveling through North Africa, though check the political climate rather than the weather conditions. November in Southeast Asia brings about milder temperatures and sees fewer crowds before the masses of snowbirds arrive in December for the region’s warm beaches.
Define Your Objective
Due to regional festivals or seasonal activities, shoulder season months in some destinations will still attract hordes of visitors. Though April is considered a calmer month for travel, April in Japan will see thick crowds because of its Cherry Blossom Festival. Similarly, the off-season months of December and January in destinations famed for skiing and snowboarding like Canada and Switzerland will be considered high season. Consider the activities offered in your destination of choice when deciding on which shoulder season to travel in. Avid hikers wishing to conquer the rugged trails of Alaska on port days should travel in the fall instead of spring, when the terrain won’t be carpeted by that late winter snow.
Check Your Connections
Chances are you’ll have to board a flight before reaching your cruise departure port, but many airlines only offer seasonal routes between destinations which are discontinued as soon as peak season ends. Air Transat operates between Vancouver and the wine region of Bordeaux in France between mid-May and end of October, and travel outside of those dates will require a combination of flights from different airlines. Check to be sure you can reach your port on time in the shoulder season due to changes in flight schedule, and consider your mode of transportation when you reach your destination. Monsoon season in Southeast Asia brings about torrential rains, which will likely result in poor visibility and road conditions, restricting your travel to and from sites and between cities.
Setting sail when students are in school is the best way to take advantage of shoulder season, as many cruises are family oriented. Easily score a deal on an itinerary if you’re flexible on dates, aren’t particular on the position of your cabin or don’t have a strong preference for destination. Even in calmer months of travel, the price of cruises fluctuate, and drop steadily up until embarkation date depending on demand. Flexibility of even a few days in either direction of your desired departure date can save hundreds of dollars as cruise lines entice passengers with affordable rates to populate their staterooms.