Here are the highs and lows of a transatlantic cruise
There are basically two types of transatlantic cruises. One performs aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, the only ocean liner that offers scheduled crossings May to October between New York and Southampton, England, with an optional extension to Hamburg, Germany. The second occurs when various cruise lines reposition their ships between the Florida/Caribbean region, where they sail in the winter, and the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, where they operate in the summer.
This means that, in the latter case, ships are re-routed seasonally and cruise lines might as well have to pay passengers on board for the trip. That’s why repositioning cruises can usually be booked cheaply. In the case of the Queen Mary 2, the iconic ship itself is the destination, and it can be an exciting way to get to the UK or New York.
Because of this big difference in intent, cruise experiences are quite different, but the ups and downs of a transatlantic cruise are mostly the same.
The best experiences aboard a transatlantic cruise
Clear your head. A long streak of days at sea can be enough to get the cobwebs out of your head. With no land in sight for a long period of time, there is nothing around you but the big blue sea and the sunrise and sunset.
Make new friends. Transatlantic cruise lines tend to get to know each other in a different way than other cruises, where daily stops have guests heading off in different directions, rushing to catch their tour buses or gather their snorkeling gear. Crossing an ocean over several days means there’s a captive audience, and cruise passengers soon begin to recognize each other and chat, dine or participate in onboard activities together.
To learn new things. The crew of Queen Mary 2 and all ships that make transatlantic crossings go to great lengths to ensure there is a wide range of activities for each day at sea. These can include lectures , presentations, films, games and competitions, musical and cabaret shows, etc. On board the Queen Mary 2, there is even a planetarium offering a few eye-opening shows every day.
Enjoy the calm. Travelers looking for peace and quiet can also get it while crossing the ocean. Find a comfortable chair on deck or in the ship’s library and settle in with a good book. After dark on a clear night, transatlantic cruisers can see the night sky in a whole new way, without any light pollution.
Bring the dog. Guests on Queen Mary 2 can bring their pets. Dogs and cats can travel on the ship, which has 24 kennels, a play area and an owners’ lounge.
The challenges of a transatlantic cruise
Watch out for rough seas. Cruise passengers booking an ocean crossing should be sure they have the sea legs, as the environment of the open Atlantic can be very different from sailing between islands in the Caribbean. Storms can strike and suddenly cause rough seas, dense fog can develop and nights tend to be cool and often windy. Cruise passengers who don’t care about the feel of a ship rolling through heavy swells might end up regretting choosing this type of vacation.
A shortage of stopovers. Seven or more days at sea can get boring for some travelers, especially those who like to be busy most of the day. On a transatlantic cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for example, to Rome, there may be a first port of call in Bermuda. However, after that it usually takes several days at sea until the ship reaches the Azores off Africa.
Aboard the Queen Mary 2 from New York there is no stopover until the ship reaches Southampton, England, although some routes call at Le Havre, France before docking in Southampton. Either way, customers are looking at seven consecutive nights at sea.
You can embark on one of these ships for a transatlantic cruise
Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 offers regular service between New York and England from late spring to mid-October. Several other cruise lines, including luxury, mid-range and mass lines, sell passages on repositioning cruises. Upscale cruise line Oceania Cruises is repositioning its ships from Europe to the United States in mid-autumn and offering cruises such as Barcelona to Miami in November and Rome to Miami in December.
The luxury line Seabourn is marketing transatlantic crossings from Lisbon to Miami and from Barcelona to Barbados in November. Carnival Cruise Line is offering repositioning cruises to Europe in early spring on several ships, including Carnival Pride, from Tampa to Barcelona.
Royal Caribbean International is repositioning its Hymn of the seas to Europe in the spring, sailing from Cape Liberty, New Jersey to Southampton, England. The 11 nights of sailing stop in the Azores on the seventh day, then in Cherbourg and Le Havre, France, before ending in England.
Fares for transatlantic cruises vary widely. On the cheapest cruise lines, they can be booked for less than $100 per night, excluding tips, booze, and various port fees and taxes.