Should we book a Transatlantic Cruise? At My Itchy Travel Feet, readers ask questions about Transatlantic cruises a lot. And, since Alan and I have experienced five crossings—Regent (Voyager and Navigator), Silversea (Silver Sprit and Silver Wind) and Seabourn (Sojourn)—our answer is a resounding YES!
What IS a Transatlantic Cruise? Occurring in the fall and spring, this is the time when cruise lines relocate ships from Europe, usually the Mediterranean (but not always), to the Caribbean or eastern U.S. You also see them referred to as a repositioning cruise or Atlantic Crossing.
Although Alan and I are big fans of Transatlantic cruises, they may not work for you. How will you know? Answer these questions before calling your travel agent.
Will I save money on a Transatlantic Cruise?
Traditionally, cruising on a Transatlantic Crossing offers special pricing, sometimes as low as 50% off or as a 2-for-1 fare. Since you’re saving money, this may be the perfect time to move up to that luxury cruise line that you’ve had your eye on. And it’s also a good opportunity to experience a series of days at sea, especially if you are considering longer cruises in the future.
You can also use a Transatlantic Cruise as transportation to or from Europe, reducing the number of international flights needed for the trip. I don’t know about you, but Alan and I are always happy to avoid international flights whenever possible. We also like the idea of adding a land trip to the beginning of an Atlantic Crossing. But more about that later.
What time of year is best for an Atlantic Crossing?
Travelers on a fall transatlantic cruise enjoy an extra hour of sleep almost every night as the ship travels east to west. Of course the reverse is true for spring crossings where an hour is lost each day. Alan and I definitely prefer fall for those extra hours of sleep. And the long voyage is a good way to relax after a couple of weeks exploring Europe.
Which route should I choose for a Transatlantic Cruise?
You’ll discover more cruise route variations than you would expect when crossing the Atlantic. The sea portion varies between 6 to 8 days (sometimes less on the northern route) and usually includes several ports either at the end or begnning of the cruise. Expect the entire itinerary to last between 14 to 21 days.
Northern route: These itineraries usually travel from the United Kingdom to New York City. Or there are cruises that sail between Iceland and the U.S., with off-the-beaten-path ports in Canada. In both cases, you’ll experience fewer sea days and the possibility of stormier seas in the North Atlantic. If you like lots of sea days, or if you really need sunshine by the ship’s pool, this may not be the route for you.
The Cunard ship Queen Mary 2 offers regular service between New York and Southhampton. More of a voyage than a cruise, there are no ports and dress tends to be formal. But it’s an economical way to avoid international flights between Europe and North America.
Middle route: The most typical transatlantic cruise routes are ones that sail between the Mediterranean and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, or the Caribbean. Four of our five Atlantic crossings have been on this route. Even on fall crossings, we’ve found the weather to be mild enough to enjoy the outside decks. Most fall itineraries travel late enough in the season that hurricanes aren’t an issue. And the only truly stormy crossing we’ve experienced was in the spring from Ft. Lauderdale to Monaco.
Southern route: Sailing from Africa to South America is not a typical crossing route for Americans but some cruise lines do offer it on occasion. We cruised from Cape Town, South Africa, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after a South African safari. Ports included Namibia and St. Helena. Of course this itinerary requires two long international flights to and from the U.S. But it’s a fun way to travel between the continents of Africa and South America. And the weather tends to be warm and sunny.
I highly recommend adding a land excursion to Transatlantic cruises. This is one reason that Alan and I prefer fall crossings. Twice, we’ve toured Italy with Claudio Fontana of A La Carte Italy Tours. After roadtripping around northern Italy or southern Italy, Claudio drove us to Civitavecchia, where we boarded a cruise ship. And our cruise luggage traveled along with us! After enjoying several more Mediterranean cruise excursions, it was time to rest and relax on the long ride home across the Atlantic. We can’t think of a better travel combination.
This spring, we tried another version to a crossing by adding a cruise segment to the Ft. Lauderdale to Monaco itinerary. The seven additional days, Monaco to Rome, introduced us to ports in Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily—the cruise excursion to Selinunte was amazing—before ending at Civitavecchia.
How early should I book an Atlantic crossing?
If you’re picky about cabin location, book crossings sooner rather than later. But if your location on the ship doesn’t matter to you, this is one time when waiting closer to sailing will work. On many of the other cruises that Alan and I take, the ship is booked up fairly early. But that’s not the case for most Transatlantic cruises. And you might find last-minute savings. Just remember to check flight availability before committing to the cruise.
And don’t forget to purchase travel insurance when making the final payment. We prefer policies that cover pre-existing conditions for the traveler and immediate family members. This is especially important if you have elderly parents.
We also don’t leave home before making sure that our medical evacuation membership with Medjet Assist is up-to-date. It saved us thousands of dollars during my medical emergency in Switzerland.
Will I be bored on a Transatlantic Cruise?
Many boomer travelers are afraid they’ll be bored on an itinerary with a number of consecutive sea days. That hasn’t been our experience. In fact, there’s almost too much to do with lectures, fitness or language classes, dance lessons, cooking demonstrations, socializing with other guests, and nightly entertainment.
Alan and I especially enjoy the opportunity to step away from the Internet (although it’s available) to slow down and relax. We also find the atmosphere on a crossing more conducive to meeting new people. Without as many busy port days, there’s time for long dinner conversations or staying up late after the show for dancing.
Will I get seasick on a crossing?
You might. I sometimes do if the seas are rough. It helps to have a strategy:
- Choose a larger ship. Our spring crossing on Silver Wind was especially rough. And I should have known better than to choose such a small ship for a crossing. I do not have too much of a problem with slightly larger ships—350 passengers and above. Also, choose a midship cabin on a lower deck for the most stability. Our Medallion Suite on Silver Wind (fabulous, by the way) was up high and toward the front. Not good for such stormy seas, so I found a midship seating area on a lower deck for reading or working on the computer.
- Have a plan of action. I wear sea bands when I first board the ship, until my body has adjusted to the movement. I put them on again if seas become rough. If I’m still having issues, I rely on ginger capsules, gingerale or candied ginger from the ship’s restaurant to settle my stomach. If those strategies don’t work, I take meclizine that I purchase from the pharmacist before leaving home—but ask your doctor, first. Some cruisers have success wearing seasickness patches but I don’t care for the side effects that they give me. And if all else fails, visit the ship’s doctor for even strong medication (although this will be a charge to your shipboard account).
Do I need to pack formal clothes for an Atlantic Crossing?
My answer: that depends. First, the cruise line that you choose may or may not have formal nights. Second, even if there are formal nights, they are easy to avoid by choosing alternate restaurants on nights when the dress code is formal. But you’ll be missing a lot of fun.
Alan and I enjoy dressing for formal night. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that we cruise. At home, we wear sweatshirts, t-shirts and jeans most of the time. So dressing up provides a change of pace. And it’s easy to do without over packing. How many formal nights will there be? That depends on the cruise ship but generally speaking expect 3 to 4 formal nights on an 18-night itinerary.
Stay tuned because I’m writing a series of articles on how to dress for cruises. When it comes to formal wear, that means mixing glitzy separates for women. Men have it easy. Bring a tuxedo or suit with a tie and you’re set no matter how many formal nights are on your itinerary.
And if you’re the carryon only type of flyer, ship your luggage to the cruise. This works especially well if you’re planning a land adventure beforehand. And, as we age, it’s also less wear and tear on the body, especially if you tend to check luggage that weighs 50 lbs or more.
Have I inspired your next trip? Check out the My Itchy Travel Feet Luxury Cruise Planning Resources page before booking your cruise.