Updated 08.26.2018: Should we travel on a Transatlantic Cruise? At My Itchy Travel Feet, readers ask us that question a lot. And, since Alan and I have cruised on five Atlantic crossings—Regent (Voyager and Navigator), Silversea (Silver Sprit and Silver Wind) and Seabourn (Sojourn)—our answer is a resounding YES! In fact, we have the best transatlantic cruise tips to share with you.
What IS a Transatlantic Cruise? Basically, it’s a repositioning cruise across the Atlantic Ocean. 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.
The best Transatlantic cruise tips
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—and, yes, you’ll get the best deal and amenities by using one.
How much does a transatlantic cruise cost?
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.
Beware of cruise lines selling Atlantic cruise fares that seem too good to be true. They probably are. Many mainline cruise companies offer inexpensive cabin fares. After factoring in the cost for all the extras like alcoholic beverages, special dining surcharges, tips, and you may be paying much more than intended.
You can also use Atlantic crossing cruises 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 the journey. But more about that later.
Which are the best transatlantic cruise ships?
Well-heeled travelers will find luxury transatlantic cruises, usually at discounted prices, as I mentioned above. Step onboard Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal or Regent for an all-inclusive, luxurious journey across the Atlantic. If you’ve ever wondered about cruising on a luxury ship, this is an affordable way to find out if luxury cruising is for you.
You’ll find plenty of large cruise ships with transatlantic cruise routes, too. If your idea of cruise travel is a big ship with plenty of things to do and prices offering an economy of scale (as in budget-friendly), consider: Princess, Celebrity, Norwegian, Holland America, MSC or Royal Caribbean.
Even Disney offers an Atlantic cruise, although I’m not sure that children would enjoy six days at sea. But, then again, it’s Disney and the company is a master at entertainment. However there are many other cruise locations such as Alaska that would be more enjoyable for a multigenerational cruise with the kids.
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 Atlantic 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 crossing the Atlantic?
You’ll discover more variation in Atlantic cruise routes than you would expect. 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 beginning of the cruise. Expect the entire itinerary to last between 14 to 21 days.
North Atlantic crossing: 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, a north Atlantic cruise 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 Atlantic itinerary: The most typical Atlantic crossing routes are ones that sail between the Mediterranean and Florida (Ft. Lauderdale or Miami), or the Caribbean. Four of our five Atlantic crossings have been on a route from Rome, Nice, or Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale.
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 Atlantic cruise: Sailing from Africa to South America is not a typical route 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 a Transatlantic cruise itinerary. This is one reason that Alan and I prefer fall crossings. We enjoy exploring Europe by land then hop on a ship to cross the Atlantic.
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.
One 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 a Transatlantic cruise to Europe (or back to the U.S.)?
If you’re picky about cabin location, book your Atlantic crossing cruise sooner rather than later. But if location on the ship doesn’t matter to you, this is one time when waiting closer to sailing will work—and possibly save you money on a cruise deal.
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. We use Skyscanner to search for the best flight prices.
Travel planning tips for cruising the Atlantic
That Atlantic crossing deal you just found is only as good as the entire cost of the voyage. What do I mean? The trip will usually involve a one-way international air ticket and those can be pricey, especially if you travel business class. Here’s how we do it:
- Start with a Skyscanner search to determine the airline, schedule and itinerary that’s best for us.
- Check to see if using airline miles is a workable option. It rarely is for us.
- Determine if we will save money by booking the international portion of the ticket to or from a major city near our home rather than from the small airport where we live.
- Ask our travel agent to price out the itinerary that we’ve chosen with what the cruise line is offering for air so that we can compare prices.
- Budget the cost of traveling to and from the airport. Will we be using the long-term parking lot, renting a car or hiring a car and driver during any portion of the journey?
- Factor in the cost of hotels on the front or back end of the trip. Start your hotel search here.
Have I inspired your next trip? Check out the My Itchy Travel Feet Luxury Cruise Planning Resources page before booking your cruise.
And don’t forget to purchase travel insurance when making the final payment. We prefer policies that cover pre-existing conditions for the transatlantic 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 ocean crossing cruises?
Many boomer travelers are afraid they’ll be bored on an itinerary with lots of 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 cruise across the Atlantic?
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 to cross the Atlantic. 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 might be a charge to your shipboard account).
Do I need to pack formal clothes for Transatlantic ship travel?
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 enjoy luxury cruises. At home, we wear sweatshirts, t-shirts and jeans most of the time.
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.
Have you seen my advice for what to wear on a luxury cruise for the woman over 50? You’ll find great tips for any type of cruising.
My best cruise fashion tip: Don’t let formal night scare you off. Glitzy separates for women make it simple to mix and match outfits. 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 Atlantic 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.