What is the best Transatlantic cruise and will we like it? At My Itchy Travel Feet, readers ask us that question a lot.
In fact, we’ve gathered our experiences to create the best transatlantic cruise tips for you. Like you, through the years, we’ve had many questions about transatlantic cruises. Sorting through ours, and anticipating yours, here are 10 questions to ask before crossing the Atlantic.
What IS a Transatlantic Cruise?
Basically, a Transatlantic cruise is a repositioning cruise that crosses the Atlantic Ocean. They most often occur in the fall and spring, when cruise lines are relocating ships from one region of the world to another.
In the fall, cruise lines send their ships from Europe, usually the Mediterranean (but not always), to the Caribbean or eastern United States. Spring crossings reverse the process with ships sailing from the eastern U.S. or Caribbean to Europe.
Which are the best transatlantic cruise ships?
Step onboard Seabourn, Silversea, or Regent for an all-inclusive, luxurious journey across the Atlantic. If you’ve ever wondered about cruising on a luxury ship, this can be a more affordable way to find out if luxury cruising is for you.
Well-heeled travelers will find luxury transatlantic cruises usually offered at discounted prices. However this is not always the case. Cruise lines are currently seeing high numbers of bookings in 2022 (and predicted to be the same in 2023 and 2024 due to pent up demand).
If you are looking for value combined with small ship experiences, consider Viking, Azmara, or Oceania.
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, I’d recommend skipping a multigenerational Atlantic crossing. There are many other cruise locations such as Alaska that would be more enjoyable for a multigenerational cruise with the kids. And Alaska cruise excursions, especially, are filled with fun things to do.
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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. Yay! More time to enjoy long dinners, great entertainment, and a few nights of late dancing.
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 we prefer to do in the fall.
Which route should I choose for crossing the Atlantic?
You’ll discover more variation in Atlantic cruise routes than you would expect. Consecutive sea days vary between 6 to 8 days (sometimes less on the northern route) and usually includes several ports of call either at the end or beginning of the cruise. Expect the entire itinerary to last between 14 to 21 days.
North Atlantic crossing
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 voyage may not be the cruise itinerary for you.
The Cunard ship Queen Mary 2 offers regular service between New York City 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 costly 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 crossing
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 United States. 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.
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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 or 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. Keep reading to discover our thoughts on that.
Should I add a land excursion to a Transatlantic cruise?
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 hopping 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 USA)?
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. Kayak is a good place to start your research.
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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. InsureMyTrip is a good website to compare insurance quotes.
We also don’t leave home before making sure that our emergency in Switzerland.
Of course these days, it’s imperative to educate yourself about cruise cancellation policies as well as medical requirements for boarding. Since these vary and seem to change with the wind, consult your cruise line or travel advisor for the most up-to-date information. Ask to see policies in writing and keep them with your records, just in case.
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.
- 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, getting dressed up is 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.
My best cruise fashion tip: Don’t let formal night scare you off. Follow my tips for what to wear on a luxury cruise.
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.
Best Transatlantic cruise tips for planning your trip
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 involves 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 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 advisor 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.
Did I answer all your questions about a Transatlantic voyage? It’s truly a travel experience that is more about the journey rather than the destination. I hope you’ll give it a try!